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PAN'S LABYRINTH Let's make this clear from the start: Pan's Labyrinth is not one for the kiddies. Even with that inviting title, even with fairy tale trappings full of faunas and faux-Tinkerbells, even with memories of the family-friendly Jim Henson-David Bowie concoction Labyrinth, Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro's R-rated adventure is packed with disturbing images, political subtext and gory interludes. In short, when was the last time a fantasy flick brought to mind Schindler's List? It's as if del Toro had uncovered the darker aspects of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland adventures and found a home for them in his own fractured fairy tale. Set in 1944 Spain, the story centers on young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who along with her pregnant mother (Aridna Gil) has journeyed to a remote outpost to join her mom's new husband, a brutal Fascist officer (Sergi Lopez) in Franco's army who's assigned to wipe out the resistance fighters in his midst. Steering clear of her stepdad, Ofelia stumbles upon a magical world lorded over by a faun (Doug Jones). But this fantasy realm isn't a peaceful retreat from the horrors of the everyday world; rather, it's a manifestation of the fears and pains that define one's daily existence. Full of wondrous and disturbing images (The Pale Man is one of the great monsters in recent cinema), this is a rich viewing experience that demands additional viewings. ***1/2
VENUS Peter O'Toole is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Venus, a movie that seems to exist for no other purpose than to nab its leading man that ever-elusive Oscar. Phase One has been successful in that O'Toole snagged his eighth nomination for his performance; now, can he overtake The Last King of Scotland's Forest Whitaker and actually walk away with the award? Regardless, it's nice to see the acting legend shine once more on the big screen, even if the movie surrounding him largely functions at the level of an accomplished dinner theater production. The 74-year-old O'Toole stars as Maurice, an actor who spends most of his waning years hanging around with his longtime friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). Into his orbit comes Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), the daughter of Ian's niece, and Maurice finds himself developing an offbeat relationship with the young woman who appears to be barely out of her teens. Maurice is one-quarter mentor, three-quarters lecherous old man when it comes to Jessie; for her part, she won't put up with his groping but nevertheless finds herself enjoying his company. The May-December romance, which brings to mind the coupling between then-55-year-old (and O'Toole's Becket costar) Richard Burton and 17-year-old Tatum O'Neal in 1980's Circle of Two, is far less interesting than the scenes in which Maurice reflects on his long life and discusses the vagaries of old age with his peers. Look for Vanessa Redgrave in a nice cameo as Maurice's ex-wife. **1/2
OPENS WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14:
MUSIC AND LYRICS: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore.
TYLER PERRY'S DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS: Gabrielle Union, Idris Elba.
OPENS FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16:
BREACH: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb.
FACTORY GIRL: Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce.
GHOST RIDER: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes.