Sunday’s New Release Round-Up!

New Releases on blu-ray and DVD for July 2nd, 2013


Every once in a while one of those weeks comes along where you can’t help but be disappointed by the selections. We have found that week. With the exception of two classic film releases (one of which came out in the Hitchcock box set last year), there is little to nothing for us movie fans to get excited about. Then again, maybe you feel differently.

    • “The Producers”The Producers (1968) (1968): Mel Brooks is a comic genius. No doubt about it, he will always be one of the greatest directors of comedy films that ever lives. Films like “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Spaceballs” (1987) and “History of the World Part I” (1981) are all staple films that everyone should see… eventually. It is, however, his first film, “The Producers,” that is his most acclaimed film, and the only time in his career that Brooks won an Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay). The plot involves a theater producer who teams with an accountant in an attempt to make the least successful Broadway musical of all time. This amazingly intelligent film stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and would be a welcomed addition to any film collection. Besides, can anything make you smile faster than hearing “Springtime for Hitler”?

    • “The Trouble with Harry” The Trouble with Harry (1955)(1955): Alfred Hitchcock isn’t remembered as being a director of comedies, but this 1955 dark comedy is a remarkably entertaining film that is certain to please and delight. In this film, the body of Harry Worp has been found dead. Unfortunately for many of the residents of this small Vermont town, they all think they might have been the one who killed him, and they all want to cover it up. Staring Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine and Mildred Natwick, “The Trouble with Harry” is not a typical Alfred Hitchcock movie, but it still is one worth seeing, and promises to leave an impression.

    • “Venus and Serena” (2012):Venus and Serena (2012) This documentary from directors Maliken Baird and Michelle Major takes a behind the scenes look at the life and relationship of the world’s most famous sports sisters. I haven’t heard much about this film, but it certainly looks like an informative picture.

  • “The Kentucky Fried Movie” (1977): The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)Before raunchy, sex filled comedies were everywhere, there was “The Kentucky Fried Movie”. This film consists of several unrelated comedy sketches, each making fun of other films and film genres. This film paved the way for many of the comedies that would be released in the 1980’s and 90’s. “The Kentucky Fried Movie” was written by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, and was directed by John Landis.

  • “Up Series” (1964-2012): Up SeriesThis documentary film series originated in 1964, when director Paul Almond followed 14 seven-year-olds in their day-to-day lives. Every seven years since, director Michael Apted has rejoined with as many of the children (now adults) as are willing to participate. Now at the age of 56, the show is still running and is said to be just as interesting of a social experiment as any film series ever made. Roger Ebert included the “Up Series” on his list of great films, and this is the first time it has ever been available in America. This release is only available on DVD.

Broken Lance (1954)- Edward Dmytryk



“Broken Lance” (1954) begins much like many westerns that have come before and since. Broken Lance (1954)Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner), the youngest of four brothers, is released from a Texas prison after serving three years. Most of the film is seen in flashback, as we discover the looming problems that have plagued the Devereaux family for years. The father, Matt (Spencer Tracy), is a tough, no-nonsense man who lost his first wife many years before, after having three sons. He then remarried to an Indian woman (Katy Jurado), and although the community pretends to respect her, they go so far as to call her “Senora” and pretend she is Mexican, instead of acknowledging her true heritage. Broken Lance (1954)After their marriage, they had another son, Joe, who is also looked down on because of his being a “half-breed”.

The three older brothers, Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O’Brian) and Denny (Earl Holliman), hate their father for the way he treats them and how hard he has always made them work. Perhaps they want his love, or just to be doted upon like Joe- then again, maybe it’s just Matt’s money they want. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, they’re unsettled and that means problems.

Matt also has his fair share of business problems, as the times are changing and he still enjoys doing things the old way. Whenever there is trouble, Matt reaches for his gun instead of a sheriff. When a copper mine is found dumping toxins into his stream, Matt heads out for a confrontation that ends badly. Broken Lance (1954)Matt turns to his longtime friend, the governor (E.G. Marshall), for help, but the governor is upset that his daughter (Jean Peters) has fallen in love with Matt’s half Indian son, Joe, and refuses to help in any way.

“Broken Lance” is a great movie because it has so many things working in its favor. First, there’s the father/son relationship angle that always works well, especially with the dynamic of Spencer Tracy and Richard Widmark going up against each other. Second, there is the changing times where law and order took over, leaving the gun-wielding, headstrong men obsolete. Finally, and most importantly, “Broken Lance” head-on tackles the issue of a white man marrying an Indian woman. Few films take on so many subjects and deliver drama and passion on every level.

Broken Lance (1954)

The acting is what makes everything come together here, with Tracy giving another stirring performance that is only enhanced by the amazing supporting players around him. Richard Widmark is brilliant, and it’s his confrontations with his old man that stand out the most. Perhaps it’s the love that these characters share amid their hatred that makes the tension so enthralling. (Watching Tracy take his bull whip to Widmark is a lasting image that make the whole film worth seeing.) Robert Wagner, Jean Peters and E.G. Marshall all add to the overall quality of the film, with their usual fine acting, but it’s Katy Jurado who really takes things to the next level. Broke Lance (1954)She was nominated for an Academy Award for this film, which I have always enjoyed, considering how much of her career she spent being cast as an Indian, even though she was a Mexican. Her acceptance as a Mexican actress was a battle that she would face day in and day out throughout her career, much the way her character in “Broken Lance” would always be subject to these same prejudices.

The other star of this picture is the great cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, with of course the help of CinemaScope. It’s a glorious film to see, showcasing the expansive western landscapes that seem to be unending. The DVD of “Broken Lance” offers both the widescreen and full screen versions of this film, which seems laughable because who would ever watch the full screen version of this magnificent film? Director Edward Dmytryk crafted this film with the expert hand of an artist. It amazes me that he was able to make such a great film as this in the same year that he released the Best Picture nominated “The Caine Mutiny” (1954). Many directors have spent their entire careers attempting to duplicate the success that Dmytryk achieved in 1954, and that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the rest of his outstanding career.

The Heat (2013)- Paul Feig



There is no end to the different “buddy cop” movies out there, but for “The Heat” (2013), Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy have reinvented the genre, making it fun and entertaining once again. The Heat (2013)FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is highly educated, meticulous, professional and a royal pain to everyone around her. Her boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston, alone, in order to question some low-level drug dealer, in hopes of gaining information towards a highly secretive drug lord.

In Boston, Ashburn clashes with the gruff and abrasive Detective Mullins (McCarthy), who already has the suspect in custody on a different charge. Although Ashburn tries to pull rank and get rid of Mullins, her boss implores her to attempt to work together, to which she agrees, in order to help secure a much desired promotion.

Yes, I know that this sounds like every other “buddy cop” movie in existence, and in many ways it is. The Heat (2013)There is nothing original about the story, the idea, or the numerous holes that invade each and every moment of the plot. Quite honestly, the one thing that separates “The Heat” from every other film in this genre is that the stars are women. Bullock and McCarthy are unbelievably funny, keeping the entire focus of the film on the laughs, instead of the story. Bullock has always been a talented comedic actress, but with the hugely talented McCarthy at her side, she is able to stand back out of the limelight and let the picture’s focus stay on their undeniable chemistry.

Truth be told, McCarthy steals this film, just like she always seems to do.The Heat (2013) Her comic timing is perfect, and the profanely uninhibited dialogue works to keep the audience on guard, waiting for the next highly offensive (and immensely entertaining) line. There is no telling what she will say next, and while waiting for the next bout of laughter, the audience seems to forget that the story has become almost non-existent. Director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) has carefully pieced this film together to be a comedy film filled with one-liners, instead of an action film that requires explosions or scenes of combat. Because of this, he has succeeded in making a film that even though it is plagued by faults, still manages to entertain and amuse.

White House Down (2013)- Roland Emmerich


United States Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) wants to be a member of the Secret Service. He pulls some strings to get an interview with Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), as well as White House passes for his politically obsessed daughter, Emily (Joey King). The interview doesn’t go well, and dejected Cale proceeds to go on the White House tour. White House Down (2013)While Emily is in the bathroom, a group of paramilitary terrorists, led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), take over the White House and kidnap President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Cale breaks away from the tour, in order to look for Emily, but instead finds the hostage-taken President, and rescues him.

Remember how in “Die Hard” (1988) there was a highly trained “good guy” who ended up unexpectedly running loose around a building, thwarting the plans of a group of terrorists? “White House Down” is just a rip off of this same idea, only less entertaining. John Cale is a likable character that is easy to root for because of his free-spirited sense of humor and ability to kick any and every bad guy’s butt. Sure he lacks a little of the John McClane charm that Bruce Willis has been giving us for the last 25 years, but he does his best, and comes pretty close.

Jamie Foxx is underused as the President, and that is unfortunate. His humor is good and well delivered, despite the cheesy dialogue that he has been given. White House Down (2013)It’s also a much smaller part than he deserves because the film is overrun with a plethora of underdeveloped, uninteresting characters (including James Woods and Richard Jenkins, in addition to all the afore-mentioned names), who just take away from the action and the “buddy feel” that comes from having the two stars with spot-on chemistry together.

Roland Emmerich films have never been considered “cinematic masterpieces,” but I don’t think that’s bothering him. His movies, like “Independence Day” (1996), “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) and “2012” (2009), are all effects laden films that have never put the focus on the story or the desire to focus on production quality. He is, however, continuously pushing the boundaries of visual effects, mostly through destruction, but in “White House Down” it almost seems as if something has been held back. Most of the action, the good action anyways, was in the trailer, and several times throughout the film it is obvious (too obvious) that everyone is standing on a stage with a screen behind them. It’s more reminiscent of Emmerich’s less than thrilling films, “Godzilla” (1998) and “10,000 BC” (2008).

I am aware that Emmerich understands that he’s not making a great film here, and it obviously isn’t bothering him that we all expect this kind of movie from him. White House Down (2013)But that shouldn’t excuse the blatant plot holes, lack of realism, or just the flat-out stupidity of the characters, including the villains. I don’t mind if you want to rip off “Die Hard,” but it’s important to remember that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) was a highly entertaining, intelligent, sophisticated and well dressed villain, that you almost couldn’t help but love.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)- Martin Ritt



Who doesn’t love a good spy film, right? “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (1965), is more than a good spy film, it’s a great one. Richard Burton stars as the British spy, Leamas, working in the West Berlin office.The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) Things haven’t gone well recently, including the loss of one of his operatives, which leads to Leamas being summoned to London. In appearance, Leamus is demoted, but in reality he becomes involved in an elaborate plot to become a defector, in exchange for money.

While waiting to be approached, Leamas meets a young communist woman, Nan (Claire Bloom), and the two begin a relationship. When the East Germans find Leamus, he agrees to go with them to the Netherlands for an interview, and leaves without explaining anything to Nan. During the interview, Leamas learns that his disappearance is known in England, which means he can’t return. The spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)His interviewer, Fiedler (marvelously played by Oskar Werner), transports Leamas to East Berlin, where a tribunal is held, in which Fiedler has accused a high ranking intelligence officer (Peter van Eyck) of being a paid informant of the British government. Fiedler’s plan is to use Leamas as his star witness, unaware, of course, that Leamas is here with plans and orders of his own.

At times “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” can be one of the most confusing spy films in memory. It is difficult to keep track of everything that is happening because of the very involved story. The novel on which the film is based, written by John le Carre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), is a 200+ page spy story, and in order to adapt it for the screen, writers Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper had quite a task. The Spy Who came in From the Cold (1965)The screenplay moves at a frantic pace, trying to keep everything clear for the audience, without leaving out any of the crucial details. I wouldn’t call this screenplay “one of the best,” but I believe that the adaptation was remarkable.

Aesthetically, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” is flawless. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, and it is easy to see why. This is one of those movies that transports you into another world, full of mystery and intrigue, hope and despair. Most of this is possible for the audience because of the tremendous work accomplished by the uncompromising team of art and set decorators.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)Cinematographer Oswald Morris is outstanding, which is no surprise considering his filmography is filled with great pictures. But when you go through each film on which he worked, it’s his big-budget musicals (“Fiddler on the Roof”, “Scrooge” and “Oliver!”) and his spy films (“Sleuth”, “The Mackintosh Man”) that stand out. Morris really had a feel for the darkness of the spy world, and his passion for this genre shows in this film.

It would be negligent to talk about this remarkable film without mentioning Richard Burton’s Academy Award nominated performance. Looking back at his career, Burton gave outstanding performances, one after another, but “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” is the finest piece of raw, unadulterated acting in his career. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)His acting in this film could be used as an entire lesson plan in a drama school. Like this film as a whole, his acting is truly something that shouldn’t be missed. Burton and director Martin Ritt made an unfailing team that created what is even now, almost fifty years later, one of the most gripping and poignant spy dramas of all time.

Escape to the Theaters This Weekend!

Movies Opening in Theaters June 28th, 2013


It seems that no matter what you’re looking to see this weekend, it is out there. Comedy, action, vampires, and even Jason Statham doing something that looks amazingly similar to acting!The Heat (2013) Throw into the mix hold over movies, with zombies for the adults (“World War Z”), monsters for the kids (“Monsters University”) and comic book action for the teens (Superman’s “Man of Steel”), and this is sure to be another record breaking weekend. If you’re thinking about catching any of these films, don’t wait too long because next Wednesday, July 3rd, we’re getting some more big releases in the likes of “The Lone Ranger” (2013) and “Despicable Me 2” (2013).

  • “White House Down” (2013) Rated PG-13, 131 minutes: White House Down (2013)As soon as the first preview for “White House Down” was released, with the words from the director of “Independance Day”, “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” (Roland Emmerich), everyone instantly knew that this film would be an action-packed extravaganza. If nothing else, it promises to be full of explosions and adventure. The story follows a Police officer (Channing Tatum), who after being rejected by the Secret Service, ends up trapped in the White House when it is taken over by a terrorist group (headed by Jason Clarke). While searching for his daughter (Joey King), he recovers the President (Jamie Foxx), and together they attempt to take back the White House. This film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods and Richard Jenkins.
  • “The Heat” (2013) Rated R, 117 minutes:The Heat (2013) An uptight, disliked FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) teams with a loud-mouth Boston Police Detective (Melissa McCarthy) to stop a mobster. This action/comedy film from director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) promises to be an entertaining romp, despite the somewhat familiar plot. The R rating also promises to keep that adult sense of humor that made “Bridesmaids” so funny. “The Heat” also stars Michael Rapaport, Marlon Wayans and Demian Bichir.

And with a limited release this weekend:

  • “I’m So Excited” (2013) Rated R, 90 minutes: I'm So Excited (2013)Director Pedro Almodovar (“Volver”, “All About My Mother”, “Talk to Her”) has managed to make some very thought-provoking and memorable films in his career, but his latest film, “I’m So Excited,” appears to go into uncharted territories in his acclaimed career. In this comedy, a flight heading to Mexico City experience some technical failure, and while trying to find a way to land, the passengers, pilots and crew attempt to forget the problem at hand.
  • “Redemption” (2013) Rated R, 100 minutes: Redemption (2013)Also known as “Hummingbird” or “Crazy Joe” in other countries, “Redemption” stars Jason Statham as an ex-Royal Marine, who is now a homeless man living on the streets of London. When the opportunity arises for him to assume the identity of another man, he grabs on, catapulting him into the darker side of London’s criminal underworld. When his girlfriend ends up dead, he risks everything in order to achieve redemption for his life.
    • “Byzantium” (2013) Rated R, 118 minutes:Byzantium (2013) From director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”, “Interview with the Vampire”) comes this story of a mother-daughter team of vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan), and their struggle to maintain their dark secret after the forever sixteen-year-old becomes infatuated with a young man.

Anything here worth seeing?

Moonraker (1979)- Lewis Gilbert



James Bond #11: “Moonraker” (1979)

When a space shuttle on loan to England is stolen (in mid-air), there is only one man for the job- James Bond (Roger Moore). Moonraker (1979)The head MI6, M (Bernard Lee making his final appearance in a Bond film), sends 007 to Drax industries, where Bond comes face to face with a man who could only be a Bond villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Even though Bond is only there in an attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing spaceship, Drax takes it upon himself to dispose of James before he digs too deeply.

What Bond does discover, with little to no help from undercover CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), is that Drax plans to jettison himself and a race of “superior” beings into space, just long enough to kill the world’s population. Then he will return and rule the entire planet, wha ha ha ha.

There is no point in denying it, I think that “Moonraker” is the worst movie in the James Bond series. (Which says a lot for the overall quality of the series, right?) What I didn’t know until really examining the film this time around, is why I felt this way. Moonraker (1979)Yes, the special effects are horrifically outdated and cheesy, especially in the final 30 minutes, when there is the final “space shootout.” But these visual effects, which were nominated for an Academy Award in 1979, are not bad enough to bring down the whole production. The downfall of this film is that every scene, one after another, is designed to be as climatic as possible. The substance of the plot is glossed over in order to get to more action, more girls, and more scenes of Jaws (Richard Kiel) failing to kill Bond. By skipping over so much of the film’s plot, many aspects and coincidences don’t even really make sense, but that hardly matters because before you have a second to try and figure out what’s going on, the films already moved on to the next action-packed scene.

Moonraker (1979)Of course, no expense was spared in the making of this film, as Bond travels throughout the world, highlighting the exotic locations, such as the beautiful California valley, the canals of Vienna, the green lushness of Rio, the rivers of the Amazon, and then finally the vastness of space. All of this traveling adds to the enjoyment of the film, but it doesn’t do enough to save the overall picture.

I would like to take a second to mention the character of Jaws, played by Richard Kiel, who was reprising his henchmen role from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” He seems almost unstoppable, and is so much fun that it’s hard to root against him. Obviously many people felt this way, which is why they give him a girlfriend, Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), half way through the film, who eventually melts his icy exterior, marking the historic occasion where Bond actually works side by side with a former villain.

Moonraker (1979)

Here are the statistics for “Moonraker,” as well as a running total from the first eleven films:

  • Number of people James Bond kills: Moonraker (1979)15- James had to get a little creative this time, including stealing a man’s parachute while falling from a plane, and some quick knife throwing at an attacker hiding in a coffin. Plus, once he gets into space, he only kills Drax. That’s pretty impressive, considering how much shooting is going on up there. Total number killed through eleven films: 142
  • Number of times we hear, “Bond, James Bond”: 1 Total thus far: 10 1/2
  • Number of women who succumb to Bond: Moonraker (1979)3- Bond, as a man of variety, chooses three women, all in different countries. This time, with Drax’s pilot, Corrinne Dufor (Corinne Clery), in California, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) in Vienna and Bond’s Rio contact, Manuela (Emily Bolton). Total Women: 29
  • “Moonraker” theme song:★- Composed once again by John Barry, with lyrics by Hal Davis. After many problems that were encountered in finding someone to sing the song, Shirley Bassey stepped in for the third time in the series. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t work near as well. There is nothing exciting or memorable about this theme song, as it just feels rushed and boring.

James Bond will return (and so will Lasso the Movies) in “For Your Eyes Only” (1981).

For more James Bond fun, be sure to check out :

“Dr. No” (1962)

“From Russia with Love” (1963)Moonraker (1979)

“Goldfinger” (1964)

“Thunderball” (1965)

“You Only Live Twice” (1967)

“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)

“Diamonds Are Forever” (1971)

“Live and Let Die” (1973)

“The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974)

“The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)Moonraker (1979)

“For Your Eyes Only” (1981)

“Octopussy” (1983)

“Never Say Never Again” (1983)

“A View to a Kill” (1985)

“The Living Daylights” (1987)

“License to Kill” (1989)

“Goldeneye” (1995)

“Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

“The World is Not Enough” (1999)Moonraker (1979)

“Die Another Die” (2002)

“Casino Royale” (2006)

“Quantum of Solace” (2008)

“Skyfall” (2012)

Hulu Tuesday- Babette’s Feast ‘aka’ Babbetes Gaestebud (1987)- Gabriel Axel



Any movie with the word “feast” in the title, prepares its audience for something special. No matter what happens throughout the course of the film, the one certainty- the one thing you can absolutely count on, is that by the end of the film you will be hungry. Based on the story written by acclaim author Karen von Blixen-Finecke, who often wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, “Babette’s Feast” (1987) is a delightfully pleasant story that transports its audience to another place and time, thanks to the marvelous adaptation by the film’s director, Gabriel Axel.

The story originates is a small town on the coast of Denmark.Babette's Feast (1987) Two elderly sisters (Bodi Kjer & Birgitte Federspiel) earn a small living as soup makers, but their real reason for living is to carry on their late father’s religious message. Somewhat unusual for their life style, the have a French housekeeper and cook named Babette (Stephane Audran). The story begins by explaining (in great length mind you) how Babette came to live with them.

Traveling back almost 50 years, we learn that the father (Pouel Kern), a pious man who had formed his own sect, considered his daughters to be his own hands, and therefore taught (or trained) them to remain with him, forever focused on their Godly cause. His two daughters had many suitors over the years, including a Swedish officer (Jarl Kulle) and a baritone opera star (Jean-Philippe Lafont), both of whom left when they realized their love would never be a match for the girls’ father and his mission.

Jumping forward about 35 years, we see the two sisters still living quietly, with only each other and their departed father’s deteriorating congregation. Babette's Feast (1987)Enter Babette, who comes knocking on their door with a letter from the opera singer, asking for the sisters to give Babette a place to stay, as civil war in France has taken the lives of her husband and son and forced her to flee.

Although they cannot afford to pay Babette, they allow her to live and work with them, making ale and bread soup. After living together for 14 years, Babette receives a letter from France informing her that she has won the lottery. As the sisters have been planning a dinner in celebration of what would have been their beloved father’s 100th birthday, Babette asks that she be allowed to cook a genuine French meal for them and their remaining congregation, but the guests’ expectations are soon surpassed as Babette has a few surprises for them.

Babette's Feast (1987)

One of the most interesting aspects of “Babette’s Feast” is the way we are transported into another world. Through the use of amazing set design, costumes, and location shooting, you can feel the coldness in the air and  the bleakness in these characters’ lives. For a moment towards the end, you can even taste the succulence of the food and drink that everyone is so silently enjoying. The beauty is in the details- and none were left to chance.

“Babette’s Feast” is a simply story and idea. It isn’t overly complex or held down by too much pain or misery. The film is a masterful combination of comedy and drama.Babette's Feast (1987) By that, I mean that even though there is sadness to the story, that is not the focus. In much the same way there is comedy throughout (especially during the dinner), but nothing that will have you laughing loudly. It is a quiet movie that evokes powerful emotions on a small scale. The most surprising part of this film is the way that the heart-warming tale creeps up unexpectedly. Gabriel Axel has craftily surprised his viewers much in the same way Babette has surprised her guests.

It can be hard to discuss “Babette’s Feast”, but not because the plot is complex or because there is anything to difficult to understand. It’s because this is a film that needs to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated.


Pan’s Labyrinth ‘aka’ El laberinto del fauno (2006)- Guillermo del Toro: Countdown to “Pacific Rim” Part 6 of 8



My Hall of Fame


In 2006, Guillermo del Toro outdid himself and his directorial career all in one fell swoop. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), aka “El laberinto del fauno”, based on nothing but the creative mind of del Toro, is a magnificently conceived combination of every horror, fantasy, science fiction and Spanish history nightmare that del Toro had ever imagined. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)(Alright- not everything he imagined, but certainly quite a bit.) And like all great del Toro films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a Spanish language film that revolves around a child and her attempts to escape the horrors of her world, as well as of course, the horrors of another world.

Set in 1944, five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, young fairy-tale loving Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling to a remote mill buried in the woods, with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil). Their journey is designed to bring Ofelia and mother to meet with her new stepfather, Falange Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Once they arrive, Ofelia meets a small insect (that later morphs into a fairy) that leads her from the mill to a neglected labyrinth hidden in the forest. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)Before she can explore, one of the house servants, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who is really a rebel spy, retrieves her and returns Ofelia to her now bed stricken mother.

Late in the night, the insect-fairy returns to Ofelia and leads her deep into the labyrinth where she meets a faun (Doug Jones). He explains that she is really the lost princess of the underworld, and if she would like to return to her father, the King, then she must accomplish three tasks that will prove her “essence is intact”.

When I call this film a “nightmare” conceived on screen, I am not joking. Oddly enough, however, the creatures that plague Ofelia’s re-entry to the underworld are only one fraction of her nightmare. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)The world where she spends her days, plagued by war, deceit, treachery and violence, is the real horror of this film. More terrifying than the child-eating, eyeballs in his palms creature that chases Ofelia, is her new step-father, the violent devil incarnate. He seems to be soulless and devoid of anything decent, and one of the real mysteries of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is trying to determine why Ofelia’s mother ever became involved with him.

The year in film that was 2006 was filled with quality films, but even more specifically, dark quality films. “The Departed”, “The Prestige”, “Casino Royale”, “The Lives of Others”, “300”, “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Children of Men” all received critical acclaim, which in turn seemed to have “Pan’s Labyrinth” being just another in a long list of dark, well made films. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)Also, coming just after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was completed and in the midst of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, there were plenty of fantasy films looming about, as well.

Now, years later, when I look back at 2006, “Pan’s Labyrinth” stands out far about these other films, because of its impeccable craft and overwhelming originality. Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant director. His style and artistic genius is unparalleled, and because of his uniqueness, he promises to continue being one of the most revolutionary directors of his generation. It is important to remember, especially when comparing “Pan’s Labyrinth” to other fantasy films, that this world that del Toro has created is completely original. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)He, after a lifetime of dreaming and concocting these ideas, brought them all together to create this one amazingly powerful and frightening world. Most fantasy films are based on previously written material that are detailed enough to give a director a clear idea or vision, but everything in this movie came directly from del Toro’s complex (and somewhat twisted) mind, not to mention his years of vast experiences in as many horror and fantasy worlds as imaginable.

On a technical level, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a perfect film. The cinematography by Guillermo Navarro won an Academy Award, and every time I revisit this film, it is easy to see why. It is without a doubt one of the 10 best pieces of cinematography to come out in the last 20 years. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)Another Academy Award went to art decorator Eugenio Caballero and set decorator Pilar Revuelta in the category of Best Art Direction. Really they were awarded this prize for actually being able to create what del Toro already had lurking in his mind.

The acting is impeccable, especially considering the age (11) of the film’s star. The depth with which her emotionally-charged performance achieves is inspiring to see. The creature effects were a combination of CGI and animatronics, which although already appear outdated now, were certainly made with the utmost care and skill for their time. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)The make-up, done by David Marti and Montse Ribe, is where the “creatures” really shine. Their exceptional work on this film also earned them an Academy Award. The Faun, in particular, stands out for his design and conception. The patience that it required to create him each day was well worth the time.

Finally, there is one more aspect of “Pan’s Labyrinth” that I would be remiss to neglect. The films score, composed by Javier Navarrete, is one of the most haunting melodies ever created, and his work on this film is unforgettable. Long after the film is over, and you are no longer thinking about what you have seen, the lullaby comes creeping back inside your head, transporting you back again into the world of Ofelia and her unforgettable journey.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Continue to join Lasso the Movies on a journey through the directorial career of Guillermo del Toro, in preparation for his upcoming film, “Pacific Rim” (2013), due in theaters July 12th, 2013. You can see a trailer for “Pacific Rim”, or read more about his films below.

“Cronos” (1993)

“Mimic” (1997)Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)

“Blade II” (2002)

“Hellboy” (2004)

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)

“Pacific Rim” (2013)

A Reason to be Excited: Cavalcade (1933)

It has finally happened! After years of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, there is reason to celebrate. Being released on blu-ray through Olive Films on August 6th, 2013, is the Best Picture winning drama, “Cavalcade.” At this moment, “Cavalcade” is the only Best Picture winner to have never been released on DVD or blu-ray in Region 1. Cavalcade (1933)That makes this a historic event, as this film can finally be seen and appreciated once again by the general public.

“Cavalcade,” directed by Frank Lloyd, is based on the play of the same name by the legendary Noel Coward, and centers on the lives of an upper-class English couple, from New Years Eve 1899, up through 1933. The film showcases many historic events that took place during that time, and shows how these events affected the people of the world.

In addition to winning Best Picture, “Cavalcade” was also nominated for three other Academy Awards in 1933. (That’s fairly impressive because it was only eligible for eight categories back then.) Frank Lloyd won the award for Best Director, and William S. Darling won for Best Art Direction. Diana Wynyard was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to the young up and comer, Katharine Hepburn in “Stage Door” (1933).