Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), 1970

I’ve had a Jacques Demy boxset sitting on my ‘to watch’ shelf for some years. I don’t remember where or when I bought it (I remember why, obviously: I wanted to watch the films) but I know it’s been sitting there for far too long (though not as long as others have). Recently, I decided it was about time I cracked it open. The last I watched, Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), turned out to be my favourite, which I hadn’t expected at all. I’d thought I’d probably enjoy it, but prefer either Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) or Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort). But Donkey Skin it was! I feel like I’m in the minority, here, though.

It’s such a strange fairy tale to start with (I was familiar with the story, by Charles Perrault, before ever knowing of the film) and this adaptation fully embraces the absurdity. For those who don’t know, it’s basically about a king who decides he wants to marry his daughter (he had promised his wife, on her death bed, to not marry again unless it was to someone more beautiful than she) and so the princess ends up disguising herself in a donkey pelt and running away. (More or less).

030-donkey-skin-theredlistIt’s been described as part fairytale satire, and largely referencing Cocteau (apparently, I’m ashamed to admit to never having seen any of Cocteau’s films) yet still a fairytale film on its own. I feel this is apt. (You know, despite not having seen any of Cocteau’s films – I absolutely, certainly will at some point).

But, first, let’s talk costumes and sets, because they’re always what I notice first and think of the most. In terms of sets and set dressing, things that particularly caught my eye: Deneuve’s bed that looks like a meadow, living statues, the throne in the form of a gigantic white cat, the Lilac Fairy’s outdoors vanity and the touches of glam in Donkey Skin’s ramshackle cabin.

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New life goal: acquire cat shaped throne.

And then, to costumes, all of those dresses! My gosh. They’d be beautiful enough without the ‘gimmicks’ but they become ultra dazzling with clouds projected on them or luminous spots. It’s all very dreamy and whimsical. And even dressed like a donkey, Deneuve is radiant.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

The Lilac Fairy was fantastic, too. Not least because of her Endora-esque costumes.

av7m8xr1_n0g28lThe playful poking of fun at fairy tale films was diverting, and I think most noticeable with the prince. The scene where he demands that all the maidens of the kingdom be rounded up to find the one girl who fits the ring, even though he obviously knows it belongs to Donkey Skin, highlights the absurdity of fairytale rituals and the almost capricious nature of the prince. I mean, I’m fairly certain that he’s also manipulating his parents, so they’ll let him marry Donkey Skin, but geez!

ecran8I hadn’t realised until I finished the film, but the princess/Donkey Skin becomes more interesting when she’s wearing the pelt than when she’s in the garb of her ‘true’ self (although her task setting for the king, under the intstruction of the Lilac Fairy is fun to watch, she seems more passive in her role as princess). I wonder if this is a pointed comment on the blandness of fairy tale princesses in many films or if I somehow related to her more as Donkey Skin. (Wonder if that’s something to worry about? Ha.)

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Oh, and the musical numbers were delightful! I especially enjoyed the song the Lilac Fairy sings about children not marrying their parents and the one about baking a cake. So strange, yet such fun. (I think that describes the film, on a whole, pretty well.)

Disjointed review aside, let’s leave it with saying I enjoyed this film immensely. I admit, the helicopter at the end had me stumped, though.

Within the past year (or so) I’ve watched maybe 4 European fairytale films and I think I want to watch more. Actually, I think I just want to watch more non-Disney fairytale films especially ones that embrace the strangeness of these stories. Any recommendations are most welcome.

Rainy Day Movies

We’ve had some lovely, rainy days lately (as well as some very loud, keep-me-awake-at-night rain which is less lovely) so I thought I’d do a quick post on some of my favourite films to watch on a rainy day!

Gosford Park directed by Robert Altman, 2001

GosfordPark1130I didn’t like this film the first time I saw it. The mystery is very obvious (those lingering shots on anything that could be poison?) but maybe it’s meant to be. At any rate, it was better on second watch, when I focussed less on ‘whodunnit’ and more on the Upstairs Downstairs type story (which Julian Fellowes has obviously continued in Downton) and all the fabulous clothes. I actually wrote about it on my other blog a while ago.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? It’s set in a country mansion in inclement weather! Plus, murder is always good on a gloomy day (onscreen, anyway).

Clue directed by Jonathan Lynn, 1985

Clue_1985_detailOne of my all-time favourites. I’ve been known to start it again from the beginning after it’s finished. I don’t think I could ever watch this film too many times. I’ve written about it before, in my Halloween for Scaredy Cats posts (actually, the films on that list are also perfect for rainy days!) and on my other blog.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? Creepy house, stormy weather, and some laughs in case the rain gets you down.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit directed by Steve Box and Nick Park, 2005

m8SWJOh gosh, I love Wallace and Gromit! And this film is one I return to a lot. It’s so damn charming and a fun homage to monster movies. The bunnies are especially delightful, in this, and I love Lady Tottington’s style.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? It’s a monster movie! With bunnies!

Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960

psycho3I think many of Hitchcock’s films work perfectly on a rainy day, but Psycho has the creepy house/motel that I just seem to love on rainy days.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? You’ve got to have some Hitchcock to watch on a rainy day!

A film noir, of course.

The Blue Dahlia directed by George Marshall, 1946

The Blue Dahlia directed by George Marshall, 1946

I tried to pick a particular film noir but, really, I just go with whichever I feel like on a particular day. My go to is usually The Big Sleep or maybe The Blue Dahlia. Or maybe a rewatch of Phantom Lady! I think it’s about time I revisit that one.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? Rain just always makes me want to watch film noir!

Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton, 1999

sleepy-hollowI’m not sure I have a favourite Burton film, but this is one of my most-watched of his. It’s beautiful to look at and I love Johnny Depp’s somewhat nervous and squeamish Ichabod Crane. And Christina Ricci is one of my life-long loves.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? Creepy, spooky films are just more effective when it’s raining, I think.

8 Femmes directed by François Ozon, 2002

8-femmes-284696lSomething a little more colourful to finish off the post. Another favourite, which I’ve written about before (here and here), that’s perfect to watch with a cup of tea and a snuggly blanket. The cast is magnificent, the set and costumes are a visual treat and I just adore the songs.

Why it’s perfect for a rainy day? I think by now you can see I’m a sucker for mysteries set in country mansions during stormy or similar weather. I actually didn’t realise how many of these included that setting. Ha.

There are plenty of other films I like to watch on rainy, gloomy days (and TV shows, too, including Marple and Poirot, rather obsessively) but these are the first that came to mind. I’ve started a list over on letterboxd to expand on this post.

What are your favourite movies for a rainy day?

Top 5 | Comic Book Movies

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a top 5 post so, keeping in theme with my last movie review, here’s my top 5 (live action) comic book movies! (Keeping in mind these are personal favourites, rather than necessarily the ‘best’ I’ve seen).

Barbarella directed by Roger Vadim, 1968

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An angel does not make love, an angel is love.

Like Barabarella would not be in my top 5. It’s nearly everything I could want in a film. The lush colour and dreamy soundtrack! The ridiculous number of costume changes! Jane Fonda’s magnificent hair! Kitschy and/or camp films are basically my favourites, and there’s something very appealing about ’60s science fiction costumes and sets, which all adds up to I love Barbarella. Plus there’s a lot to be said for Fonda’s comic timing/delivery.

Favourite moment: so hard to pick one! I do like the whole exchange with Barbarella and Dildano (David Hemmings) quite a lot.

Ghost World directed by Terry Zwigoff, 2001

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This is so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again.

Ah, Ghost World. Does it make me a bit of a cliche to love this so much? Do I really care? I saw it at the cinema when I was 15 (with my one and only ever boyfriend). I had no idea what it was about before going in (I’m pretty certain I thought it was a paranormal film about actual ghosts) but I know 15 year old me fell in love with it straight away. A lot of people consider Enid to be a fairly awful person, now, but I still relate to her in a lot of ways. I think that’s not something I should admit as an adult, but I do. I could write a whole post on it (and I probably will, one day) but it made a huge impact on me. And with the sarcasm and deadpan humour, it still appeals. Plus, it lead to me reading Ghost World (which was one of the first graphic novels I ever went and bought for myself so yay for that.)

Favourite moment: Mirror, Father, Mirror.

Batman Returns directed by Tim Burton, 1992

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As I was saying, I’m a woman and can’t be taken for granted. Life’s a bitch, now so am I.

It was difficult to choose between this or the ’60s Batman movie but Tim Burton wins out by virtue of being the Batman of my childhood. Plus Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman?! She’s magnificent. Although Adam West is my favourite Batman, Batman Returns is my favourite Batman film, and I think it’s probably the best (live action, anyway). Burton’s unique visual style fits the characters of Batman and Gotham perfectly and Michael Keaton is so great, isn’t he?

Favourite moment: The scene where Bruce and Selina each realise who the other is? My god, it tears my heart out. And, of course, Catwoman’s simple, deadpan ‘meow?’ before the department store explodes. Ugh. Fantastic!

Flash Gordon directed by Mike Hodges, 1980

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I knew you were up to something, though I’ll confess I hadn’t thought of necrophilia?

One of the most visually appealing films I’ve seen in my life. The costumes and sets are gorgeous (and, well, Timothy Dalton in tights isn’t exactly difficult to look at). Plus, the score by Queen is hardly a detriment. The Orientalism is rather on the nose and is probably the only thing about the film I don’t like. Remember when I mentioned the lush colours in Barbarella? This definitely gives them a run for their money, so to speak.

Favourite moment: I’m kind of stuck on Timothy Dalton in tights.

OK, they're not exactly tights but close enough!

OK, they’re not exactly tights but close enough!

Josie and the Pussycats directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 2001

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Dujour means crash positions!

Words cannot express how much I love this film. I have watched it so many times. Not surprisingly, this was another film I connected with a lot as a teen. And I still find it very enjoyable as well as quite clever (if a little obvious in its satire). I’m actually planning on writing a post about satire in movies aimed at teen girls, one day, so I’ll leave most of my thoughts on this film for then. But this film is absurd and funny and heartwarming and I really enjoy the soundtrack. In fact, I am listening to it, as I type! It’s definitely one of my ‘comfort movies’. And any film with Parkey Posey and Alan Cumming is ace in my book!

An honourable mention must go to The Shadow – I wasn’t sure whether to include it as The Shadow originated in pulp novels before migrating to other media. But if we count it as a comic book movie then my top 5 would be The Shadow five times because I love it so much. And the first version of this list had Superman II and Dick Tracy (that gorgeous pallette) but Josie and the Pussycats and Barbarella replaced them (originally it was Tank Girl and Barbarella, but then I remembered Josie and the Pussycats).

After I finished this I thought of a bunch more films that were based off of comic book characters so I made a more extensive list here. Like, Josie and the Pussycats, which I just remembered I wanted to put in the list instead of Tank Girl but

Superman Returns (2006)

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I woke up to the awful news that FOX is remaking (or reimagining) The Rocky Horror Picture Show for TV so I’m going to publish this happy ramble about Superman Returns, which I finally watched last night, to distract myself.

Superman Returns (2006) was a film that I put off watching for a long time, because I’d assumed it wasn’t that good from what I’d heard from others. This was obviously a mistake because I don’t remember the last time I was filled with such pure glee watching a superhero film (and, okay, my movie viewing is a little thin in the superhero department but it still stands). To be a little cliched it made me feel like a child again, filled with wonder and awe and all that jazz. Not just at the visual qualities (though some of the CGI was on the nose even on my small analogue – yes, analogue! – TV so I’m not sure how it rated on the big screen) but the atmosphere of the film, in general, and also at the gentleness of Routh’s Superman.

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Let’s talk about that, before I go back to the aesthetics. It’s difficult, watching this now, not to compare it to Man of Steel; Routh’s Superman was refreshing after the disappointment I felt in MoS (though I do think Cavill could be a great Superman in other hands) but, of course, it’s a very different film and one that shows a more seasoned Superman. After all, it follows on from Reeve’s performance in Superman I & II, just as the plot follows on from those films. The calmness and, as I said, gentleness of Routh’s Superman was just lovely to watch. It was so upsetting to watch Luthor and his thugs beat a kryptonite sick Superman; I’m usually not that affected by violence in these types of films.

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I think Routh may be my new favourite superman? I’m not sure, yet. Could anyone really supplant Reeve in my heart? Perhaps they can hold equal billing, but I feel like Routh’s performance is slightly more relatable. As much as his performance – the whole film, obviously – owes so much to Superman I & II it’s less cartoony without resorting to being overly ‘realistic’. The scene with his son at the end made me a little misty-eyed, despite its corniness (I’m assuming. in the planned sequel, there would have been more exploration of that relationship – well, I’m hoping so, anyway, and that Superman didn’t just fly off and leave Lois and their son without trying to connect as a family).

superman-returns-movie-screencaps.com-9016Back to the aesthetics! The muted tones were gorgeous and made me think of sepia toned photographs (mostly the daylight scenes). The perfect blend of modern and retro styles in the sets and costumes also made me think of Burton’s Batman films. The scenes with Lois & Superman floating together (though I did wonder if Lois could breathe at that altitude), embracing, were breathtaking as was the scene of Superman, sick from kryptonite, falling back to Earth after jettisoning the black crystal mass into space. He doesn’t merely plummet inelegantly, but swoons back delicately, cape fluttering…it was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. (Looking at the screencap, now, it’s quite a Christ-like pose, isn’t it?) This probably sounds either absurd or effusive (perhaps both) but I felt compelled to write about it and I tend to get a little cheesy.

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I really liked Bosworth as Lois. The glimpses of what she was like as a reporter (in the plane at the beginning and following up on the blackout story) were enough for me to get a sense of her determination. Plus, the scene where she dives straight into the ocean, without second thought, to save Superman was awesome. I love when women get to save men and not just because it reverses the damsel in distress trope, but because that’s just what you do when you love someone. (Or when you’re a decent human being and have the capacity to help, I guess.) It makes it more believable for me.

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The whole cast was great, really. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was genius. And Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski was pretty fantastic. (But when do I not love Parker Posey?)

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I’ll try to wrap this up because this ramble has gone on too long (I tried to keep it short!). But I want to add that I loved that everything is resolved without too much destruction or death. It was something I really needed, right now. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a huge cynic, but I’ll also admit it’s just nice to watch a movie that gives you hope, that lets you believe the bad guy (or gal) can be beaten without having to kill them, the world can be saved without destroying so much of it in the process, and so on. Perhaps it’s hokey, (or maybe not), but isn’t that nice sometimes?

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I’m sad I missed out on this film for so long, but now that I’ve seen it (and it’s become an instant favourite), I shall definitely be watching it many more times. If you enjoyed Superman I & II, I would recommend watching Superman Returns, if you’ve not already. It has its own unique qualities that makes it more than a copycat sequel or pure homage, but it embodies the feel of the Reeve Superman films. Or, even if you’ve not seen them, watch it, anyway. And you don’t have to be a hardcore comic book/Superman afficianado to enjoy it (because I’m not, and I did!)

Screencaps from here.

 

Girlhood/Bande de Filles (2014)

!!!girlhoodThere will probably be spoilers in my rambling thoughts below.

Another film that’s been on my ‘must see’ list was Girlhood aka Bande de Filles and I was lucky enough to get to see it at the French Film Festival, a little while ago,. If you get a chance to see this film: go see it. This film is so important. It doesn’t take a lot of pointing out to realise that (western) depicitions of ‘girlhood’ are overwhelmingly white (and cis, straight, etc.), reflecting only a small portion of girls’ lives. This is a point that has come up a lot in my interactions online (mainly tumblr) as well as being made by several authors when I was researching my thesis (it was on girlhood in photography and cinema).

That’s why the film Girlhood, directed by Céline Sciamma, is so important. How many films centre on a black girl, versus the amount centring on a white girl? How many are cast entirely of black girls? And, yes, while there are fights between them, the strength of the friendship between Vic (the nickname given to Marieme), Lady, Adiatou & Fily, and the support they offer each other is profound. While it doesn’t have the same lightheartedness as, say, Clueless or Mean Girls (which do tackle some serious topics but in a much more ‘feel good’ way) it wasn’t the depressing feature I feared it may be. There is a lot of levity to balance the dark topics (like domestic abuse, gang violence, drugs, etc.), mostly seen in scenes with Vic and her friends doing regular teenage stuff. They dance and sing along to Rihanna (one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole film), have dance-offs, play mini-golf, go shopping etc. It is seriously gorgeous. Not just in the way it is filmed (because the cinematography is stunning) but because so many scenes left me grinning ear to ear with glee.

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As I mentioned, it does address some less easy to watch topics – domestic abuse, (gang) violence, bullying, drugs, etc. – through what Vic experiences in her own life. We see how the violence of her older brother has affected her, not just by making her wary of him, but in the violence she, herself, exhibits toward others. But we also see how this troubles her. Mariema aka Vic may feel helpless at times but she is also shown as in control in many scenes, best illustrated when she decides to have sex with her boyfriend – everything that we see happen is on her terms.

I thought it touched on some interesting things about gender, too, but only very briefly. (If you’ve seen it, you may know what I mean near the end – I’d love to talk more about that). Racism was addressed in the one interaction Vic and her friends had with a white person (also the only one with a speaking role, from memory) where the shop clerk starts following her around the shop. But the dominant theme, or at least the majority of screentime, was focussed on Vic and her (girl)friends. They were funny and smart and beautiful and all a joy to watch. There was conflict within the group but they were there for each other in their struggles.

My only issue with the film was that the ending was quite abrupt. I enjoy an open-ended ending but I felt like the last little bit of this film was rushed but not so much so that it detracted from the feature as a whole.

It is a pity that the film doesn’t seem to have a very wide release internationally (though correct me if I’m wrong) because it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s certainly not the best film I’ve seen, objectively speaking, but for the reasons I’ve said it’s a very important film and I hope we get more like it. Where black girls or other girls of colour don’t have to be the (token) best friend to a white girl in order to exist onscreen. I hope it’s not too long before this spills over more and more into mainstream cinema (this is one of the reasons I supported the remake of Annie) and gains momentum rather than to fall away again as it has before. I don’t believe people should have to put so much effort into seeking out films where they are not only represented but represented in lead roles. Or in every role. To be represented as multi-faceted people and not always relegated to stereotyped or narrow roles.

I know I’m getting away from the film to sort of get on my soapbox here but films like this are what I want to be seeing more of. What we need to see more of. I know it’s a complex issue, especially when it comes to studios and what-not (I was going to ponder the differences between French cinema and Hollywood but I feel they may be similar in terms of representation). I also know I’m not the first person to talk about this but films like this give me hope, at least. So, if you can support it, then do so! It’s worth it.