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"Pan's Labyrinth"

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Written by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu and Ariadna Gil.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  1/11/07


It took about an hour and a half to get from my spot in Bethesda to the theater in Georgetown where the freebie of "Pan's Labyrinth" was playing tonight; needless to say, thanks to traffic and somebody else's stupid driving, I was not in a good mood when I got to the movie.

But, all of that changed as soon as the house lights went down; "Pan's Labyrinth" is a great, great film, and what surprised me was how it was great, because its fantasy elements take up surprisingly little of the film's running time.

In Spain around the end of World War II, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) are heading to an encampment where evil Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) awaits.  Why are they en route to this monster's den?  Because Vidal is apparently the father of that baby Carmen is carrying around, and in attempting to keep an heir Vidal has decided to keep Carmen in his clutches until she delivers the baby.  Ofelia--the daughter of another man, who passed away before the movie's timeline opens--soon discovers another world living in secret near the base camp, as she follows a fairy grasshopper (or something) into its lair and meets Pan (Doug Jones), a half-man/half-tree/quarter-horse/all-whack-job who befriends Ofelia and gives her three tasks to keep her busy, all of which put her in serious danger in order to confirm her Highness's place of royalty for the underground kingdom.  While all of this is happening, Vidal has enemies in the real world to deal with--rebels are threatening to take the base camp and eliminate Vidal and all of his officers.

"Pan's Labyrinth" is very easy to keep up with, and its fantasy elements are fun to follow thanks to the ceaseless visual energy of director Guillermo del Toro, who came up with some great sights in "Blade II" and "Hellboy."  Also, much like "Blade II", "Pan's Labyrinth" is a very, very bloody film, which is a strange mix with the fantasy subject matter for that portion of the movie.  I mean, we're talking torture sequences, amputations, lots of gunshots to the head, massive amounts of bleeding...I was fine with this, but I could tell by the time that people started to get cut open (war IS hell) that my audience was not always sittin' pretty.  This is mostly to make sure you know what you are getting into, because only about a third of "Pan's Labyrinth" is about the girl and her little fantasy world; mainly, it's about having a place to go to when the shit hits the fan, as Ofelia suffers through watching her mother be in pain and Vidal kill innocents non-stop.

But, the way the film is performed is fantastic; the turns by Baquero and Lopez are fantastic, and Maribel Verdu--the woman from "Y Tu Mama Tambien"--is interesting as the lead housemaid for Vidal's base camp.  The rebels have that right look of down-and-dirty desperation; you really feel for them as the tide rolls from one end to the other.  The violence here is effective; at times, it's a bit gratuitous, but then you wonder how bad people got it in WWII and some of this doesn't feel that gratuitous after all.  The cinematography is excellent and I didn't mind having to sit through subtitles as much of the action is driven with little or no dialogue.

"Pan's Labyrinth" will be a player come awards soon, as it has already taken home a number of domestic prizes.  What will Oscar say?

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09