Jun. 30th, 2012

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The Devil's Backbone is a Guillermo de Toro flick set (as several of his movies are) against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. An orphanage out in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by a bunch of boys, the headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), the doctor who loves her (Federico Luppi), the hired man Jacinto, who also "helps" Carmen with her late-night loneliness (Eduardo Noriega), his lover Conchita (Irene Visedo)...and a ghost, which the boys call "the one who sighs."

Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at the orphanage after his father dies in the war. He gets in trouble as the other boys haze him, and he meets the ghost - turns out he's in the dead boy's bunk. The story of the ghost is fairly straightforward, but see, that's what's awesome about this ghost story - it's not just a ghost story.

The place itself is a character. The camera work and the set design are both amazing, and we learn the layout of the place enough that it feels familiar. We learn the people, too; even Jacinto, who's a dick, is a well-realized enough character that we can feel for him a bit, even after he commits cold-blooded murder. The ghost of the young boy and that ghost's story aren't really the focus, they're just one element in a drama involving all of these people and the war itself.

The movie is violent, gory in places and, in typical del Toro style, doesn't pull any punches with regards to which characters die. Del Toro isn't shy about killing kids in his movies (see also: Mimic, which I personally feel is underrated), and when the ghost tells Carlos "Many of you will die," he ain't just whistling Dixie. The right people get their comeuppance and Carlos and many of the boys escape...but they're still in war-torn Spain, they're alone and they've got a hard road ahead of them.

You can see the evolution from this movie if you watch Pan's Labyrinth, which hits a lot of the same notes. We'll get to the Ps eventually.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Die Hard
innocent_man: (tick)
Die Hard is, according to some sources, the quintessential American action movie. I'd say that it's a pretty awesome example, possibly the best example, of an 80s action movie. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop in LA to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia). While he's at the Christmas party at her office (on the 30th floor of an office building), a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his film debut!) take the place over. McClane slips aways, and picks off the terrorists slowly, getting more and more wounded in the process, all the time corresponding with the largely incompetent cops on the outside (led by Paul Gleason, though McClane's contact is Reginald VelJohnson).

This movie is really damn 80s. Almost everyone, including McClane, smokes. He's openly carrying a gun on an airplane. The terrorists aren't actually terrorists, they're not seeking to make a political statement, but they play on the fact that everyone assumes that they are, and not only that, that they'll behave a certain way because of their convictions (sound familiar?). McClane pretty much openly embraces his cowboy archetype - the film's tagline, "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker," is a rallying cry for any 80s cop character who's the only one who can really take the fight to the bad guys.

Of course, the movie is utterly absurd. McClane kills a dozen people over the course of the movie, triggers an explosion that probably should have leveled the building, shoots up a police car and then at the end his wife punches a reporter on camera...and they just drive away like nothin's nothin'. They're both wounded, they're both probably traumatized, but eh. They killed the bad guys, it's all good. Likewise, the only bad guy who makes any stab at showing real emotion is Karl (Alexander Godunov), after his brother dies at McClane's hands (literally), but he manages to seem so psycho that we can't actually feel for him. The bad guys have no motive but money, and no remorse about slaughtering innocent people. Hans Gruber (Rickman) is amazing, cold, and ruthless, but not relatable (though thoroughly entertaining).

I mention this because in the sequel, they raised the bar a bit, and then crashed an airplane full of civilians. And at that point, IMO, it lost the wah-hoo fun of this movie. I mean, yes, in this one Gruber brutally guns people down, but they're all adults and they all see it coming. Crashing plane with families aboard...hard to see that as fun-action. They get it back a little in the third in the series, and I haven't seen Live Free or Die Hard because I refuse to watch a movie in which the hero can't say his catch phrase because they wanted a PG-13.

Ahem. Anyway. The original is the best of the bunch, far and away, and although it's showing its age, it's still fun to watch.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Dirty Dancing

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