Fantastic Planet (1973, Directed by René Laloux) French Okay Film

Voices of Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Valmont, Jean Topart, Yves Barsacq

(Okay Film)

In this bizarrely animated picture from French filmmaker, René Laloux, on a distant planet far from Earth, blue humanoids called Draags have dominion. Under their tyrannical feet stand Oms, primitive humans populating this planet sometimes as wild animals and sometimes as pets. Interesting as a spin on the world as we know it, also perhaps a critique on animal treatment or injustice as a whole, Fantastic Planet has an excellent reputation as both an experimental film as well as a cult film, and its ’70s era soundtrack will be familiar to any fan of classic hip-hop. Despite its reputation, it’s not a great film. Its strange setting is kept at a distance, as a concept, rather than an immersive world that we, the audience, can escape into to and enjoy. The story, then, follows the same line. Admirable but never exciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Directed by Guillermo Del Toro) Spanish Great Film

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones

(Great Film)

While we (I’m American) were in the grips of World War II, Spain suffered a civil war and lasting strife for years to come. It’s a period I know very little about and a period the young heroine of Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia (Baquero), occupies. It’s the summer of 1944 and Ofelia arrives with her pregnant mother to the home of Captain Vidal (López), her new step-father. The fascist Captain Vidal wastes no time in revealing himself to be a deranged bully as he hunts down local rebels, but Ofelia finds escape and adventure away from this terror, a place where fairies and monsters live, a place that offers her a chance at immortality should she prove herself in a trio of frightening tasks. Pan’s Labyrinth is universally beloved, a dark fantasy that can resonate with any viewer. It’s vision of evil is as stark as any I’ve seen- Captain Vidal is a relentless sadist- and Ofelia is pure innocence. It’s the perfect culmination of its director, Guillermo Del Toro’s, talent with its incredible creatures, grotesque imagery, affection for characters who are outsiders, and stomach-turning violence.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Silver Lode (1954, Directed by Allan Dwan) English Good Film

Starring John Payne, Dan Duryea, Lizabeth Scott, Dolores Moran, Emile Meyer, Alan Hale Jr., Harry Carey Jr.

(Good Film)

When U.S Marshall, Fred McCarty (Duryea), and his deputies ride into town, what was to be a joyous wedding day in Silver Lode quickly becomes a nightmare of frenzied action and hysteria. They’ve come to collect on Dan Ballard (Payne), the groom-to-be, a popular newcomer to town, and though the handbill says dead or alive, you get the feeling Marshall McCarty would prefer to take Ballard in dead. The town stands behind Ballard at first when he questions the legitimacy of McCarty’s handbill and position as a Marshall, but slowly turn on him as the day wears on. Silver Lode is another ’50s allegory for McCarthyism and compares just as easily to The Crucible as it does to High Noon. Mob mentality reigns in this town despite its population of well-meaning, upstanding citizens, and, by the end, friends turn on friends and relationships are broken. This is a solid western on the surface, expertly staged, with a wealth of subtext making it a favorite of film critics. I appreciate the characterization of Ballard. His stoic, unapologetic demeanor had even me questioning him a time or two and Duryea is, as always, a fantastic creep. I don’t hold it in the same esteem as the very best of the genre-like other critical favorites, it’s more entertaining as a discussion point than it is to watch-but there’s no denying it’s an exceptional film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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