Monday, 29 May 2017

Tank Girl (1995)

"I'm gonna need a microscope and tweezers, it's like, uh..."

Don't get me wrong; this is a B-movie, with all that entails, even though it feels strange to be talking about B-movies as late as 1995. But a B-movie can still be awesome, and this splendid feminist cult classic is no exception.

Yes, the budget looks cheap, but that doesn't stop future Doctor Who helmer Rachel Talalay from directing it stylishly and not being unafraid to use bits of comic strip and even cartoon to transition between scenes. I haven't read the original comic book but the film certainly sells it well, much as this post-apocalyptic future of water scarcity and feminist subtext feels very 2000 AD.

Lori Petty is superb as the wittiest, most double-entendre spouting pro-sex feminist hero in all of cinema, and Malcolm McDowell chews scenery as only he can, but Naomi watts is also superb as the initially beaten down Jet Girl who slowly learns how to kick ass in this world of cruel and unimpressive men. The soundtrack, which boasts the likes of Devo, Hole, L7, Portishead and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, is as awesome as they gets, much though it leads me to reflect mournfully on how plugged in I was back in '95 and how these days I'm, well, not.

The film is superb, at its heart a film about real darkness, cruelty, abuse and despair yet rising above it with the power of joyful wit. It has the feminism of Riot Grrl, "bollocks" in an American accent , pimped-up tanks and Iggy Pop as a silly masked mutant. What more can you ask for?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World

"We must be wanted. We must be loved. To rule by fear is inefficient."

In just a couple of episodes the character of the season has shifted smoothly into what looks much more like an arc- or mini-arc at least- and there are ominous signs that this Doctor's days are numbered, as he first appears with a monologue which, I suspect, applies as much to himself as the situation as he ponders mournfully that "The end of your life has already begun", surely referring to more than the juxtaposed footage of two scientists having an off-day. This kind of thing is our first hint that Peter Harness and Steven Moffat (he'll be missed) have excelled themselves here.

This is a sequel both to last week, when we discovered how the monks have been running a deeply accurate simulation of Earth in order to conquer it, an to the Zygon Invasion two-parter which established both the fictional nation of Turmezistan, a (presumably) Central Asian hotspot where war threatens to break out between the USA, China and Russia, and the precedent that the Doctor is President of Earth during alien invasions, a conceit that saves us so many potentially tiresome scenes of the Doctor not being believed by the authorities. It's also nice to see a doing over of Bill's date with Penny, this time interrupted not be the Pope but by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

The big visual centre of the episode is, of course, the 5,000 year pyramid that has suddenly appeared, at an acute global flashpoint, but it's really all about ideas, as all the best ones are. The conceit of the doomsday clock helps to mount the tension, as does the monks' confident assertion that force is not necessary as they will simply be invited to assume absolute global power. The alternative is that life on Earth will soon end "by humanity's own hand"- and the truly clever bit is that the threat of nuclear war is just a very big red herring; there's a reason why we keep following those two scientists and their increasingly bad day.

All this is narrated superbly in a tightly written and philosophical script, and I love the concept of the threads.

An added layer of brilliance is that the monks need the true consent of someone on Earth with power- but any motive other than love won't work, and the supplicant summarily dies. And so we come to the deliciously horrifying ending; the doctor tracks down the lab in Yorkshire, saves the world, but is doomed to die because he's blind and can't use the combination to escape from the airlocked room. At last he has to confess to Bill that he's been blind, he's been lying to her, and her response is to surrender Earth to the monks and save the Doctor's sight, and his life. The moment arrives with a crushing inevitability and leaves us waiting impatiently for next week.

Wow. This season!

Friday, 26 May 2017

IZombie: Some Like It Hot Mess

"But... it also turned you into a baby?"

Odd episode, this: simultaneously awesome with the story of the week, as we shall most certainly discuss, but the story of the week is again a little meh and this week's brain for Liv, typically awesome performance from Rose McIver notwithstanding, is just a little bit on the "meh" side. And, for what it's worth, I'm British and I only know half of those puddings that Ravi mentions. And, incidentally, my gamer wife rather impressively recognised the video games that Major and Ravi were playing.

We join the episode as Major has just taken the cure and, it's soon clear, his memories are slipping away, which is rather a bummer because it seems quite a memory was made with Liv the previous night. It's not the most appropriate time, then, for Liv to be saddled with the brain of a chaotic, irresponsible party girl who fails to look after him and allows the amnesiac Major to slip away.

The murder mystery, for once, is somewhat sidelined by an unexpectedly huge amount of arc stuff happening, not least that Peyton is working on last episode's dominatrix case- I'm sure we haven't heard the end of this, and it was left inconclusive for a reason. Then we get the big, unexpected, enormous reveal that Blaine has, as Don E has been saying all along, been faking his memory loss. That's a big deal, and leads to Peyton well and truly rejecting him. And then we get a second bombshell; as memory loss lasts only a few days, Major is fine and at his Mum's.

It looks as though Liv is going to be cured, but all of Ravi's cures are stolen by persons unknown- almost certainly not by Don E who, having been offered a lot of money for a cure by a rich young zombie, is looking suspiciously like a red herring. But Major still has a phial.. no, wait; he gave it to Natalie. Suddenly Liv's hopes are dashed and iZombie can continue.

Excellent arc and character stuff. It's just that the story of the week is a bit underwhelming.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

"Even Buddha has to conquer evil."

'70s Hong Kong martial arts films are a genre which I freely admit I know nothing about; I'm only even aware that the Shaw Brothers are a thing because of a bit of Googling. But I'm aware it has a cult appeal as a genre, and it has influenced Quentin Tarantino, so this is me watching what seems to be the most well-known of the genre. It's dated, yes, but I rather enjoyed the experience.

I'd need to see a few more films in this genre but I found it well made, entertaining and visually stylish, and the highly stylised acting style works. It's all very "boy's own" with barely any women characters and the emphasis on years of tough ordeals to learn kung-fu skills, but the historical setting- early 18th century China, and everybody hates the Manchu "Tartars"- is fascinating.

Also excellent are the fight arrangements, as you'd expect, and the pacing of the film, There are attempts at communicating Buddhist ideas but the film doesn't really pretend to be philosophical and, probably wisely, sticks to the boys' own stuff. It's a hugely entertaining film, which even manages to give us a satisfactory ending where the baddie gets his comeuppance and we almost forget that the Manchu will remain in charge for another 200 years.

I won't pretend I'm suddenly a massive fan of the genre, but this is probably not the last '70s martial arts film to appear in this blog.

Monday, 22 May 2017

iZombie: Spanking the Zombie

"Draw the nipples, Jimmy!"

This is a somewhat odd episode, albeit a fun one with a heartbreaking ending. Peyton and Blaine take an episode off as Liv entertains us while on dominatrix brain while a couple of the more amusing supporting characters (and, indeed, the zombie who's running for mayor) turn out to have been submissive clients of the late lady, sadly strangled by her own whip. But the whole murder-of-the-week seems to get resolved awkwardly quickly and awkwardly unsatisfyingly, unless it turns out there's more to come.

In arc news Liv and Clive are warned off their illicit zombie killer investigation but there is further intrigue as Harley Johns, our racist gun nut, is bugged by the paramilitary zombie people. None of this stuff is particularly outstanding. But the awesome ending makes up for it all as it's finally time for a very sick Major to take the cure. There are emotional scenes between Liv and Major as they finally make up in advance of Major losing his memory, and make love to the splendid sounds of Pearl Jam.

We end with Major getting the injection. Something tells me it won't be as straightforward as his being cured and having his memory wiped. Will he die? Or something else?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Doctor Who: Extremis

"Do not, under ANY circumstances, put the Pope in my bedroom!"

This is something of a gear-changing episode, obviously. shifting suddenly from story-of-the-week mode into a much bigger foregrounding of the season arc in ways we both did and didn't expect. It's also perhaps our last chance to get one of Moffat's "clever" episodes while he's still showrunner and without a season finale looming. The result is a triumph on those terms, yes, but also in terms of both character and spectacle.

The episode concerns a text, the Veritas, within the Vatican's secret library of forbidden texts (yes, that old stand-by), the Haereticum, which causes everybody who reads it to kill themselves. This is, as you might imagine, rather concerning to our red-hatted friends, so much so that the Pope himself personally arrives to ask for the Doctor's help, leading both to the unfolding of the plot and comments from the Doctor about his old 11th century friend Pope Benedict IX (a real person, incidentally) being a "lovely girl". And it's also an irresistible chance to have Bill's date with a lady she rather fancies being rudely interrupted by said Pontiff emerging from the TARDIS. It's a great start.

But all this is juxtaposed throughout by scenes of the Doctor setting out to execute none other than Missy by Max from Humans, ending with his sabotaging the execution to be non-fatal. (We can't have the Doctor endorsing something as barbaric as capital punishment, and nor can River Song, who conveniently sens Nardole with a message to that effect which also happens to explain how Nardole happened to be travelling with the Doctor- but didn't the Doctor resurrect him?) The result of all this is that Missy's 1,000 year sentence takes place not, as originally intended, with her being dead, but with her being the mysterious figure the Doctor's been guarding in the Vault and, yes, as fans we were sort of expecting this, but we should remember that the general viewer probably hasn't.

Oh, and the Doctor begins and ends the episode still blind. It seems that they're running with this.

The big reveal is, I think, not supposed to dwell on the metatextual angle which is, if anything, downplayed, but the horrible truth is that the world is literally not real, just a very good simulation created by a badass-looking race of alien monks who are practising their invasion of the real Earth- they are literally all just characters in a video game. It's a glorious and very Moffat idea, good enough to mean that we necessarily have a great big reset button being pressed as the simulation Doctor warns the real Doctor that the monks are coming next episode. This already impressive season has, if anything, just got even better.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Crush Syndrome

"You should kill yourself."

"Probably. But I'm the only one who knows you're innocent."

The quality doesn't let up in the second episode as Jessica, spurred on by the need to prove Hope's innocence, resolves to go after Killgrave in spite of her extreme fear. Pausing only to impatiently suffer an interview by a cop played by Clarke Peters from The Wire, she spends most of the episode investig... er, blagging her way to some initial answers, which is compelling viewing in itself.

But it's the characterisation that really keeps you hooked, with the subtext that Jessica is a domestic abuse survivor never far from the surface. We start out with awkwardness, though, as Jessica has to tell Luke Cage that she was only ever interested in him for business reasons as a client thought his wife was sleeping with Luke. He understandably feels used and disgusted. But, after this inauspicious beginning, Jessica spends most of the episode being quietly awesome piecing together how Killgrave survived, forcing a doctor to perform the surgery as a random bloke is forced to donate both kidneys and ultimately spend the rest of his life as a vegetable in thrall to his overbearing and religiously in-your-face mother. Ouch. That's dark. But Kilgrave has a weakness; anaesthetic.

Meanwhile, we get introduced to Jessica's twin neighbours, who seem to be yet another abusive relationship. And we get our first, horrifying glimpse of Kilgrave as he simply knocks on the door of a random home and orders the family to let him stay and do as they are told; it's horrible to see him sending both kids to the closet. But we end on an interesting cliffhanger as the super-strong Jessica and the invulnerable Luke both "out" themselves to one another by accident. Now that they have something in common will the awkwardness last?

Another impressive bit of telly and a very promising series.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA Ladies Night

"New York may be the city that never sleeps but it sure sleeps around."

I should start by saying that, although I read a lot of Marvel stuff as a kid and a teenager, I'm rather vaguer about anything later than '94-ish, from which point my comic book collection took a definite second place to my record collection. To put it simply, I have no prior knowledge whatsoever of Jessica Jones as a character (although I certainly recognise both Luke Cage and the Purple Man when I see them), and am coming to this fairly cold with my only expectations being to expect a variation on the noir tone of Daredevil. So it's a pleasant surprise to find a mix of very Raymond Chandler PI tropes (I love the narration) and a very feminist subtext.

We're told little of Jessica's past frm before she became a hard-boiled, hard-drinking private eye other than a hint from Trish late on that she used to be some kind of "hero", that she has super-strength that she doesn't advertise too widely, and that she's a year beyond a relationship with a sinister may called Killgrave, whose power to make people want to obey him is used mainly on the opposite sex and, it's implied, for extensive sexual purposes. This is a clear and deliberate metaphor for spousal abuse, and the way we're gradually shown how Jessica is still dealing with PTSD shows the very real trauma of spousal abuse and the very real courage needed to confront it. In a world where most Avengers merchandise fails to include Black Widow because blatant sexism it's good to have a Marvel series, with a female showrunner in Melissa Rosenberg, that deals with such issues.

It's a brilliant intro, showing us Jessica and her world and beginning the season arc, all while working as an episode of telly in its own right, with that shot ringing out in the lift being a truly shocking moment. We meet Jessica and the various characters who inhabit her world, including the interesting and nuanced Luke Cage, with whom she has some hard sex and an awkward parting. It's a very promising start to a series that promises to be a very different kind of noir to Daredevil.

Doctor Who: Oxygen

"Do people ever hit you?"

"Well, only when I'm talking."

In some ways this is very much a story of the week- a tale of outer space capitalist exploitation as a corporation jealously controls oxygen for profit, even for its own employees and (as the Doctor discovers) is prepared to extinguish its own employees if they cease to be profitable. A bit of a hint that Jamie Mathieson may be no Tory, then, in another excellent script from him which, while not up to his best, is nevertheless impressive, keeping up the quality in this excellent season.

There's more development of the wonderful rapport between the Doctor and Bill, and for once Nardole joins them on their travels, attempting to keep them on Terra Firms; apparently it was the Doctor himself who told Nardole to prevent him leaving earth for fear of leaving the mysterious Vault unguarded. It can't be long until we find out more about this because, simply, this episode turns out not to be a story of the week- the Doctor ends the episode, it seems, permanently blind.

It's a splendid episode yet again, though, and again old-fashioned in its style, with some leisurely exploration of the space station and things feeling very Troughtonesque and, indeed, recalling The Wheel in Space for obvious reasons and even mentioning (and undercutting as a MacGuffin) the fluid link. There's a nice riff on racism ("Some of my best friends are bluish"), great dialogue and some nice directorial touches from the returning Charles Palmer as Bill loses consciousness. It may not stand out in what is shaping up to be a great season, but here's a fifth top notch episode in a row.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

"Yeah, he's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.

It's been twenty-odd years since I last saw this film and it is, in hindsight, even better now than it was then, courtesy of some truly splendid direction and a sparkling script from the premier exponent of metatextual hyper-violence, Mr Quentin Tarantino.

The film is, of course, famous for feeling like typically Tarantinoesque crime caper until the final forty-five minutes of the film where it suddenly pivots genre and introduces a load of vampires and magnificently rattles through a load of vampire tropes like a boss. Throughout it all both the dialogue and the delightful levels of violence make the film an absolute pleasure to watch, and the acting (Clooney excepted as the pretty face but Tarantino very much included) is top notch throughout.

The whole thing really does come across as just effortlessly masterful and splendidly cinema-literate to boot, and that's before a particularly alluring Salma Hayek and all her mates at the Titty Twister (love the name) turn into vamps. But the final scene provides a superb explanation of exactly why the place has always been home to vampires leeching off the public. Magnificent in every way.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Grimm: The End

"I want the people I love to live again!"

I.m sad to see the back of Grimm, satisfying it is to finally complete a series what with all the different telly shows I'm currently juggling. This is an improvement from last week's awfulness, which is a relief, but in spite of a few nice touches it's hardly a worthy finale for the series, which is a shame.

Hank and Wu are confirmed to have died. And slowly Eve, Monroe, Rosalie and Sean are killed by this great big Zerstorer, a big bad we haven't even known for that long. Then there's some guff about the staff of Moses and the ghosts of Nick's late mum Kelly and Aunt Marie help him Trubel to kill Zerstorer in an epic battle... and then a big red sodding reset button is pushed meaning that no one died, including Wu and Hank, and all that we have seen is rendered meaningless. It's a crashing disappointment, however cool the coda with a young adult Kelly and Diana may be.

Still, the epic blood spell is pretty cool. The deaths are dramatic when they happen. But the fact that we had a final episode like this goes to show that a programme that, episode by episode and arc by arc, was rather good, was perhaps not that great at world building in the end.


"Queer as a nine bob note!"

I've always been fond of old British comedy, from Carry On to Round the Horne to Beyond the Fringe to Monty Python, and a biopic of Barbara Windsor of exactly the kind that used to be on BBC4 is very much my thing, especially with Tony Jordan writing, and this doesn't disappoint. Anyway, I've always liked Babs, dodgy opinions about the Kray twins (who were scum) notwithstanding.

It's a cleverly written teleplay, which feels at times almost to be written for theatre in its use of space as figures from the past (mainly her Dad) visit Barbara in an empty auditorium. But we start in 1993, with Babs at a low, pre-EastEnders ebb in her career, and the whole thing is a structured examination of Babs' life, loves and daddy issues. Samantha Spiro and Jaime Winstone are both superb, and we even get a few appearances from the lady herself. Plus we get Harry from The Black Adder as a divorce judge, so all's good.

The personal stuff is beautifully written, and both parents come across as very human. The script does a nice little balancing act in not shying away from Mr Deeks' habit of sodding off when things get tough or from the fact that there was at least a degree of spousal abuse. It's not hard to see her serial relationships as a search for the father figure of her early childhood.

But I particularly loved the parts with Zoe Wanamaker as the eccentric genius Joan Littlewood, whom I respect hugely, as Babs gets to grips with her eccentric ways of working. The Kenneth Williams scene with the ever-wonderful Robin Sebastian is also a joy. As, indeed, is the whole thing. Not to be missed.

IZombie: Wag the Tongue Slowly

"I will juice you like an orange, my friend."

This episode is, for iZombie, relatively story-of-the-week, but with a show as on fire as this that's no bad thing. It's difficult finding bad things to say about it at the moment so I shan't even try.

For Ravi, unwisely and unkindly having a one night stand with his hated ex-boss while he's supposed to be getting back with Peyton, and getting caught, it's the morning after the night before in a scene played for laughs as it need to be; Ravi's been quite the love rat and yet we still need to like him, so his share of the good lines is even higher than normal, even when paired with the razor-sharp Blaine.

But the episode soon moves to the inevitable murder as the body of an office gossip is found by two bad actresses (Hah! I found something bad to say!) and a splendidly clever plot, very Agatha Christie for a forty minute episode, ensues, with a nattily directed denouement where Clive gets to be Hercule Poirot as he explains that They All Did It. And Liv as office gossip is both hilarious and disturbingly useful to the investigation.

Meanwhile Ravi and an increasingly sick Major further deepen their unlikely but convincing friendship as Major cleverly furthers the plot and ultimately finds out where Natalie (remember her?) is being held. The relationship between Peyton and Blaine continues to develop post-cure as he is relieved to find his memories of being a baddie not returning. Blaine is a bit of a walking philosophical treatise on redemption; if he can no longer remember his bad deeds, and is no longer capable of repeating them, to what extent should he be held accountable?

We end with Liv and Clive following up clues from that anti-zombie message board and coming up an ominous, very racist and extremely nasty dead end. The secret is out and it's not going to be pretty.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Doctor Who: Knock Knock

"Landline??? What is this- Scotland?"

So that's four good episodes in a row for this quietly impressive season; we get a solid bit of teatime horror from Mike Bartlett, a writer new to Who but not to telly, more top chemistry from Bill and a bizarrely Tom-like Doctor, Hercule Poirot being splendidly sinister, and a satisfying and emotional conclusion. It's a story-of-the-week, yes, but that's what Doctor Who should be.

As with Clara, Bill maintains her life when not travelling in the TARDIS- a bit of a Moffat-era trope- and we're introduced to her uni housemates; it's interesting to ponder whether we'll be seeing any of them. It's too soon to get to know any of them yet, though, even if one of them is supposed to be Harry Sullivan's grandson. We know, of course, that this spacious luxury house offered as a student house at a knock-down price is going to come with a catch, but the fun is in the finding out, and fun it is. We get a kind of slasher narrative with the big alien woodlice (Are they alien or not? For the second episode in a row it's left deliberately ambiguous whether or not the monster is in fact just an undiscovered terrestrial beast. Is this an arc thing?) picking off flatmates one by one, but the fact they are all restored keeps things nicely kid-friendly. And the resolution is genuinely excellent. The episode as a whole is a subtle masterclass in how to write and structure an episode of television.

I like the obvious throwback to Susan early on, with Bill pretending the Doctor is her "grandfather", and her embarrassment at his hanging around in her fourth-wall breaking way ("Basically this is the bit of my life that you're not in"), and I love Bill's characteristic skewering of Time Lord pomposity as soon as she hears them mentioned. It's a good opportunity to seed the idea of regeneration early in the season though.

The end contains a half-revelation: the Vault appears to contain a person, or at any rate something both able to play Beethoven on the piano and with an interest in gory stories. I think I may have an idea of who it might be...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Grimm: Zerstorer Shrugged

"And the hitch-hiker didn't need some guide to the galaxy. He just needed a Grimm."

Bloody Ayn Rand references. I hate any references to that stupid crank. This gets the episode- the second-to-last ever, remember- off tp a bad start. And it doesn't get much better.

We begin with a rushed resolution to last week's exciting exploits in the Hell dimension (fircthats what it appears to be, according to Monroe's family Bible, Wesen version) in which Nick, Eve and a far more boring and Aryan-looking Zerstorer are removed back to Portland and said baddie predictably ties amok. Yep. The final two episodes ever are going to focus on an apparently mute and very recently encountered Big Bad which has vague connections with all sorts of end-of-the-world myths and is suddenly linked to that prophecy from several episodes ago.

The episode is talky, entirely composed of exposition for most of its length and, frankly, dull. Even Trubel being back with longer hair struggles to evoke any interest. We get a revelation that the Zerstorer is after Kelly as well as Diana (is it me or have the last few episodes forgotten to show Nick's relationship with his son?), Nick and Diana declare their love to each other- ominous- and then we get a scene in which Hank and Wu are suddenly killed, without warning, in a rubbish episode where they've hardly done anything.

Not happy. Not happy at all. The finale better be a big improvement on this.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sausage Party (2016)

"We need to unite and stop focusing on each others' differences. Especially in immature and outdated ways."

Yes, this film is puerile, expletive-ridden, sex-obsessed and filled with lowest common denominator bad jokes, as its critics often point out. That is all perfectly true. What is equally true, however, is that it is also witty, intelligent, delightfully cheeky, politically aware and... well, what exactly is wrong with sex and swearing? Any film which essentially solves the notoriously intractable Israel/Palestine problem by having a Palestinian chap and a Jewish bloke have rigorous and gloriously gay sex is fine by me.

The idea behind the film- food is sentient and suffers when we prepare it for eating, but is kept blissfully unaware of its fate by a made-up religion, is brilliant, followed through and milked for every possible ounce of humour. And we get all sorts of humour, low-brow and high-brow together. The sense of humour is very Jewish American which is, for reasons unknown, pretty much the same as British humour.

I love everything about this film. I love the lyrics of the song ("...Where I'm sure that nothing bad happens to food"), I love the political commentary, I love Gum, I love the way it goes mad and orgiastic and fourth-wall breaking at the end. Don't be put off by the negative reviews: this film is clever, funny and wise.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

"The world is a cruel place."

Let's begin by acknowledging not only that this is the best fantasy film I have ever seen, perhaps of all time, and that it transcends its genre to deserve consideration among the very best films ever made.

It's well directed, of course, by Guillermo Del Toro. The fantasy sequences are imaginative and superbly realised. The largely Spanish cast is superb. But the script, the characters and the themes are what give this film its greatness. It's 1944, and General Franco is consolidating his iron grip on Spain.  For those who oppose him there is little hope and much cruelty. Life is hard. And for little Ofelia things seem particularly bleak. Her pregnant mother, Carmen, has had a hard life and has been forced, through desperation, to marry the thoroughly unpleasant Captain Vidal- sadistic, chauvinistic, uncaring and serving as a narrative symbol of Franco's Spain with all its violence, stupidity, inhumanity and lack of any imagination whatsoever.

So it's no surprise that Ofelia seeks escape in fantasy and fairy tales, which offer her a much better world than the one she inhabits. Immediately we have the value of escapism, but we also have the rich possibility of metaphor which, gloriously, is left ambiguous enough throughout the film to be interesting. And most central of all is the question, also gloriously ambiguous, of whether the fantasy sequences are real or just in poor Ofelia's head; does she end up dead, murdered by her cruel stepfather, or a princess with her real parents? Either way, the film cleverly leavens some very dark scenes and themes- involving torture and worse- in the real world with some truly wonderful fairytale concepts.

Patriarchy is a theme, and explicitly linked with fascism and inhumanity. Vidal cares only for his unborn son- and it must be a son- and not for the comfort of his wife, whose death leaves him unmoved. Love as an emotion seems alien to him (his regard for his dead father is not love but worship of masculine tropes) and he regards women with contempt. All that matters is his family name being passed on so it is a just punishment when, just before he is shot, Mercedes tells him that his son "won't even know your name."

There is hope, though, in the integrity of people like Mercedes, a strong woman who defies the tyranny of patriarch, and Doctor Ferreiro, who died a gentleman's death after an act of brave mercy. And we are allowed a reminder that, as these events are taking place, the beaches of Normandy are being stormed. Fascism is decadent, empty, and ultimately weak. Decency will outlive it.

The title of the film in English is odd, though- there's no suggestion that the faun (another patriarch demanding obedience, just to add another layer) is supposed to be the Greek god pan. But the labyrinth... I wonder if this is a reference to Borges? There are so many layers to this beautiful film, and it is one that everyone should see. If you don't usually watch subtitled foreign films then please make an exception for this one.