Top 10 alternative fairytale movies

Be warned, if you’re not down with your witches, pixies, fairies and whatnot, this list will appear strange and confusing to you. That being said, away from your Cinderella and Snow White classics, here’s an alternative take on the best the fairytale genre has to offer that you might find refreshing.

10. Stardust (2007)
Based on a Neil Gaiman novel this mad fantasy adventure sees a young man fall in love with a fallen star, played wonderfully by Claire Danes. And Robert de Niro almost steals it as a camp pirate.
9. Spirited Away (2001)
Often cited as the Japanese Alice in Wonderland, this film by Hayao Miyazaki sees a young girl grow up as she’s forced to work in a bathhouse for the Gods to save her parents and return home.
8. Willow (1988)
A young Warwick Davies plays Willow, a farmer who goes on a quest to defeat an evil witch and protect a baby – with the help of a mad swordsman (Val Kilmer).
7. Big Fish (2003)
The whole thing is a reminisced fairy tale, with Albert Finney laying in bed and recounting the magical adventures he’s had throughout his life.
6. Coraline (2009)
Another Neil Gaiman adaptation – this one sees a girl find a parallel world behind a secret door where she has to fight her creepy ‘other parents‘ to save her real parents.
5. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
In this sequel, Hellboy fights to protect humanity by battling an elven Prince (Luke Goss) and his unstoppable golden army.
4. The Princess Bride (1987)
Wesley, aka the man in black, goes on a journey facing many foes along the way to save his one true love, Princess Buttercup.
3. The Labyrinth (1986)
A teenage girl (Jennifer Connelly) gives up her baby brother to a Goblin King (David Bowie) and then must venture into the labyrinth to save him.
2. Hanna (2011)
Saoirse Ronan plays uber-assassin Hanna, on a quest to discover who she is and understand her place in the world – whilst killers hunt her down.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Set just after the Spanish Civil War this film tells the tale of Ofelia, a young girl who meets a Faun who gives her a series of tasks to perform to achieve immortality.

The backpacker

Snapping straps at the airport giving little thought when you hear the last call.
Brimming with hope and ambition, yet suddenly feeling so small.
On a mission to meet new people, see new things, to experience the world and whatever it brings. The more you see the more your heart sings.

That first foot off the plane feels insane yet so right. You’re on your own now as your ride takes flight.
So… Where do you go now? What do you do?
You’d better find a place to stay pronto, that much is true.

Straps cutting your shoulders and weighing you down, you step out the airport and get lost in the crowd.
Accosted by sellers hawking their goods, but it’s nighttime now and everyone’s strange, cloaked in mysterious hoods.

The sights! The smells!

It’s a heady rush. You embrace the crowd and join the steady crush.
The onslaught of new sensations turns your mind to mush… but in a good way.
Discovering places new has turned your world Technicolor, when it used to be grey.

You’re travelling now.

This is the perfect excuse to change, to use your brain, to rearrange the way you think.
But now isn’t the time, you’re on a packed bus overwhelmed by the stink.
Opening your eyes to the sunrise you realise, to your surprise, you’ve just witnessed the demise of your old life.
This thought strikes you like a cold knife and sets you free.
You rattle the foreign coins in your pocket. Reassuringly, feeling them fills you with glee.

The world is your oyster. You’re staring at the harbour now, feeling boisterous.
Which boat do you take? Where do you go?
Sailing down this river will be another string to add to your travel bow.
You check your pockets and tighten your straps.
It’s time to go.
You don’t look back.

Gravity: the tale of Houston in the blind

gravity-movie-review-sandra-bullock-shiopAlfonso Cuaron drives me nuts. There I’ve said it. His films are so immersive, so real, they frequently leave you gasping for air. That’s very much the case in Gravity when our protagonist, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), is dangerously low on oxygen. In fact, there isn’t a time when she’s not in serious peril. You can see why this film wouldn’t work beyond 90 minutes, it’s exhausting.

Never have I scrunched up my toes for the duration of a film before, dammit Cuaron! What, in essence, I’m trying to say, is that Gravity is a pure sensory experience and the first – and hopefully last – time we’ll see 3D used in the way in which it was probably intended (i.e. in space with things floating around and frequently exploding). I’ve heard this film be described as something of a novelty in that sense, and I suppose it is: other directors take note, don’t make Gravity 2, please.

gravity3To backtrack a moment, plot wise it’s thin on the ground and, from what I’ve read, it’s intentionally this way. We don’t need a vast amount of backstory to sympathise with these characters. We start out with veteran space man Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) helping Bullock’s rookie astronaut, Dr. Stone, fix something. They’re quickly informed some pesky Russians have blown up one of their space stations starting a chain reaction of debris orbiting the planet. Clever plot point, as we get almost regularly timed sequences of mayhem as Stone and Kowalsky spend the rest of the film trying to make it back to earth in one piece.

To keep the experience as immersive as possible Cauron, to his credit, doesn’t cut away to earth to see what Houston are up to, he doesn’t provide flashbacks to tell us why the characters are doiGRAVITYng what they are doing, it’s obvious what they’re doing, trying to survive.

There’s also the fact that, if you avoid these little screenwriting tropes, the tension stays high. Cuaron wants us on edge, he wants us there in space with them. The 3D really helps in that sense, with blobs of liquid and other space paraphernalia occasionally hitting the camera; a nice touch by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, a man known for staggering natural beauty in his shots.

He’s worked with Cuaron before, as well as Terence Malick, making him – along with Roger Deakins – Hollywood’s go-to guy for gorgeous scenery and sumptuous wide shots. A perfect fit for Cuaron’s vision of the vast and eerily beautiful vacuum that is space.

And if we’re talking tone, this is no Apollo 13 but perhaps closer to Duncan Jones’ Moon or J.C. Chandor’s latest All Is Lost; a film where Robert Redford makes up the entire cast and saysandra-bullocks-gravity-interviews barely a word for the duration. It also has elements of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation. Clearly this is a technical masterpiece and has pushed the boundaries of what 3D – and indeed cinema – is capable of achieving. Hopefully it’s a one-off, but chances are we’ll see various attempts in the next few years to replicate this sort of thing.

In short, this film is a tense and exhausting technical triumph. Praise for Cuaron is entirely justified, as it is for Bullock too. But let’s just preserve and enjoy their work and keep it as that, shall we?

Walter Mitty: has Ben Stiller come of age?

walterroadApparently Ben Stiller has been trying to get The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to the screen for the best part of two decades. Something you notice as it unfolds, at least in terms of slightly odd events taking place. But then, the film is slightly odd. And I mean that in a good way. As Winona Ryder’s Lydia says in Beetlejuice, ‘Live people tend to ignore the strange and unusual, but then I myself am strange and unusual.’ Same could be said for Stiller, he does odd well.

Here he directs – and stars – in this film, based on a 1939 short story by James Thurber and last brought to screen in 1947 with Danny Kaye in the title role. In terms of the plot of this updated version, it’s a little hard to describe. Wikipedia gives it a go, calling it a ‘romantic adventure fantasy comedy drama’. You can imagine the studio having a meeting; ‘We didn’t leave any genres out did we? No? Good.’ I’m not complaining, it’s just a funny film to put in a box.

Essentially the story follows Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a negative assets manager (processor of photos) who works for Life magazine. Walter is a dreamer and more than most people, walteroften zoning out of real life to imagine some fantastical adventure with the object of his affection, co-worker Cheryl (played with a real sweetness by Kristin Wiig). Life as a print publication – in the way of the modern world – is being phased out to become an online service. For the final issue, legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (enigmatically played by Sean Penn) sends Walter a negative to use for the final cover. Walter cannot find it and sets off on a journey to hunt Sean down to locate the photo – one which leads him on a path of self-discovery through Iceland, Greenland and the upper Himalayas of Afghanistan.

Phew! Epic right? No wonder it took Stiller so long to fully realise his vision. And realise it he does for this is a proper life-affirming film. I often cringe hearing that phrase but I think here it’s justified. In the first third when Stiller is setting up the plot, he gives Walter’s daydreams a real dollop of overblown Hollywood comedy cheese – classic Stiller you might say.

As the story progresses and Walter begins living life instead of just imagining it, his adventures – whilst fantastical – are very much real and the whiff of cheese and melodrama has completely vanished. TheSecretLifeofWalterMitty2013-Still3Indeed, in its place are scenes of real beauty; the sequences in Iceland and other places are lovingly shot and quite breathtaking.

In terms of the film’s tone, it’s interesting. With the offbeat characters Walter meets and its quirky ‘journey of self-discovery’ aesthetic, you wonder what this would have been like in the hands of directors like Wes Anderson or Alexander Payne? That said, let’s take nothing away from Stiller as a director – and indeed Stuart Dryburgh as cinematographer – this is shot in an assured, mature and majestic manner.

There are perhaps one or two too many lingering shots on Stiller’s face; looking progressively more rugged and handsome as he has more adventures, but that’s to be expected if you direct and star in your own movie I suppose. That aside, he largely convinces as buttoned-down Walter, learning to spread his wings, love life and take risks.

Ultimately, Walter Mitty is an upbeat, touching and tender tale, filled with genuine laughs that should leave you with a burning desire to locate your passport and live life to the fullest. It also – quite possibly – represents a new and exciting chapter in Stiller’s career – one worth watching with interest.

The Hobbit – Freeman and Jackson’s adventure!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyWatched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my family recently. Once the credits rolled my dad turned to me and said, ‘Is that it? What about the rest of the story?’ Upon hearing the film was going to be a trilogy and we’d have to wait to 2014 to see the lot, he wasn’t too pleased.

One film to rule them all
To the casual cinema goer, splitting Lord of the Rings into a trilogy made sense. It was three, distinct books. The Hobbit, however, is merely one slim book. So why three films? Well it was always going to be two, till Jackson realised how much material they had – it made sense to become three. Remember, it’s not just the one book, they’ve drawn from Tolkien’s other work, such as The Silmarillion.

Let’s assume that you’re familiar with the LOTR story. Think of The Hobbit as an origin tale. Bilbo passed the ring to Frodo in Rings – this is Bilbo’s tale of how he got his taste for adventure and originally acquired the ring. There’s more than enough going on for it to be three films without feeling padded out. Indeed, this first film moves along at a good pace.

gandalfIf it loses, we eats it whole
In terms of actors and performances, this is first and foremost Martin Freeman’s film. In various interviews he’s remarked how it was strange to be congratulated for a film that people had yet to see. I think, perhaps, because everyone knew he’d be perfect.

Richard Armitage was well cast as Thorin Oakenshield, fulfilling the Aragorn-esque role as the strong, silent leader. The rest of the dwarves all fought for screen time, some better than others. Ken Stott as Balin, the white-bearded wise dwarf of the group, stood out. As for the others, no doubt they’ll get time to shine in the next two films. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) was suitably unhinged and comical as the woodland wizard who plays a key role in the darker part of the story.

We also get most of the LOTR alumni reprising their roles: Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman, Bilbo senior, Frodo – and of course, Gollum. With two wizards and a hobbit, you’ve got three knights of the realm there. Talk about keeping the British end up!

Dark action Jackson
Considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily aimed at children, the film is pretty dark in places. Whilst you get rabbit-drawn sleds and cute, little hedgehogs, you also get fairly gory battles, bloodshed and tense moments. But then, where’s the danger and drama otherwise?

To his credit, Jackson has created a film that’s going to appeal to fans, but also those new to the Rings’ world, young and old. He’s also ensured the film fits into the LOTR universe seamlessly. Something Lucas didn’t manage too well with the modern Star Wars trilogy.

Gollum in the film of The HobbitWhat is Bagginses?
There are some great scenes too, the introduction of the dwarves to Bilbo’s house is classic Jackson, right down to the song about the washing up. The company’s encounter with the trolls is well managed. The cave troll the fellowship fight in Rings just has to growl, here three trolls converse convincingly. The group’s encounter with the goblin king should appeal to younger cinema goers, although the goblin king doesn’t quite work for me and feels a little out of place, a little childish, even for kids.

Stand-out for the fans will undoubtedly be the ‘riddles in the dark’ sequence with Gollum. Subtle improvements have been made to Gollum in the ten years since Rings, all worth it. Andy Serkis, again, showing why he’s king of motion capture with a fantastic performance, bouncing off Freeman’s Bilbo. Each locked in a mental battle. Freeman brilliantly demonstrating his mettle as the perfect Bilbo – an unnatural hero, afraid but also courageous, quirky and comical.

Ultimately, it’s a great opener to this latest Middle Earth trilogy. The cast has bonded well,  Jackson’s worked his magic again and – in Freeman – he’s found a brilliant Bilbo.