Guillermo del Toro

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Actor-turned-director Ryan Gosling and director Guillermo del Toro sat down at Vimeo Theater to discuss Gosling’s directorial debut “Lost River,” it was much more of a conversation than a presentation.

“Can I just face you when I talk?” Gosling asked Guillermo before telling the audience “You guys talk amongst yourselves.”

Goslings’ film, a self-described punk-fairytale, focuses on the relationship between a single mother and her teenage son as they navigate what appears to be a post-apocalyptic society.

Gosling said Detroit loomed large for him as a child. Growing up in Canada, he said his fantasies about America meant bright lights and big cities. What he found in post-2008 Detroit closely resembled a society in ruins — a perfect location to film “Lost Rivers.”

“I remember seeing this one family and it was like the only family for blocks,” Gosling said. “The family must have thought they were the only ones left.”

Guillermo asked about Gosling’s choice to cast a number of his friends — and his girlfriend Eva Mendes. Gosling does not appear in the film.

“I wanted to work with my friends,” Gosling said. “I wanted to show their qualities that hadn’t been shown. Everyone I work with on this film I love. You want to do right by them because they are giving up their time.”

When Gosling approached del Toro with a completed script and a stack of film stills a couple of years ago, del Toro told Gosling “if you don’t make the film, I will.”

During the event, Gosling emphasized how crucial that conversation was for the film.

“I felt like the wizard gave me my sword and shield and sent out into the world,” Gosling said.

— Kat Sampson & Danielle Lopez

Inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday and traditional Mexican folk art, “The Book of Life” is a visual feast as well as a jaunty ride. Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has crafted a distinctive look and an endearing story sure to capture the imagination of parents and children alike. While the film’s plot is less lively than the dead skeletons prancing through it, the colorful and vivid animation infused with a Latin flair breathes life into the otherwise uninspired film. 

Reflecting its Latino influences, the film is filled with Mariachi versions of popular songs, such as Radiohead’s “Creep,” Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait.” The characters’ appearances are inspired by the marionette puppets often created for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations. 

“The Book of Life” is a film within a film. Bookending the main narrative throughout the movie are scenes of a cheery tour guide (Christina Applegate) narrating the film’s story to a group of rowdy schoolchildren on a field trip, providing comic relief and placing the Mexican traditions that inspire the film in a contemporary context for young audiences.

Unhappy with ruling the miserable Land of the Forgotten, God Xibalba (Ron Perlman) makes a wager with his lover, La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), in hopes of manipulating her into exchanging her throne in the Land of the Remembered for his own desolate kingdom. Observing a love triangle that has formed between three friends — Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana), and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) — both deities chooses a champion, and whoever wins Maria’s hand in marriage will determine the fate of the underworld. 

Indulging clichéd fantasy tropes, the narrative propels an underdeveloped, overly familiar story of a sentimental and misunderstood underdog winning the affection of his true love after undergoing a quest of self-realization. The story is complicated by the almost purposeless introduction of the down-to-earth deity Candlemaker (Ice Cube) and Chakal and his band of ruthless outlaws who are intent on overrunning and pillaging the fictional town of San Angel. Rather than becoming the epic del Toro had wanted it to, the film became a convoluted wasteland of undeveloped characters, abandoned plot lines and half-explored worlds. 

The story is underdeveloped and disorganized, but the film does impart important lessons. “The Book of Life” champions honoring the dead, advocates challenging societal roles and encourages individuals to construct their lives around their desires rather than the desires of others. The free-spirited Maria fights the traditional gender roles of women. Manolo struggles to tell his father he does not want to go in to the family business of bullfighting. And Joaquin grapples with admitting he cannot fulfill the role of legendary soldier society has forced on him.

While the film’s plot is guided by predictable conventions and convoluted by an overabundance of characters and stories, the heartfelt themes it champions and the detailed animation makes “The Book of Life” worth the cost of admission. 

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori star in "Pacific Rim."

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. | Daily Texan Staff

Judging from his previous films, Guillermo del Toro’s creative engine seems to run on boundless enthusiasm for the fantastical. “Pacific Rim,” the new film from the Spanish director, is pure del Toro, blending massive spectacle and dense concepts with a distinctly human edge, and could easily emerge as the most purely entertaining film of the summer.

As we learn via an opening voiceover info dump, the world is thrown into chaos when giant monsters, termed kaijus, emerge from beneath the sea and wreak havoc on cities around the world. Humanity fights back by crafting jaegars, robots the size of skyscrapers that are so enormous they require two pilots to operate them. One such pilot is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who quits the jaegar program after the death of his co-pilot and brother in a fight with a kaiju. Five years later, Becket is plucked out of retirement by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for a final stand against the kaiju threat.
 
While the obvious attraction of “Pacific Rim” is giant robots vs. giant monsters, del Toro carefully builds a weathered, engaging world around the chaos. From a black market of kaiju remains to an ineffective wall built around the coast, the film captures a world just a few degrees off from our own, pushed to the brink by fear and desperation, but still recognizable thanks to the elegant simplicity of the screenplay from del Toro and Travis Beacham. It helps that both writers have a knack for contrasting the outlandish situations that prevail throughout “Pacific Rim” with some familiar but inconsistent emotional material.

No one can accuse “Pacific Rim” of being a soulless summer blockbuster, and it makes sure to put every character through an emotional journey of some sort, some more cliched than others. The film’s smartest move is making the jaegars so powerful that they require two pilots, who have to be compatible enough to share a mental headspace called The Drift while they’re working. The thought that the only way for humanity to prevail is to attain a deep and complete understanding of each other is an inspiring one, wrapping a rather ridiculous sci-fi concept in a relatable human context.

The highlights of “Pacific Rim” come once Becket has found another co-pilot he can share the Drift with, and they get to the business of dispatching the ever-increasing kaiju threat. A sequence midway through the film where Becket and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), his co-pilot, go up against a pair of kajius in Hong Kong is some of the best pure storytelling of the year, combining seamless special effects with a stunningly enormous scope. Guillermo del Toro is barely able to contain his infectious glee at getting to stage such massive, imaginative battle sequences, and “Pacific Rim” shines when del Toro is free to unleash his most insane ideas on the audience.

Del Toro assembles a solid, colorful ensemble for the film, although his weakest link is also his leading man, Charlie Hunnam. While Hunnam has demonstrated great depth and ability on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and elsewhere, he’s something of a bland leading man here, his mere competence outshined by the rest of the ensemble. Ron Perlman, a del Toro mainstay, is hilariously sleazy as a black market salesman, and Rinko Kikuchi gives a solid, hugely charming performance as an aspiring jaegar pilot handed the chance of a lifetime.

Charlie Day is uncharacteristically restrained as a scientist who stumbles onto the secret to defeating the kaijus, and his trademark bug-eyed comedic ramble sounds a lot better when there’s some intelligence behind it. The MVP of the cast is easily Idris Elba, who brings a steely gravitas to the awesomely named Stacker Pentecost. Elba’s effortless command over every line of dialogue is impressive, and many of the film’s most striking emotional crescendos work thanks to his authoritative but empathetic performance.

One of the best things about going to a movie is the promise of being whisked away to a world where imagination translates into reality, and the impossible can unfold before our eyes. “Pacific Rim” isn’t the most realistic movie of the summer, nor is it the best, but it’s one of the most engaging and satisfying, and the enthusiastic moments where it delivers on its premise cement it as a towering achievement of sheer entertainment.
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Director: Guillermo del Toro
Genre: Science Fiction
Runtime: 130 minutes

Photo Credit: Caitlin Zellers | Daily Texan Staff

Even though “Pan’s Labyrinth” mastermind Guillermo del Toro only wrote and produced “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” first-time director Troy Nixey handled the direction, with his twisted imagination coating every frame of the film. From the sharp-toothed beasts to the quietly damaged child at its center, the film would feel right at home with del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” or “Pan’s Labyrinth.” It would be easy for Nixey to turn in a weak imitation of those films, but he manages to take del Toro’s tropes and make them his own with “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”

Bailee Madison stars as Sally, a young girl passed off to absentee father Alex (Guy Pearce) and soon-to-be-stepmother Kim (Katie Holmes), who live in an ancient mansion they’ve been renovating. Like any mansion worth setting a movie in, the house has a dirty secret in its history — in this case, it’s hundreds of fanged, whispery monsters living in the basement that want to claim Sally for themselves.

While Pearce and Holmes have been the focus of most of the film’s advertising, neither of them is nearly as important to the film as Bailee Madison’s Sally. While Pearce struggles with a mostly thankless role and Holmes does strong, sympathetic work as Kim, Madison has the most screen time and easily gives the best performance in the film. It’s hard not to feel for Sally when she realizes her mother pawned her off and Madison makes the betrayal sting. She’s even better when being terrorized by the beasts from beneath the house, taking the fairly repetitive note of

Sally being scared out of her mind and always finding a way to make the audience just as unsettled.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” takes care to avoid getting bogged down in the character relationships, instead always giving us little teases of the mayhem to mix with the character-driven scenes. Nixey shows an impeccable understanding for the art of the slow burn, milking each of the film’s big scare scenes until the tension is borderline unbearable. Unfortunately, the film’s climax, while still pretty thrilling, falls short, never delivering the unbridled mayhem it’s been building towards.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is rated R, but it doesn’t earn the rating in spilled blood or white-knuckle terror, instead settling for an underwhelming ending that wraps up just a bit too easily.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” may not end on the greatest note, but it’s still a vastly entertaining film. The creature design is memorably devious and Madison’s performance elevates the film from pulpy fun to truly suspenseful. While it’s worth questioning if Troy Nixey can make such a fun film without Guillermo del Toro peeking over his shoulder, there’s no denying that “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a worthwhile debut and one of the strongest horror films of the year.