Category Archives: Fantasy

#317 La Belle et la Bete

(1946, Jean Cocteau)

“Belle, you mustn’t look into my eyes”

It’s a tale as old as time – a beautiful romantic tale about a young girl enslaved by a beast-man in his magical castle until she is able to turn him into a charming prince through her innocent nature. Wait, that doesn’t sound very romantic at all! Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite children’s story about Stockholm Syndrome, Beauty And The Beast.

However, this isn’t the famous Disney version, this is instead the original French adaptation, La Belle et la Bête. After a wealthy merchant loses his fortune through dealings with unscrupulous people, he finds himself lost in the forest. Upon finding a large castle, he picks a rose from the garden and is immediately caught by a fierce beast-man (Jean Marais), who sentences him to death. However, a deal is made, and he can be spared if he sends his daughter to take his place. And so, Belle (Josette Day) is sent to the castle, where she is imprisoned and must now live with the Beast, who appears to hide a soft side under his gruff exterior. Read the rest of this entry

#293 Throne of Blood

(1957, Akira Kurosawa)
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō

“You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you”

My experience with Shakespeare is not the best. Due to a British education system that seems determined to suck the life out of every form of literature by drily overanalysing every line of a play, my experience of Shakespeare has been spending an entire year reading Macbeth very slowly and subsequently wanting to never read Macbeth again.

So perhaps reframing Shakespeare could help. Perhaps if an influential Japanese director could have made a movie transposing Macbeth to feudal Japan and making it a dark movie about samurai, I could feel a little better about it. Oh hey, look, it’s Throne Of Blood! That’ll do nicely.

While returning from a battle against their lord’s enemies, samurai generals Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) encounter a spirit in the forest who tells of a prophecy for the two men. Washizu is to become master of North Castle, and will soon become lord for the whole castle complex too. Upon returning to their lord, the first part of the prophecy comes true, leading Washizu’s wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), to convince him to kill the lord and bring about the second part. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

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#252 Pinocchio

(1940, Ben Sharpsteen & Hamilton Luske)

“Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy.”

I’ve covered a lot of Disney movies, it seems, although in actual fact very few movies from Disney’s Animated Canon are on the 1001 Movies You Must See list. In fact, I believe this may be the last one we’ll see. Disappointed that many of your favourites weren’t included? So am I, but there you go.

Pinocchio, as you may know, is the story of a puppet made by the eccentric Geppetto, brought to life by the Blue Fairy and accompanied by the quirky Jiminy Cricket. Pinocchio must learn to be brave and kind and other positive character traits in order to become a real boy and not be taken in by tricksters and turned into a donkey, and mustn’t tell lies otherwise his nose will grow to enormous proportions. Someone gets eaten by a whale too. It’s a weird story.

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#246 The Wizard Of Oz

(1939, Victor Fleming)

“There’s no place like home”

It’s Christmas Eve! You know what that means, right? Yes, of course, it’s time to take a look at an appropriately Christmassy movie! But wait, there aren’t actually that many actual Christmas movies on the must-see list (It’s A Wonderful Life was the main one of only two), so like last year, when I reviewed Babe, I’ll instead be pulling up a family-friendly movie.

In other words, the kind of thing you’re likely to stick on when you’re full of turkey and unable to move. The kind of thing that tends to get added to Christmas programming for that very reason. This year, we’ll be looking at The Wizard Of Oz.

You should all know what The Wizard Of Oz is, surely? Judy Garland plays Dorothy, a young girl living on a farm in Kansas. After a run-in with a grumpy neighbour (Margaret Hamilton), Dorothy runs away from home and ends up caught in a tornado, waking up in the mysterious Land Of Oz. Here she is instructed to find the Wizard who will be able to return her home, and along the way she gathers a rag-tag team of friends in the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who wants a brain, the Tin Man (Jack Haley), who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who lacks courage. Throughout their journey they have to watch out for the Wicked Witch Of The West (Hamilton again), who likes to keep trolling them as they move through the land.

Everyone knows about The Wizard Of Oz. It’s cemented its place in pop culture over the years, and has been the subject of many homages and parodies over the years, but has it stood the test of time?

First off, visually it certainly does stand up. Being one of very few movies from the 1930s in full colour, The Wizard Of Oz made great use of its colour palette, presenting a great contrast between the drab sepia of Kansas and the vibrant world of Oz. The transition from sepia to colour was also superb and seamless, performed entirely through a doorway as Dorothy steps out into her new world, and I was genuinely impressed by it.

Some of the effects look a little ropey today, but it’s a movie from the thirties, what do you expect? Despite the obvious man behind the curtain for most of the effects (see what I did there? EH?!?), they do still look pretty impressive, and it’s hard to fault the makeup jobs of Dorothy’s trio of friends, which are a real highlight.

But beyond the visuals, how well does the movie stack up in terms of plot and characterisation? Well, I’m going to be brutally honest here – the plot is ridiculous. Dorothy doesn’t really have much motivation to do anything and her entire job is to stare vacuously at things in amazement. The Good Witch is a persistent Deus Ex Machina that conveniently solves every problem Dorothy encounters. The ultimate meeting with the Wizard results in them getting cop-out rewards for their efforts, and a realisation that none of the movie really needed to happen. And don’t get me started on the logistical issues surrounding the Wicked Witch’s final demise.

But that’s OK. The Wizard Of Oz isn’t even pretending to take itself seriously. The comic performances of the trio prove as much, since they’re all campy and over the top. One liners are thrown about all over the place, including some that still hold up today – I’ll admit I enjoyed the Scarecrow’s “some people without brains do an awful lot of talking” line a little too much. The entire movie just feels too much fun to discredit the plot issues too much, since it’s likely that no one involved particularly cared all that much.

Instead, the awkward plotting and general silliness of the whole thing are the movie’s real charm. It’s a delightful romp of a film that wants to do nothing more than keep you entertained, and does so in a way that so unashamedly happy.

Plus it’s Christmas, so bitching about the movie and saying it’s terrible wouldn’t be in the spirit of the holiday. Instead, it’s a great choice for this time of year, since it’s feel-good silliness which remains charming and lovely and entertaining, even to this day. But you probably watch it every time it’s on TV anyway, so I probably didn’t even need to tell you that.

Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walshe and Terry the dog
Written by L. Frank Baum (novel – The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz) and Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson & Edgar Allan Woolf
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Music by Herbert Stothart (score) and Harold Arlen (songs)
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Edited by Blanche Sewell

Favourite Scene: The aforementioned joke about stupid people talking a lot.
Scene That Bugged Me: “Only bad witches are ugly” What a great message for the kids! Ugly people are vicious monsters that want to murder your pets! Wonderful!

Watch it if: It’s on telly. Which it will be.
Avoid it if: You have a severe phobia of whimsy

#244 Dead Man

(1995, Jim Jarmusch)

“Your poetry will now be written in blood”

WESTERNS! As regular readers will know, I hate Westerns and have yet to see one I’ve particularly liked, especially if John Wayne is in it. That said, Dead Man is an unusual Western, one that stars professional weirdo Johnny Depp and is set in a strange dream-like world. Perhaps this may be the Western to convince me of the value of the genre.

Dead Man features Depp as William Blake, a man who travels to the mining town of Machine to work as an accountant. When he arrives, he finds that John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum), the owner of the metalworks, has handed the job to someone else, leaving Blake to wander the town. This leads to a run-in with an attractive woman named Thel (Mili Avital) and her ex-boyfriend, Charlie Dickinson (Gabriel Byrne), both of whom end up dead while Blake is wounded. Upon waking, Blake finds himself accompanied by a native called Nobody (Gary Farmer) and finds himself hunted for the deaths, leaving the two to wander the wild frontier.

Dead Man is what happens when Westerns get pretentious. It has all the typical elements of your normal Western, from wandering the frontier while searching and/or being pursued, to gruesome shootouts, all the way to a native spirit guide and grizzled town figureheads. But it’s also shot in highly saturated black and white, heavily quotes poetry (he’s not called William Blake by accident) and features a soundtrack composed by Neil Young sitting in a room watching the movie and noodling around on his guitar.

As a result, there are times when Dead Man can feel tiresome and almost draining. Everything is shot in a deliberately “arty” way, to make it seem like it’s trying to say something important. The only problem is, it’s pretty much saying nothing at all.

I honestly don’t know what message Jarmusch was trying to convey with this movie. It follows the conventions of Westerns too closely to be any kind of deconstruction of the genre, the poetry connection doesn’t really make sense and there’s no real message to be found in the ultimate futility of much of the movie’s events. My initial feeling was that the entire movie was a metaphor for death (which would fit the title), but it’s hard to make that stick consistently.

Instead, the movie ultimately feels like an idea Jarmusch had while watching Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and listening to 70s blues rock, possibly while high out of his mind. Even Roger Ebert said he didn’t understand what the film was trying to say, and if he didn’t get it, how do you expect a self-professed amateur such as me to grasp the hidden message?

Speaking of 70s blues rock and being high out of your mind, Neil Young’s soundtrack does not help in the slightest. I know I often find myself commenting on soundtracks only when they’re really bad, but this is a new low. It sounds like a one-take deal made by jamming out in front of the recently-edited movie which, to be fair, it was. More often than not, characters will be wandering about doing nothing in particular of note when suddenly, a loud CLANG of an electric guitar will come in for no reason other than Neil Young felt like contributing something.

The only saving graces this movie has are the fine acting across the board, especially from Depp at the centre of it all (to be fair, the movie was made when he actually could be bothered to do his job), and the sight of Iggy Pop wearing a Bo Peep dress, playing a transvestite because of reasons.

Dead Man is what happens when you try too hard to be clever in deconstructing a genre and making something even more incomprehensible than the genre you’re deconstructing. Come back, John Wayne, I forgive everything!

Starring Johnny Depp & Gary Farmer
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Demetra J. McBride
Music by Neil Young
Cinematography by Robby Muller
Edited by Jay Rabinowitz

Favourite Scene: Iggy Pop in a Bo Peep dress will never not be entertaining.
Scene That Bugged Me: The ending got very muddled very quickly.

Watch it if: You really like Johnny Depp and/or Westerns
Avoid it if: You can’t stand Neil Young’s music

#233 Alice

(1988, Jan Svankmajer)
Něco z Alenky

“Now you will see a film made for children…perhaps”

Alice In Wonderland is a truly iconic children’s story, and I personally have a fondness for it, as I’m sure many others do. But despite its fame as a children’s story, it can easily be read as a horrific nightmare drug trip without changing a single word in it. And this dichotomy of Lewis Carroll’s classic certainly wasn’t lost on Jan Svankmajer when he made Alice.

You should already know the story of Alice In Wonderland, but for those who don’t, welcome to Earth, intergalactic visitors. It’s about a girl named Alice who goes to a place called Wonderland, oddly enough.

She gets there when a White Rabbit in a jacket rushing past her complaining about being late while examining a pocket watch. In traditional versions, Alice follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole and lands in Wonderland, where she experiences a series of adventures, but in Svankmajer’s version, Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) follows the rabbit into a stationery drawer. And that’s not the only way it differs.

Where other versions of Alice placed a young girl in a dazzlingly colourful environment with gumdrop trees and sprawling gardens, Svankmajer’s Alice places her in a dilapidated mansion filled with creaky antiques that come to life and do weird things. Also, where other adaptations take the “wonder” part of the title as their entire design document and make everything all charming and happy, Svankmajer seemingly decided to use Carroll’s possible opium trip as the basis for his version.

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#206 Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

(1937, David Hand)

“Who’s the fairest of them all?”

It’s Disney again! This time, it’s the film that started it all. Movie #1 in the Disney Animated Canon. Walt Disney’s pet project designed to show the world that animation could be turned into full length features. But how well does it hold up today?

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is based on the famous Grimm fairy tale. Every day, an evil queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne) asks her magic mirror “who is the fairest of them all?”, expecting the mirror to inform her that she is the fairest. She is content until the mirror one day says that a young maiden named Snow White (v/b Adriana Caselotti) is the fairest. In a fit of jealousy, the queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and murder her. However, he can’t do it, and Snow White flees and takes refuge with a group of dwarves (note the spelling, Disney!), leading the queen to try and devise an even more gruesome fate for the girl.

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#127 Heavenly Creatures

(1994, Peter Jackson)

“The next time I write in this diary Mother will be dead”

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#118 The Natural

(1984, Barry Levinson)

“There goes Roy Hobbs, best there ever was”

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#113 The Princess Bride

(1987, Rob Reiner)

“As you wish…”

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