Monday, January 15

Film Reviews: The Queen, Blood Diamond, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth

I realized that Paper Stereo has yet to stray from subjects that are strictly music-related, but with so many fantastic movies that have recently come out, I thought it would be a shame not to mention them. Here are some short reviews of four movies I’ve seen in the last month, all of which are worth the price of admission and then some.

The Queen [Trailer]
Though the subject matter, consisting mainly of the royal families reaction (or lack thereof) to Princess Diana’s death in the week following, may seem dry and uneventful, the result is anything but. Director Stephen Frears handles the whole ordeal masterfully, contrasting the apparent heartlessness of Queen Elizabeth with the shoulder-worn grief of the British people without making either seem in the wrong. Helen Mirren plays her role flawlessly, remaining consistently stoic but betraying ever so subtlety her own, inner emotional struggle, though the supporting cast seems, at times, to be rather one-dimensional. Apart from an excessively symbolic couple of scenes involving a stag, the movie flows comfortably, avoiding the dramatization that so many almost-nonfiction films fall into and instead making the existing drama both tangible and affecting. 8/10

Blood Diamond [Trailer]
Upon seeing the preview for this movie, it was my natural reaction (and I am not alone in this) to wonder how awful Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent would be. But when you become acquainted with the movie’s setting and the events that bring forth his character, DiCaprio truly shines. His acting is superb, playing a man torn between conscience, debt, and love and, as such, the audience is never full aware of his motives. Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou also provide powerful supporting performances, giving the numerous action-oriented sequences of the movie depth and meaning beyond simple entertainment. The plot, which focuses on the conflict surrounding the diamond mining industry in Sierra Leone, is powerful without sounding preachy. And, though the big name actors, the love story subplot, and a fair amount of adrenaline-pumping scenes betray that there is a certain Hollywood influence on the film, the message nevertheless strikes home. Suffice it to say that this film will make you never want to buy a diamond again. 8/10

Children of Men [Trailer]
Director Alfonso Cuarón commanded this movie more virtuosity and confidence than I’ve seen in a long time. The film is set in England in the year 2027, and the future is grim. London is in shambles, riddled by bomb explosions, while refugees are caged in the streets, arrested, and relocated to camps by the thousands. Trash and rubble are everywhere, while the woods are filled with rebels, hiding from the law. The reason: women are no longer able to have babies. Clive Owen, in what I would say is his much-deserved breakout role, plays the unwitting cynic who suddenly stumbles upon Kee, a young girl whose pregnant belly provides new hope for a world on the brink of destruction. The film follows them as they work to find a way to The Human Project, a haven for scientists and researches that may or may not even exist. Their journey is long and hard, realized by Cuarón’s relentless and consistent portrayal of this desolate wasteland of the future, all of which feels almost too real for comfort. The film provides no real answers of any sort but the real point is the journey, the transformation of Clive Owen’s lost character and the battle of hope and destruction in a world where destruction has all but won and, as such, succeeds admirably. 9/10

Pan’s Labyrinth [Trailer]
You will never see another movie like this one. Guillermo del Toro has created something magnificent and utterly singular in “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Set in Fascist Spain, the film follows the young Ofelia in a coming of age story that has one foot in the harsh reality of war and death and the other foot in the dark, fairytale world of her childhood innocence interrupted. Del Toro combines seamlessly the sickness of Ofelia’s mother, the ongoing war, and the birth of her baby brother with a strange tale of a princess of the underworld, who had long left her kingdom and was sought out by her father, the king. The fantasy characters are wonderfully imagined, from the horrifying child-eater to the giant toad sapping the fig tree of its life. The human characters are multi-faceted and entirely believable; the hidden cowardice of the Captain is slowly revealed as he becomes universally hated, the audience falls instantly in love with the bold Mercedes, and Ofelia herself is so flawlessly lost among a world she is not ready to accept that her struggles become the audience’s own. The violence can be graphic and brutal, but none of it is unnecessary; as another contrast between childhood innocence and brutal reality, it serves its purpose wonderfully. There exists in the film a sense that every single image and word serves a purpose and that “Pan’s Labyrinth” is truly a magnificent feat of storytelling, an almost flawless dichotomy of the girl and the woman, the imagination and the world, the devils inside and the devils without. 9.5/10

- Dominick Duhamel -

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