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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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Not that you need an excuse, but October is the perfect time to indulge your nostalgia and watch cheesy Halloween movies from your childhood. Even though they may not be as spine-chilling as when you were young, these classic Halloween movies will fill you with warm fuzzies—and I gotta say, I think they (mostly) hold up.

1. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

tales from the darkside the movie

Short stories are the perfect vehicle for horror. Many full-length horror movies and long-form novels lose steam in the third act: things tend to slow down to allow for explanations and solutions. Usually, you can see how things will be wrapped up from a mile away, and sitting through the ending is just a matter of principle. Because Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is a compilation of three short stories, the pace never drags and the pieces avoid over-explanation and cliché endings. Despite the outdated claymation and over-the-top, bright red blood, the storytelling rivals the best of ’em.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes combines all my favorite things: creepy carnies, stalwart library patrons, and on-the-nose names, such as “Mr. Dark” and “Jim Nightshade.” Throw in a classic battle of good versus evil and some “Monkey’s Paw” scenarios, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Despite its Disney status, this film has some solid imagery that still haunts me to this day.

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spiderman thinks about cash

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Sony finally decided to split custody of Spider-Man, and it looks like he’ll be visiting mom on some very important weekends in the future. After a few personal conversations, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are pretty excited. I feel that.

A few people are worried, though. Or maybe tired is a better word. News of another “Spider-Man reboot” induces cringing for these peeps, and this is my response to them. There are certain detractors that I’m not going to convince, and to those people I say that perhaps the next decade of big-budget movies should be something that they avoid, because franchising and multi-part plots aren’t going away. That’s great news, though!

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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

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

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Best Halloween Movies

Ashley Walton —  October 25, 2012 — Leave a comment

Here are my picks for best movies to get you in the Halloween spirit. Let me know what you think. Argue. Suggest. Taunt.

10. The Devil’s Backbone

I love Guillermo del Toro with an unrivaled passion. This is probably my second favorite movie of his, after Pan’s Labyrinth. If you haven’t seen this unconventional ghost story, it’s about time. It does have subtitles, so not the best movie for background noise at a party.

9. High Tension

As the title suggests, this film highlights the art of tension-building. I’ve never bitten so many nails.

8. Shaun of the Dead

This is the pinnacle of horror-comedy. Perfect watch for a Halloween party.

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This is my kind of comedy. Fair warning: I don’t like a lot of comedies that other, more socially adept people enjoy. When I’m asked to name some of my favorite funny films I might say, Amélie, Being John Malkovitch, or The Cabin in the Woods. Most wouldn’t name any of those as a laugh riot comedy, but hey, to each her own. Sleepwalk with Me takes some of the dark, uncomfortable parts of life and makes them something to laugh at. The star and writer Mike Birbiglia might be likened to a less suicidal-sounding Louis C.K., a man who knows how to make sad humor sound honest, which is why it works. The main character’s narration is at once deeply personal and relatable. It’s also based on true events (and not like how The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on “true events,” but actually based on personal essays by the writer, which have been featured on NPR’s This American Life).

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