Archives For film

guillermo del toro

Guillermo del Toro is a master filmmaker, whose films explore the unknown, the fantastical, and the supernatural. Many of his films defend the outcasts and the bizarre, undermining commonly-held expectations of good vs. evil and appearances vs. reality, ultimately deconstructing binaries and playing with genre tropes. Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak share similar themes, both in terms of writing and visual cues, imparting the same moral at the end of each story.

Pan’s Labyrinth

pans labyrinth faun

One of my all-time favorite films, Pan’s Labyrinth, complicates popular fairy tale tropes—specifically, undermining characters’ face-value. In Marvelous Geometry: Narrative and Metafiction in Modern Fairy Tale, scholar Jessica Tiffin notes, “Lack of physical or circumstantial detail in the fairy tale thus goes hand-in-hand with a more profound effect, the simplification of morals and principles to the point where any conflict is dealt with in terms of absolutes—the hero, heroine, magical helper opposed to the villain, monster, or competing hero” (14).

Because fairy tales simplify people, the tales can then simplify morals. Tiffin says, “Unlike other forms of prose narrative, the fairy tale has no real interest in human subjectivity or psychological characterization of the individual. Like the events of fairy-tale narrative, characters are rendered down to essentials, described in terms of one or two defining characteristics” (14). By essentializing characters in terms of good and evil, fairy tale characters (and by extension, readers of fairy tales) know who’s good and who’s evil. The heroes and villains are readily apparent as such in both description of their attributes and appearance. Typically, good characters are beautiful, charming, and charismatic, while villains often have physical flaws, sometimes driven by jealousy of the more “beautiful” hero/heroine. It is this pattern within the fairy tale genre that del Toro critiques. While del Toro heavily prescribes to a good/evil binary, the good and evil characters are not readily identifiable by appearance.

One instance in which Pan’s Labyrinth overtly places itself in conversation with fairy tales is when Ofelia tries to determine if she has, in fact, encountered a fairy. A strange-looking insect follows Ofelia home and Ofelia asks it, “Are you a fairy?” Skeptical, she holds up one of her fairy tale books that showcases a dainty, humanoid fairy with wings, wearing delicate clothes made out of leaves. Ofelia points to the picture she says, “Look. This is a fairy.” Upon viewing the illustration, the brown, strange-looking insect transforms into a traditional-looking fairy, like the one in Ofelia’s book. When Ofelia first sees the insect, she’s frightened, but once she sees the fairy transform she realizes that the fairy’s form, whether humanoid or insect-like, is arbitrary. Ofelia decides to trust the fairy based on its actions instead of its appearances, seeing the value in withholding judgments based on physical cues.

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gone girl poster

Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne is one of those rare characters who leaves your mouth agape with equal parts disgust and weird admiration. Despite her deep narcissism and psychopathy, you find yourself in awe of her guts and sharp brain. She’s a complicated and more interesting successor to flat female villains, such as the femme fatale, Bond Girl, and Evil Stepmother. Finally, women get a smart, albeit crazy, evil antagonist. But Amy Dunne is no Disney villain and she’s no Madwoman in the Attic, either. She can’t be categorized as the go-to female tropes because she fits another mold: she’s a psychopath, one who uses her gender but is not defined by it.

Many have reacted to the film Gone Girl with angry exclamations that Amy Dunne’s character is an anti-feminist trope of the Bitch Wife. In fact, The Guardian said, “Women, some seem to believe, are self-serving, venomous and deceitful but can get away with whatever they want. It’s this outlook that Amy’s adventures could foster.” Whoa. Slow down, there. This isn’t the wife in some Judd Apatow movie—this is a disturbed murderer. Personally, I think it’s a bit condescending to the audience—to both men and women—to say that people are going to hold up a clearly broken person as representative of an entire gender.

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the one i love film

When I’d seen posters for The One I Love, I wasn’t sold. It was only after I’d found myself near a movie theater, looking for something to do and a screening of the film starting in 10 minutes that I decided to jump on board—and I’m so glad I did.

From what I’d previously seen, I worried that the film would be sappy. I don’t gravitate toward romantic comedies, and even when I’m assured it’s not a “typical” one, I usually still want the two hours of my life back. So, in an effort to avoid revealing the twists and turns of this film—I highly recommend avoiding trailers and reviews—let me just get the cliché over with and say: this is not a typical romantic comedy. I don’t even know if I would classify it as such, but there you go.

Rest assured, while the slow reveals in The One I Love keep you attentive, the film does not solely rely on the element of surprise. It’s the film’s impressive acting, honest writing, and beautiful cinematography that make it stand out as one of the best films of the year, and the practical details ring true to anyone who has asked themselves: how do you figure yourself out enough to be happy?

Rather than simply being about romantic scuffles and humorous miscommunication, the film tackles more complex ideas about how to develop meaningful relationships with people—not in the abstract, not solely in the romantic arena, and not without messiness. It’s no easy feat, and yet the film pulls it off, where lesser writing and acting would come off as too preachy or neatly-packaged.

I have to stop myself before I say too much, but please do yourself a favor and go see this film.

the one i love film 2

snowpiercer-poster-chris-evans-600x857

If you haven’t heard of Snowpiercer, I recommend steering clear of trailers and going to see it blind. That’s how I saw it—and afterwards I watched a trailer that spoiled lots of things, and I’m glad I didn’t watch it beforehand. All you need to know is that this is a high-concept, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi (ish), fantasy wherein the world’s last survivors live on a train, with each car acting as a literal reinforcement of class structure. I know. It sounds weird. If you have seen the trailer, I don’t think it does the film justice. So, there.

Every once in a while, you see a film that you can’t get out of your head. We saw Snowpiercer over the weekend, and we keep bringing it up like it’s an ongoing conversation without an end in sight. And the more I think about it, the more I want to discuss. It’s a film that stays with you. Here’s why:

1. Stunning visuals.

Because I avoided spoiler-y trailers, I was able to enjoy surprises that await as you see what’s inside each train car. It’s amazing, terrifying, and fun.

2. Good writing and pacing.

I want to watch this film again, just to plot out its beats because it was one of the best-paced films I’ve seen in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat, and the film flew by.

3. Marxist treats.

When you see a film that leaves you in self-reflection about your own life, your own decisions, and your own societal expectations, I take that as a good sign.

4. Great plot.

As I mentioned, the pacing of this film was spot-on, but something that really struck me is that there were no romantic relationships pushing the plot forward. None. Do you know how rare that is?

Above all, Snowpiercer is different—it’s interesting. It’s the type of film that I like to support with my heart and wallet. And because of its beautiful visuals, it’s definitely worth seeing in theaters. In fact, I think I’ll turn around and see it again soon.

mako pacific rim

People are angry about Pacific Rim. Maybe “angry” is too strong of a word, but there’s definitely a fair amount of disappointment going around. At the risk of sounding block-headed and completely naïve, I was shocked (yes, jaw-droppingly so) when I read the Internet rants, disapproving of the way women were portrayed in the film. Usually my feminist radar is fine-tuned and rearing to go off at the slightest hint of dehumanizing or anti-feminist tropes. Even my favorite films will usually trigger my radar enough for a laundry list of gripes. So why didn’t my radar alert me when I saw Pacific Rim?

The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, where the world has banded together to fight giant monsters (kaiju) with giant robots (jaegers). Each jaeger must be piloted by a team of two, and in order to successfully control the man-made wonder, the pilots essentially meld their minds to act as a single unit, letting the other pilot peek into all their thoughts and memories. It’s pretty intense, to say the least. Our two main characters are Raleigh Becket, famed kaiju killer, and Mako Mori, novice but enthusiastic pilot, whose adoptive father has only just recently and reluctantly encouraged her to take the jaeger helm with Raleigh.

In this high-concept, action-packed film, the biggest complaint from my fellow feminists is that there’s a lack of female characters and lines. One of the main characters is a woman (Mako) and there’s a nameless Russian woman who pilots another jaeger, but that’s not to say that these complaints aren’t well-founded. It’s easy to see that the film definitely fails the Bechdel Test. “Only three lines are spoken by a woman in the entire first half-hour of Pacific Rim,” says an article from Vulture. An article from Kulture Keeper adds, “The only two actresses… barely register as characters. They’re more like plot-objects in the shape of female bodies.” Ouch. The women in this film are products of a writer and director who brought us full-fledged and interesting female heroes in films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, so there must be more going on here.

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django-unchained-fan-poster-foxx-waltz

This is a spoiler-free review. Tune in soon for a review so full of spoilers, you’ll cry.

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A Real New Hope

Ashley Walton —  November 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

So by now, the Star Wars stuff is old news. Disney bought Lucasfilm and they’re gonna make episodes 7, 8, and 9 with episode 7 projected to come out in 2015. I hear a lot of the same things from Star Wars fans– some relieved, some angry, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents (this is the internet, after all).

I’m not gonna lie– I’m excited. I sent texts to brothers and nephews, and I went nuts on Twitter and Facebook during the live conference call. Now let me clarify, my excitement is not naive. I’ve been burned by Star Wars before. I’ll never forget my supreme disappointment when I skipped school to see Episode I in theaters opening day, only to find it was about trade legislation (this was only after I’d bought Episode I action figures, gushed over Darth Maul’s look, and dawned Queen Amidala’s makeup for the opening). I think episodes 1 through 3 are beyond boring, and I think Empire Strikes Back is the only truly well-made Star Wars film, though I love the world with all its creatures and characters.

Having established my scorn, I’m still elated that the baton has been passed and someone else is going to give it a go. Will it suck? Maybe. But looking at Disney’s relationship with Marvel, I have hope for Star Wars yet. And whatever happens, I’m thrilled at the prospect of episodes 7–9, which have only been discussed in hushed tones, and I’m relieved they’re being made by someone other than Lucas. If Lucas were making them, I don’t think I would even see them.

Lucas came up with a wonderful world, and he is one admirable philanthropist– I don’t think anyone should ever let him write or direct. Neither of those things are his strengths, nor his talents (geez, the guy made Natalie Portman look like a bad actor, for crying out loud). I know Lucas has had a hard time coming to terms with his angry fans and trusting his beloved ideas to others, but in the end, selling Lucasfilm is the best thing he could have done for his fans, and it’s the most selfless thing he’s done for his fans in years. I’m optimistic about the future (er, or the past, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away).