Once Upon A Time On Screen – Part 1: Red Riding Hood, Cinderella

Company of Wolves DVD

Movie versions of familiar tales are fascinating because they show how many different variations are possible. Most are set in the original time period, but some move the action to the time in which the film is made. The really interesting ones add their own fresh take on the classic tale, possibly going beyond pure entertainment and delving into some more serious issues. After all, that was the purpose of all the old fairy-tales. They were mainly cautionary tales. Here are the first three I think are interesting and worth watching. They all have strong female characters in common. The first two are for teens and adults, only the last is suitable for small children.

The Company of Wolves

A fresh take on Red Riding Hood with a very strong coming-of-age theme. Neil Jordan’s film is based on a short story by Angela Carter, who also co-wrote the screenplay. A young girl just crossing into puberty falls asleep while her parents and older sister are out. She dreams of herself as Red Riding Hood. Grandma (Angela Lansbury) is constantly warning her of men’s desires and to watch out for wolves. But in this slightly feminist take, Red Riding Hood is not afraid of men or wolves, unlike everybody surrounding her. She’s curious, not afraid. This movie’s dialog is full of sexual innuendo you never thought you’d hear Angela Lansbury say, and she does it with relish. One of her best roles really. A truly great, smart, very visual fantasy movie.

Freeway DVD Cover


A modern day thriller version of Red Riding Hood with Kiefer Sutherland as the big bad wolf (aka a serial killer on the loose), and Reese Witherspoon (Vanessa) as Red Riding Hood. This is a tough movie. Caution, it’s not for kids! Vanessa runs away from her drug-addict mother and abusive step-father to her grandma’s trailer park home. Her road trip is one of horror, as she meets many types of violent, abusive people in the woods…on the road to grandma’s. Vanessa is a no-nonsense tough girl who endures all that is thrown at her. This movie was produced by Oliver Stone in the mid 1990s. If you know what kinds of movies he was making at that time, this fits right in there even though it’s less well known.

Three Wishes For Cinderella

Three Wishes For Cinderella (Tri Orisky Pro Popelku)

This is a real classic which keeps gaining new fans despite being almost 40 years old. In many European countries this movie is part of the Christmas tradition. There have even been university lectures held on it. Cinderella is a very smart girl in this one. It follows the old saying of a man chasing a woman until she catches him. The title is actually three hazelnuts for Cinderella because they have some significance in this Czech or Russian/Slavic(?) variation on the classic tale. The film has charm, wit, and smarts, you just don’t find in the Hollywood versions.

I can write longer reviews for each film if anyone is interested. Let me know in the comments.

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Sherlock Holmes And Dr. Watson On Screen – Part 1: Intro and comparison between the BBC’s Sherlock series and Guy Ritchie’s movie series

Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. Watson. Il...

Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. John Watson are two of the most famous and long-lasting characters in fiction. They possibly have the largest number of on-screen interpretations of any literary characters…except for possibly Dracula?

This blog series is a look at some of the many interpretations of Holmes and Watson in movies and TV series. From the recent “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, back to the classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movie series of the 1940s. There are far too many versions to consider them all, but I thought it might be fun to look at the varied ways these classic literary characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been brought to the screen over the years.

Not all have stuck to the original stories. In “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, Billy Wilder poked some fun at the Holmes myth. Another movie has Holmes meet Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and parallels are drawn between the two men. Even if one was fictional and the other real. In “Without a Clue”, Michael Caine plays a somewhat dull-witted Holmes who is all too full of himself, while Watson, played by Ben Kingsley is the real deductive genius in the background.

Amongst TV adaptations, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is one of the most noteworthy and arguably the one most loyal to the literary creation (Btw, I spotted a very young Jude Law in one of the Brett episodes. He can only be about 16-18 yrs old?). Let’s dive in at the present day versions.

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Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

(cross-posted from marcusclearspring.com)

Midnight in Paris works because it unabashedly plays with all the romantic fantasies associated with Paris. Or more precisely, the Paris of Hemingway which he wrote about in “A Moveable Feast”. The film indulges us in a fantasy world made up of the artists of that period. Conjuring an illusion which is a joy and fun to watch.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is an American screenplay writer. Successful in Hollywood, but who’s real dream is to write literary novels in Paris. To him, writing for commercial Hollywood movies is not worth the same as literary fiction. Right here, is one of the major themes, and questions, of the movie. Are we ever satisfied with what we have, or the time we live in? Continue reading

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The Once Upon A Time Blog Challenge 2012

I’ll be taking part in the Once Upon A Time Challenge VI

Once Upon A Time Challenge VI Quest On Screen

The quest is about re-tellings of fairy-tales, fantasy, folklore, mythology

I plan on going with the quest on screen and possibly the short story quest. Probably reviewing “The Company of Wolves“. Both the film by Neil Jordan and the original short story by Angela Carter.

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The Man Who Planted Trees – Small Changes Make The Difference

The Man Who Planted Trees DVD cover

The Man Who Planted Trees, French DVD Cover

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is an animated film by Frédéric Back based on the popular short story by Jean Giono. This beautifully animated film is about a shepherd living in the Provence region of southern France who single-handedly plants an entire forest, one acorn at a time. If you like impressionist paintings such as those of Claude Monet, then this film is for you.

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is a work of art in itself. It is a painting come to life. This film is not well know because it is only about 30 minutes. Hence it was never shown as a main feature film. I was fortunate to see this film at a university film society. At the time, there were no prints in the UK at all. The movie had to be shipped from the production company in Canada, but it was worth the cost and effort. Everybody I looked at after seeing the movie was awestruck by its beauty.

Amongst numerous other awards, this film won the Oscar for best animated short film, was nominated at Cannes, and won the Grand Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Frédéric Back had previously won an Oscar for another animated short and that helped him realise this film.

The story of a very simple person with sparse means achieving so much, is universally inspriring. It is like the famous saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The shepherd patiently plants acorns, day after day for years as he walks around his mountain. In the beginning, the mountain is barren. After some decades, there is a huge forest. Continue reading

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Pauline at the Beach – Pauline a la plage

U.S. DVD Cover

“Pauline at the Beach” (Pauline à la plage), was one of the first movies which showed me a different kind of film to what Hollywood made. The others being “Stolen Kisses” (Baisers volés) and “One plus one”. (More on those another day.)

In “Pauline at the beach”, a teenage girl (Amanda Langelet) spends her summer holiday with her, fairly hot, aunt (Arielle Dombasle) at a northern French seaside resort. During their stay, they get mixed up in various amorous entanglements. Pauline already knew that love was complicated. Here, she learns that grown-ups act quite contradictory to their words.

At the time, being about the same age as the two teenagers in the film made it easy to understand what they were experiencing, even though the themes of love and relationships got quite complicated. In fact, the teenagers in the movie were quite smart, despite their limited understanding of the complexities. Sometimes it’s just about knowing what the right thing to do really is. No matter what your age.

Rohmer’s film never talks down to the teenage characters. Most films have some supposedly wiser, older person say “When you get to my age you’ll understand…”, or “It’s all not as simple as you imagine…you’ll learn”. Those statements have some truth and in fact the oldest character says something similar. However, the kids see through the bullshit and know when the adults are just being phony and using those pat phrases as excuses for their own bad behaviour. Click continue for the trailer.

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Black Swan

black swan movie poster“Black Swan” is a fairly intense psychological thriller. The picture to the left says it all. The image is not a naturalistic photo. It’s a painting, an idealized image…except for the crack. Black Swan is certainly ”not” a dance movie in the normal sense, just like Darren Aronofsky’s last movie “The Wrestler” was not a sports movie in the traditional sense. Since Natalie Portman won an Oscar for best actress 2011, you may have heard of the film.

During the course of the movie, a ballerina named Nina becomes so set on playing the perfect swan that it causes a personality split within her self. The movie is mainly very naturalistic, but there are some neat effects which blend in seamlessly. For example, Nina starts growing feathers under her skin, at least in her mind.

There’s a great cast assembled here. Vincent Cassel, mostly known internationally for tough-guy roles, plays the ballet instructor quite differently to the stereotypes we know from other movies. I always thought Mila Kunis projected a gutsiness rare of anyone her age. In Black Swan she gets to show it. Winona Ryder has a small part as the departing star of the company, Nina’s predecessor, who has difficulty coping with the situation and puts a tragic end to her career. Barbara Hershey plays Nina’s over-protective, controlling, ex-ballerina mother. Aronofsky must have a talent for working with actors because they are all great in ways you have not seen them play before. He even coaxes out new things from the older actors.

Nina plays both the White and Black Swan. The two swans do not stand primarily for good and evil, at least that’s not the focus in this film. It’s more about desire and sexuality, and to what extent they are lived or repressed. In practical terms it means the white swan is ”virtuous” and ”pure”. Both terms are euphemisms for restrained sexuality. The Black Swan is the opposite. She grabs what she wants, the Prince. The White Swan loses.

Nina’s repressed sexuality is linked to the main theme in Black Swan, that of striving for perfection. Nina’s dance instructor tells her that perfection is not achieved by control alone. Through the entire film her instructor is trying to teach her that in order to occasionally achieve perfection, she needs to just let things happen sometimes, to let go of the reigns. Click continue to view the trailer. Continue reading

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Don’t Worry, I’m Fine – Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas

Movie poster for Don't Worry, I'm Fine - Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas“Don’t Worry, I’m Fine” (Original title “Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas” (2006)) is a strong yet quiet drama about a nineteen year old girl, Lili, who’s life falls into turmoil after her brother, Loic, disappears.

Lili’s father and brother had an argument the evening her brother disappeared, which makes her in turn angry at her father whom she gives part of the blame. “Don’t Worry, I’m Fine” is an “emotional thriller”. The mystery of what happened to Lili’s brother Loic is not revealed until the end, but the real story is about Lili’s reaction to her brother’s disappearance. She is completely obsessed with finding out what happened to him, playing detective. The disappearance, the loss, takes complete control of her.  Continue reading

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