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Despite a few delays, Film Club has returned for April with a film that has perhaps tested a few members in regards to watching something outside of their comfort zone. Pan’s Labyrinth is the Spanish language fairytale from director Guillermo del Toro, and is one of the more unique films that Film Club has had the pleasure of reviewing.

This months film was chosen by Cara from Silver Screen Serenade. As always, Cara’s reason for choosing this months film are listed below, followed by each members thoughts. Enjoy.

When Kieron asked me about picking a film for this month’s Film Club, I was at first a little overwhelmed. I had my choice of all of the movies. ALL OF THEM. Like, woah. But I thought things over, and I narrowed it down to films that really had an impact on me, then films that I haven’t had a chance to discuss in great detail on my blog. After much deliberation, the end result was Pan’s Labyrinth because a) I love broadening my horizons with foreign films, b) I love the dark fantasy/horror vibe that this film has going for it, and c) this one makes you feel, man. Plus, I was very curious to see how my fellow Film Clubbers felt about it. So let’s see what everyone has to say!

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Silver Screen Serenade:

Oh man. Pan’s Labyrinth. I picked it, so you’d think I’d know where to start, but so much about it is so GOOD. What’s really funny about this one is that my initial reaction wasn’t exactly boundless enthusiasm. But I watched this in college with a room full of whispering people who had probably seen it a thousand times, so part of the problem was atmosphere, I’m sure. But I also wasn’t prepared for some of the film’s heavier moments—especially that ending. It took another viewing to really appreciate this one for the masterpiece it is. I have loved it ever since.

First of all, Pan’s Labyrinth (or El laberinto del fauno, in its native Spanish) is not only a rich, dark fantasy tale, but it also delves into a bit of historical fiction, too. Set in 1944, the film takes place in post-Civil War Spain, following a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she and her pregnant mother move in with her ruthless new stepfather, a captain in the Spanish army. The sadistic captain is stationed in the countryside per the orders of General Franco, hoping to quell a nearby guerrilla uprising. Meanwhile, Ofelia is left to her own devices, which is how she finds herself in an ancient, magical labyrinth. She’s told by the mythical guardian of the labyrinth, a faun called Pan (Doug Jones), that she’s the lost princess of an underground kingdom, and in order to earn her place again, she must complete a series of tasks.

Phew! Does that break it down for you?

It might be a somewhat complicated story, but it all flows together seamlessly—and beautifully. The cinematography in this film is stunning, hence the Academy Award win for Best Achievement in Cinematography back in 2007 (not to mention Art Direction and Makeup wins). Everything is rich and dark and elaborate, setting the perfect tone for the film. And Pan is such a cool creation. So is the Pale Man, though he’s much more likely to reside in your nightmares. He scary.

Speaking of Pan, Doug Jones plays him (and the Pale Man) quite perfectly. Jones is a favorite of director Guillermo del Toro (who cast him as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies) for good reason. He captures the eerie movement and mannerisms of ancient Pan so well. As for little Ofelia…love her. I once made a list of my favorite horror movie heroines, and she was the only girl under high school age on it. She’s definitely a dreamer, but she’s grounded by what’s important. Her mother and her soon-to-be sibling mean everything to her. And the girl is ridiculously brave. She steps up to all of Pan’s challenges without hesitation. Because of that (and because of her twisted stepfather) she goes through the ringer—so much so that it’s hard to watch sometimes. But Ofelia is a great character who is so easy to root for.

Also, can we just talk about the range of emotions you go through watching this film? It’s so tense that you’re nervous through most of it, then there’s the creepy stuff that scares you, and the violence that shocks you, and THAT ENDING. Ugh. You will feel feelings when you watch that ending. Just in case you haven’t seen it, that’s all I’m saying.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a gorgeous, moving film that will stay with you long as you watch it. Basically perfect, in my opinion. Here’s hoping my fellow Film Clubbers love it, too!

Rating: 9.5/10

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What About the Twinkie?:

Few directors are as stylish, audacious and as forward thinking as Guillermo del Toro. His current resume is a delightful mix of action, superhero, horror, suspense and fairytale making him one of the most distinctive directors working today. His films have blockbuster budgets, with indie values, while the list of actors he finds to board his projects is nothing short of astonishing.

His body of work has provided audiences, both casual and hardcore (for lack of a better term) the chance to revel in his various offerings. With Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro gives us a fairytale that has all the hallmarks of his previous films. Part fairytale and part horror, his take on a young girls life at the time of the Spanish Civil War blurs the line between reality and fantasy.

Strong performances are given all around, with Ivana Baquero’s portrayal of the young Ofelia perhaps outshining everyone else. Young yet immature, scared but full of strength, her performance is the central point of the entire film, and gives the audience someone to really root for. Doug Jones also puts in a fine performance as both the pale man and the faun, ensuring his stock continues to rise.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a fine example of a director being given the time and room to make the film he wants to, without letting the artistic freedom become a hindrance. This film is highly recommended, and anyone who thinks that there aren’t any original ideas in the film industry anymore, needs to check this out.

Rating: 8/10

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 The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger:

I have been meaning to watch this film in its entirety for years. Really. But, typical of life, something keeps coming up. I have seen sections of it throughout the years though, but never the whole thing, so I was so happy to see it picked for this month’s Film Club.

Starting off, I liked the way the movie looked. Dark and gloomy but pretty, very intricate. The way the fairy tale is told right at the beginning draws you in, and I think it is so successful because it is pretty dark, not this light and fluffy ordeal. No happily ever after right there. Meeting Ofelia, you just know you are about to be pulled into something magical, something different. I think that Ivana Baquero was absolutely brilliant in her role, and she had my support every step of the way. This was a girl I was going to root for. I think that the casting for the movie was very well done, everyone carried their own and I enjoyed watching them.

Maribel Verdú, Sergi López and Álex Angulo particularly stood out as the sweet and brave Mercedes, the cruel and callous Captain Vidal and the compassionate and kind hearted Doctor Ferriero. The complex relation between them was fascinating to watch. I was a big fan of the way the fantasy and reality were crafted in Pan’s Labyrinth. It definitely was something to experience. It was stooped in extremely harsh reality, what with the Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s ill mother and a war to boot. However, on the other side was the oddly fantastical but no less dangerous world of the faun and his enigmatic labyrinth and all the tasks she is given to complete to prove herself the Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld.

The story is wholly engrossing, and I did not find my attention wandering once, and the pacing is exactly what it needed to be. The film utilised every second it had to weave the tale we got. I fully maintain that Guillermo del Toro is phenomenal when he does foreign Spanish films. Both this and The Devil’s Backbone were infinitely more engrossing than his English films, and have significantly better stories and portrayals. I certainly have a preference when it comes to his work. If it is foreign, I am there. They just seem so much more genuine and heartfelt. I can definitely say that Pan’s Labyrinth is well worth the watch, shot beautifully, and tells a exquisite, dark fantasy tale.

Rating: 8/10

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Sweet Archive:

I’m not so sure how to place my thoughts on this film. When I first heard about it back in 2006, I was convinced it was just like Jim Henson’s Labyrinth from 1986, a thought which got me very excited to watch Pan’s Labyrinth. There are some similarities between the two films, such as; they both tell of young girls’ quests with an eventual saving of baby brothers, both have villains, and both involve the presence of weirdly creatures and odd characters. The only difference, and a big difference it is, is that Pan’s Labyrinth’s reality is much fiercer, tyrant and cruel than in Labyrinth. One that is even unbearable at times.

If fairytale and reality had a child, Pan’s Labyrinth would be its name. The plot can be looked at from two perspectives. One: Pan’s Labyrinth is a story of a princess lost in a cruel human world and in order to gain back her memory and go back to her underworld kingdom, she’s given three tasks by a mythic, extremely tall, and slightly intimidating faun. Two: Having to live with a sadistic captain as her new stepfather, bookish young girl, Ofelia, escapes to her captivating world of fantasy (as described on IMDB). Both stories are well intertwined, however, I found it difficult at times to shift back and forth from one to another.

Guillermo del Toro is not trying to fool his viewer’s in any way. The fantasy he has created here is surly not aimed for children, rather for adults, and so he’s telling us we can deal with even the harsher fantasy he’ll present. The fantastical elements he uses are eccentric and often violent and are obviously meant to shock. The gigantic scary frog who throws up her insides revealing a secret golden key, the horrific pale man who uses his hands for eyes and surrounded by murals of him killing and eating children. Imagination has risen to a whole new level with this film and shows no mercy on its viewer. I found it to be brilliantly refreshing, and I’d like to add a quote here as it sums up my opinion very accurately: “Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups”, Rotten Tomatoes.

The cast chosen for this film is an absolute winner. Ivana Baquero who played Ofelia is obviously the shining star of the film and it’s unbelievable that a girl so young could act so well. A prodigy at her profession, no doubt. Sergi López as the cruel and sadistic El Capitan is cold and terrifying which only legitimizes the actor’s success. His cheek slashed face, joker-like, was one that shall be carved in my memory in the next few days. Maribel Verdú, who played El Capitan’s housekeeper, Mercedes, I remember from previous films and was always fond of her screen presence. A good actress indeed. Last but not least is Doug Jones, the man behind masks and make-up, as The Faun/ Pale Man. Two brilliantly intimidating roles well played by this insanely talented actor.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece in my view, only it took some time for me to realise that, once I overcame the primal shock when finding out it’s not an innocent fantasy flick. I think a film as this one is an inquired taste and not to anyone’s immediate liking. Either you like it or you think it’s too much. I do recommend it highly, however, consider yourself warned. It is fantastic but not to be taken for granted.

Rating: 9.2 / 10

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Flashback/Backslide:

Thanks for inviting me to the Film Club! I’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth a surprising number of times over the years. The first time was in high school Spanish. Our teacher threw the VHS into one of those rolling TV machines, flipped on the subtitles and zoned out for forty-five minutes (three days in a row). A few years later a college professor tossed in a DVD, sat intently for two hours, and paused the movie every few minutes to explain the parallels between the movie, the Spanish Civil War and the greater fight against fascism. Now all my later viewings are distorted by that lens. But the film deals with more than political commentary. Pan’s Labyrinth is layered with enough meanings and interpretations that it’s easy to wonder how much you missed at first glance. Well, maybe that just happened with me.

The story follows a young girl named Ofelia who travels with her pregnant mother to rural Spain where the mother’s second husband is serving as a Captain in Franco’s army. On the way to Captain Vidal’s outpost, Ofelia meets a strange creature who is later revealed to be a shape-shifting fairy. Soon Ofelia meets an extremely creepy faun who tells her that she is “not born of man” and instead is the fabled Princess Moanna alluded to in the film’s opening. In order to ascend to the throne, Ofelia must follow the faun’s guidance and complete three tasks which involve a frog which can turn inside-out and a creature which recently lost a commendable amount of weight and sees through its hands. As expected, things get weird.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Ofelia’s mother becomes increasingly ill as her pregnancy progresses and Vidal fights rebels in the surrounding woods. In Vidal, del Toro takes the fairy tale approach to villain building. In his first meeting with Ofelia, the girl politely reaches out her left hand to shake the Captain’s hand. He quickly grabs it and chastises her for offering the wrong hand. A few scenes later Vidal viciously punishes two conejo hunters. Hitchcock said (bear with me) that “in the old days villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be thrown at them … They want an ordinary human being with failings.” Vidal is forcefully thrown at us and is far from ordinary. This isn’t lazy writing but establishes the film’s fairy tale paradigm of good and evil with the good (Ofelia) overcoming evil both in the real world (Vidal) and in her fairy tale world.

A lot can be written about Pan’s Labyrinth’s use of magical realism and its purpose in the film. Does the film use fairy tale principles to tell the story of a young girl caught up in a war? Or does it squeeze the horrors of war into a fairy tale world to expose war’s foolishness? Are all the fairies a figment of Ofelia’s imagination (the same question people asked about Birdman)? For me, the real purpose of the movie is to let Guillermo del Toro flex his world-building muscles. Regardless of how well his films have been received, they are always at least interesting. I haven’t always been kind to his movies in my reviews but he has built a great filmography by creating detailed worlds filled with vampire hunters, cockroach killers, giant robots, demonic heroes and chalk fuelled doorways. Pan’s Labyrinth is probably his most fleshed out world with the most to to say about ours. Even if I still don’t get it.

Rating: 9/10

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Movie Rob:

There are two kinds of movies that I steer clear away from; non-English language films and horror. Despite this movie being a mixture of both, I have loved it both times I’ve seen it because of the way writer/director Guillermo del Toro was able to create a multilayered story that encompasses two differing worlds; one occurs in a fairy tale world and the other in our world during WWII in Franco occupied Spain.

I liked the way that both worlds were integrated into the story giving us an impression that either could be real or alternatively either could be the fantasy world. del Toro does an amazingly job showing that evil can appear in many forms and that courage is needed in order to combat it no matter who you are or in what world you live in.

It’s innovative film making like this that gives me hope for the future of movies. Del Toro has proven time and again how great a storyteller and director he is.

It’s so refreshing to see that despite this movie being in a foreign language, it was able to win 3 Oscars – Cinematography, Make-Up and Art Direction. It was disappointing to see that it lost Best Foreign language Film, Original score and Screenplay. I predict that he has an Oscar for directing in his future if he continues to make movies like this one!

Rating: 9/10

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Oracle of Film:

There aren’t many movies out there like Pan’s Labyr… there aren’t any movies out there like Pan’s Labyrinth. Full stop. And a part of me is pretty confident that we will never see anything quite like this again. Fantasy and reality blur so tightly that this story might be the stuff of surrealism and fairy tales, yet it feels more real than anything I have ever witnessed, matching Game of Thrones for grittiness, Narnia for universe-building and the Babadook for that in-your-face way of going about the magic side of the story. Perhaps this is why Pan’s Labyrinth is met with such critical acclaim. This is an experience like none we have ever had before and we respect it all the more for it. It is a fairy tale for grown-ups, giving us that element of mysticism, yet not cushioning us from the horrors and brutality of the trials Ofelia faces. The deaths are gruesome (an execution with a bottle of wine is stomach-turning), and the nightmare is real. Vidal, played excellently by Sergi Lopez, is one of the nastier pieces of work we have seen in cinema, coming across as the most terrifying monster in a film about monsters. Well, OK, maybe not the most terrifying…

However, when all Del Toro has to do is throw us in a scene with a beautifully created faun (Del Toro revels in the grotesque oddness of the faun, giving us something totally original), to make us keel over in awe, then why doesn’t he do this more often? I get that the best directors rely on restraint more often than not, but Pan’s Labyrinth becomes a rather frustrating watch, as it never gives us quite the thrill ride we want. The three trials that Ofelia must complete and trimmed short and separated by lengthy periods spent in the miserable Civil war. I get the brutality’s relevance, yet these scenes are over-cooked, only made so captivating by Lopez’s memorable villain. The magical world of Pan’s Labyrinth is always out of reach, especially when the ending doesn’t completely confirm how real the fairy tale is. It is great in moments, but those moments are so short, it is hard to figure out if we are in love with this movie, or in love with what it could have been.

Rating: 7/10

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HC Movie Reviews:

Pan’s Labyrinth is a film that has always been on my radar, I have seen clips of it before and often see it on TV, however for some reason I have never given it my full attention. I probably dismissed it as a little too weird for me. With it being this month’s Film Club choice I was both excited and hesitant but now after watching it I’m glad that Film Club gave me the push I needed to get watching!

Pan’s Labyrinth was not what I was expecting at all! I won’t explicitly discuss why as to avoid spoilers but I was expecting a lot more of the fantasy element than I got. From what I knew about the film I was anticipating Alice in Wonderland on steroids, however, Pan’s Labyrinth is much more than that. I really enjoyed the fantasy elements present here, fantasy is a hard genre to get right and it can quickly become silly – this didn’t happen here. There are some fantastic creatures and characters here that should intrigue any fantasy fan and they are always a joy to watch. A personal favourite of mine was the Faun, from the costume design, to the way he moved and not least his character, this figure always demanded my attention in every scene he appeared. I was always anticipating his next appearance too!

Unfortunately I can’t really say the same for the human characters. These characters were written well and they were likable but for some reason I just found it hard to connect with them, characters are usually my favourite element to a film but here this wasn’t the case. I think the issue here was because the film also presents such an intriguing fantasy element that any time that the film devotes attention to the human’s situations I just wanted to get back to the fantasy. It almost became frustrating as I just wanted to get back into the crazy world that Guillermo Del Toro had created here. Although after I watched the film I got straight onto the online threads and discussion points for the film and realised that there are so many themes that transpire from different parts of the film which now after seeing the whole picture I can enjoy piecing together.

I can see now why Pan’s Labyrinth is regarded as a modern fantasy classic, it is certainly enjoyable and its distinctive design and feel only enhances the viewer’s experience. This film doesn’t stop after the credits roll though, with many questions to ponder and discuss Pan’s Labyrinth continues to stimulate those who have watched it for some time after – this is what I really enjoy from films and any that do this will warrant many re-watches and references in the future from me.

Rating: 8/10

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Ten Stars or Less:

Pan’s Labyrinth has been on my watch list since late last year when I decided to challenge myself to watch all the movies off the IMDb Top 250 list. This drama/fantasy movie is on the list and as of this writing currently sits at #123. At first glance there was probably no way I would have been interested in watching this Spanish movie because I don’t like foreign movies. I don’t mean any offence to anyone, but if it’s not in English, it can be really difficult to figure out. When Pan’s Labyrinth started I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to handle it. The characters ended up growing on me and this movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

The best part of this film was the special effects. Everything felt like it was out of a dream even though it was played out in real life. If you don’t have a great imagination then this may not work for you, but anyone who has dreamt of living in a different world then this would be right up your alley. Some people may find the faun to be an ugly creature that you couldn’t trust and that’s understandable considering how he acts with our young hero Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). He’s a messenger from the king of the underworld, who thinks Ofelia is a reincarnation of his daughter the princess. As her world crumbles around her, Ofelia is brave enough to embark on his challenges to have the opportunity to find peace and happiness. This was the interesting and good part of the film, which could easily be overshadowed by one other main character and his thirst for absolute power.

Ofelia’s new step father, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), is military leader who is tasked with killing rebels in the Spanish back country. I’m sure Lopez is a nice guy in real life, but in Pan’s Labyrinth he is one of the biggest pricks I’ve ever seen in a movie. I hated his character from the beginning all the way until the end, where sadly I got even more pissed because he deserved a much more violent death then he got. Despite his major ego issues, this guy had no soul and deserved to die a slow painful death. If I could have changed anything, he would not have died so quickly and easy. The only redeeming aspect of the ending was how his maid Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), was able to get the best of him for all the wrong things he’s done to her.

There are really two parallel stories going on here at same time, that come together very nicely at the end. There are a few heartbreaking moments that add to the drama between the characters and help push the story to its ending. One would think a movie about a little girl who is a long loss princess wouldn’t be so gruesome, but Pan’s Labyrinth is a very violent movie that really digs deep into the turmoil of war.

I don’t quite agree with the 8.3 rating on IMDb or the 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but did enjoy the movie for it was; a one-time watch.

Rating: 6/10

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Overall rating: 8.1/10

General consensus: Pan’s Labyrinth is everything you would expect from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. Magical, suspenseful and featuring all the beauty and interesting facets from one of the most imaginative directors out there. Supported by a strong cast and an engaging story, Pan’s Labyrinth is a brilliant fairytale and one of modern cinemas most endearing efforts.

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