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Battle of the Critically Acclaimed Mexican Directors! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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January 14th, 2007


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12:51 pm - Battle of the Critically Acclaimed Mexican Directors!
In the last month or so, two Mexican directors released films to much critical acclaim. And so, while Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth have nothing to do with each other, I am discussing them together.

I had heard nothing but amazing things about Children of Men. It was the best movie of the year, the best movie of the decade, the best movie since sliced bread, etc. So my expectations were pretty damn high, and they were bound to be crushed, especially since upanashad and I sat in the second row. Also, I fell asleep for ten minutes or so. I'm just trying to make excuses here. I think horsefacehannah has the best assessment I've seen:
As an experience, this movie is absolutely the best I've seen in ages. As a movie it's just ok, as a political statement it's pretty useless, but there are some scenes that just completely paralyzed me.
My assessment is that the movie is great filmmaking but not great storytelling. I loved the look and feel of the movie. I loved that the Vision of the Future was so detailed that while you were rarely told about the state of things, you could put together pieces by looking at slogans on posters and graffiti on the walls if you could read it while the camera was moving. The attention to detail was truly astounding; I felt like Cuarón was actually filming in this world because Christ, how could he have made it so perfectly?

The camerawork is also phenomenally impressive. There is an unedited shot in the first half hour or so that just boggled my mind because I could not figure out how he did it. And even when I looked up how he did it, it was still impressive because the unedited shots in this movie are not just cool tracking shots. Shit happens. A lot. And to think of the number of takes to coordinate it all and the intensity and energy involved is just...wow. There is another unedited shot near the end that is actually two masquerading as one (I couldn't spot an edit, but I knew the camera had changed for reasons that will become clear when you see the movie). And I swear the movie is worth seeing just for these unedited shots. Because they put you right in the action and you can't get away and the camera won't let you leave and you fear for your own safety because you are there.

If I had gone into the movie ready to enjoy the technical achievement and nothing else, I would have been much happier. Because I was very disappointed in the actual story, which was practically nonexistent. I didn't feel emotionally connected to the characters, and the moments where I was presumably supposed to cry felt cheap and easy. I didn't feel like the movie ended up saying anything at all, when it was so clearly trying so hard.

For weeks, the movie ate at me...but not because it was making me think about it. It was making me think about why didn't I love it like everyone else in the damn world?! It was so confusing because when I looked up reviews and read people's comments, it seemed that everything they loved about it, I also loved about it. I thought maybe I just had a Cuarón block because I didn't think Y Tu Mamá También was hot shit either. It really bugged me that I didn't love it, and I would give it a second chance, though I don't feel like paying for it.

So I was wary of all the hype surrounding Pan's Labyrinth, which was similarly superlative. I didn't have a Del Toro block, though, as I had enjoyed Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy, though only the last one seemed remotely personal in a "Del Toro movie" sense.

Pan's Labyrinth is really, really good. I took a class on German fairy tales, so I loved how closely it followed standard fairy tale tropes. And I'm talking actual fairy tales, not Disney-fied fairy tales. The kind where the little mermaid turns to sea foam and witches gobble up little children and sausages talk. I didn't know how much I wanted a "fairy tale for adults" until I got one.

One major caveat/word of warning: the marketing is extremely misleading (surprise!). I would say the fantasy elements comprise a mere 15% of the movie; the bulk of the film takes place in a post-Spanish Civil War setting where fascists are crushing the remaining insurgents. And the real-world elements make a good movie in and of themselves, really, but the fantasy stuff is so good that I wanted a lot more of it, but the more I think about it, the more I can't see it being any other way because Del Toro made it this way for a reason and to shift the balance would change the movie into something else. Because the movie isn't necessarily a fantasy, it's about the need for fantasy, the way fantasy creeps into the real world. And so it makes sense that it only creeps into the movie as well. (That being said, I wouldn't say no to, like, a Pan's Labyrinth 2 that deals exclusively with the fantasy world.)

While I'm warning people, I should also say that, yes, this movie is definitely not for the kiddies. Things can get pretty graphic at times, almost gratuitously so (not in a buckets-of-blood way but a do-we-really-need-to-see-this way).

What I love about the movie is the way it works on so many levels and weaves in so many themes effortlessly. It's perfectly enjoyable and compelling on the surface, the story of a young girl in a war-torn environment who escapes into a fantasy world and the story of a grown woman who believed in fantasies when she was a girl but is now forced to live in this world, but there's all this hidden meat. I feel like it's saying a lot of things without even trying, just by the nature of the story. And the more I discuss it, the better it gets. I think Del Toro gets it:
Because I believe in parables more than I believe in political speech. And I think that parables have the chance to move you spiritually or emotionally and affect you emotionally. And political speech, if you don't agree with it, it just makes a little static on your brain. It's argumentative. It's not emotional....The difference is parable over more of a pamphlet political. Parable does not need to affect a particular outcome of an election or a vote or things like that. Parable discusses general issues.
Maybe Cuarón and Del Toro should team up to make a totally awesome movie (although Cuarón was a producer on Pan's Labyrinth, and Del Toro came up with the ending to Y Tu Mamá También).

I really need to see The Devil's Backbone now, as it's apparently a companion piece to this movie, and upanashad says it's better. Pan's Labyrinth, however, is the best movie I've seen in theatres in months.

Poll #906679 Superhyped Movie Deathmatch!

Which movie do you like better?

Children of Men
7(29.2%)
Pan's Labyrinth
9(37.5%)
I liked them both equally.
1(4.2%)
I hated them both!
0(0.0%)
...why are we comparing them again?
7(29.2%)

Current Mood: sicksick
Current Music: Juno Reactor - God Is God

(67 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:hobviously
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)
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Way to oppress people who haven't seen both movies, Cow's poll!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:05 pm (UTC)
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Well, if you've only seen one and you liked it, you can pick that one!
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From:upanashad
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:22 pm (UTC)
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You know, I'm starting to think the best way to see these critically acclaimed movies is to go in blind, like I tend to do, because it keeps the initial reaction to the story-telling more sincere (and also I need that child-like thrill of not knowing what's going to happen). Then go home and read all the interviews and think the hell out of it. And then go back and see it again armed with all the knowledge that you now have, so you can notice the details, the inderpinnings. That being said, I'm with you on not being willing to pay for the same movie twice.

Nice recap of CoM, and I think maybe this is a large part of why we didn't like it, or why I didn't like it, anyway:

Because I believe in parables more than I believe in political speech. And I think that parables have the chance to move you spiritually or emotionally and affect you emotionally. And political speech, if you don't agree with it, it just makes a little static on your brain. It's argumentative. It's not emotional....The difference is parable over more of a pamphlet political. Parable does not need to affect a particular outcome of an election or a vote or things like that. Parable discusses general issues.

Because CoM was making a political statement, and I'm not usually very interested in those, while I am very interested in the statements about life that parables make.

I feel like it's saying a lot of things without even trying, just by the nature of the story.

And that's what makes a good story.

Also good point about Mercedes having to live in this world, to give up any childlike innocence because she needs to survive in a war-torn place.

I don't know for sure if The Devil's Backbone is better! I thought it worked better as a story, but there was way more of a horror element to it. Maybe you won't like it.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
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Because CoM was making a political statement, and I'm not usually very interested in those, while I am very interested in the statements about life that parables make.
Yeah, that really stood out to me as a big difference between the two movies, which is why I quoted it.

And that's what makes a good story.
Indeed.

Also good point about Mercedes having to live in this world, to give up any childlike innocence because she needs to survive in a war-torn place.
I thought it was interesting how her character grew in importance over the movie. When we first met her, I wouldn't have guessed I'd like her so much. Later, I recognized her as Maribel Verdu from YTMT, so I paid more attention to her.

I don't know for sure if The Devil's Backbone is better! I thought it worked better as a story, but there was way more of a horror element to it. Maybe you won't like it.
Hee. I think I will. Because I like horror, and I like stories.
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From:glasseseater
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
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I couldn't remember whether I wanted to see children of men because there were too many movies with the word child in it.

you never have an option for my friends have bad taste in movies so I never get to see the movies I want to.
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From:boundaid
Date:January 14th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
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I would agree with you 100% on the Children Of Men. I loved the pretty, the eye candy, but I didn't like the beginning, the middle and I hated the end.

I want to see Pan's. Real bad.



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From:soleta_nf
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I haven't seen either movie yet. I was really looking forward to Children of Men, but you've got me all excited about Pan's Labyrinth now. It sounds wonderful.

Also, that Del Toro quote is brilliant. It's what I've tried to say about fiction vs. non-fiction stories many times ("pop culture" vs. "politics"), but much more eloquent.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
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I was really looking forward to Children of Men, but you've got me all excited about Pan's Labyrinth now. It sounds wonderful.
It is! It is full of wonder.
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From:duchessdogberry
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
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I'm seeing CoM tonight, so I skipped a lot of what you had to say about that. I'll take the poll afterwards.

But I saw Pan's Labyrinth last week and The Devil's Backbone a few weeks back on IFC. Definitely companion movies, even though I didn't know it until the credits rolled on PL and I went "huh, that was a lot like his other movie". TDB is like the boy version of PL. I liked a lot of the supporting characters and stories in TDB more than in PL.

And you're right about love for Pan's Labyrinth growing the more you think about it. I was also a bit let down about the lack of fantasy stuff going on when I saw it.

But the more I think about, the more I realize how great the story is. How beautiful the metaphors holding up the story are. How oddly timeless and fucking epic the whole thing is- not just the Princess legend in the story but even all the period war drama. That's what I didn't get at first. It could really take place in just about any setting and be a bit of folklore from almost anywhere.

And it's all so very well made! That's the real shocking thing for me, I think. There aren't any rough edges (that I can think of) that need to be ignored to enjoy it.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
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TDB is like the boy version of PL.
That's exactly what del Toro said.

How beautiful the metaphors holding up the story are. How oddly timeless and fucking epic the whole thing is- not just the Princess legend in the story but even all the period war drama. That's what I didn't get at first. It could really take place in just about any setting and be a bit of folklore from almost anywhere.
I know! I've been trying to map the war drama to Ofelia's fairy tale with Vidal as the Villain and Mercedes as the Hero, but it doesn't seem to work entirely, even though the idea is so there. I mean, she even ends up with the stolen child! Both stories sort of intertwine and play off each other.

And it's all so very well made! That's the real shocking thing for me, I think. There aren't any rough edges (that I can think of) that need to be ignored to enjoy it.
I saw one review that called it a "perfect" movie, and I'm starting to see why. Like you said, everything is just right. The only weirdly false notes I can think of are the lingering focus on the amputation and the stitching, but I think they were there to continue to emphasize the brutality of the real world.
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From:eldritch_flame
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)
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Well, I have seen neither movie at this time, but from what you've written and reviews I've seen elsewhere, I think I would enjoy Pan's Labyrinth much more. And that quote pretty much sums up why.

I prefer my movies to have very low levels of political commentary and very high levels of actual story. Even nineteen parts story to one part politics is stretching it. Also, I have heard that CoM is rather violent, although I'm not sure Pan's Labyrinth is going to be much less so.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
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PL is less violent as a whole than CoM, but the actual scenes of violence are more graphic, I think. And, actually, it's not so much the violence that's graphic as the...aftermath, sometimes. You'll see.
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From:orangesky33
Date:January 14th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
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I have seen neither (though interested in Pan's Labyrinth ), which pretty much makes this comment useless.
However, I know what you mean about your feelings for Children of Men , for I don't like... watermelon. And anytime I have ever said this I have been met with? "OMG YOU HAVE NO SOUL!" Also, it's not like I am revolted by watermelon; I can appreciate the refreshing quality of it and the taste is okay, but I have no grand love in my heart for watermelon, and for the longest time I felt bad and made a vow to try it again and form more of taste for it. However, I just really don't give a damn about watermelon, and so that didn't work. Moral of the story? If it isn't money, not everyone is going to love something, even if it's Children of Men, or watermelon (which I suppose the film is quite possibly more of a souffle or something,and thus the whole analogy goes to shit).

Also? You alluded to The Little Mermaid . Ahhh, I love the fairytale edition so much. *wells*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
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Didn't Disney also take out the part where every step on earth felt like walking on KNIVES? CHRIST, HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, YOU SICK FUCK.

I like watermelon well enough, but it's not the bestest fruit ever.
From:wee_warrior
Date:January 14th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
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You actually made me curious about "Pan's Labyrinth," something I normally wouldn't have touched with a tent pole after seeing the ads. I think I'm going to check it out, should it ever show up in German cinemas.

And not to be anal, but "The Little Mermaid" is Andersen, not Grimm, thus it is Danish, not German.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
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I know that. Fairy tale tropes cross countries and cultures.

And I'm glad I made you curious about a movie you weren't intending to see! That's cool.
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From:sterope
Date:January 15th, 2007 12:58 am (UTC)
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I went to see Children of Men because I think Clive Owen is totally hot. The filmmaking was excellent, and the story itself was just okay. It's certainly not "omg best movie of the year!" and I kind of don't get why people think it is. You definitely get the feeling like you're there in the middle of everything, and it certainly gives you an impression of what it must be like to live somewhere in the world where things blow up a lot and there are tanks going through the street. The lighting and costumes and stuff reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, which I thought was funny and mildly distracting. Michael Caine was awesome. Definitely the best actor in the movie. His last scenes almost made me cry. I didn't care for Y Tu Mama Tambien either. It was too depressing, and weird for my taste. I haven't seen Pan's Labyrinth yet, but I have a feeling it would be a rental.
From:metabeta
Date:January 15th, 2007 03:16 am (UTC)
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sterope's note is almost exactly my note so I'll just reply to her note and say, "Yeah, what she said!"

Also, she has a Bridget Jones icon so we're obviously soulmates anyway.

Also, I really hope sterope's a girl because I'm not being very gender-ambiguous about things.
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From:punzerel
Date:January 15th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
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The thing that I liked about CoM was I think the thing that every darn reviewer missed. It's not about Government is Evil, NGOs are Lovely and will save us all (which is basically what my idiotic Gazette film reviewer said). It showed both (the government & the Fishers) as both with bad spots and both with human spots (the soldiers at the end were very human), and there were a few genuinely good people here and there, but they weren't good because of their affiliation with any group. Also, the good people weren't all saintly good, but real people. (Theo was a Good Person, but he was a messed up, disillusioned, grimy alcoholic good person.) I don't think it was the best movie ever, but I liked that it gave that subtlety - I know it's been said to be very determined about a specific message, but I think a lot of people saying that are getting it wrong. (Also, it gave cinematic proof that white people with dreads are lame. I feel justified now!)

Pan's Labyrinth sounds great, though - it's definitely not playing anywhere here, I'd never even herad of it before you mentioned it now :(
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From:punzerel
Date:January 15th, 2007 02:20 am (UTC)
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(P.S. I'm not saying I think YOU missed the point of CoM, I hope my above comment didn't come off like that. I think a lot if reviewers did, though, and ended up liking it for the wrong reasons.)
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From:horsefacehannah
Date:January 15th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)
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Pan's Labyrinth needed another minute or so of the pale man for me to have liked it more than Children Of Men. Honestly, I think they're both great films in very VERY different ways, and I'm pretty sure that my visceral reaction to Pan's Labyrinth was severely affected by the fact that I saw the 10:40pm showing... um. This comment says nothing. Sorry.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 15th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC)
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Another minute of the Pale Man would have been good.

Your comment says something! Plus, hot icon. And you, period! I like you.
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From:incidentist
Date:January 15th, 2007 04:01 am (UTC)
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I saw Pan's Labyrinth last night and I'm boggled by the positive consensus. I enjoyed it well enough, but it had big glaring problems! You even mention some of them, but you don't seem to think they take away from the experience! Ack! Okay, I'm gonna write something. We're gonna have words, you and I.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 15th, 2007 04:05 am (UTC)
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Wuh oh! And here I just agreed that it was practically a perfect movie!
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From:duchessdogberry
Date:January 15th, 2007 04:57 am (UTC)
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Okay, I just saw Children of Men and have now read your comments on it.

I really liked it. I liked the emotions it got out of me. And it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. That hasn't happened in a while. I was told it was good, but I was also told it was like Blade Runner. I thought Blade Runner was over-hyped boring shit.

Sure, Children of Men lacked a real plot an an independent film-y way, but I like the human moments Cuaron catches between drama. You don't really get to know the characters in the film, but you really get to see how the react and relate to the other characters.

My only complaint at the moment is the total lack of an actual ending.
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From:hecubot
Date:January 15th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
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And so, while Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth have nothing to do with each other,

That's not true! They're close friends. Also with the guy who made Babel.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:January 15th, 2007 06:00 am (UTC)
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Oh, I know. Which is why comparing is fun. But the movies themselves are totally unrelated.

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