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Mini Movie Reviews: Once Upon a Time...

Today's theme will be fantasy and fairytales featuring films from Jean Cocteau, Tsui Hark, George Miller, Richard Donner, Juraj Herz, and Sally Porter.

La Belle et la Bête (1946)
One of the great works of French cinema, Jean Cocteau's whimsical retelling of the classic fairy tale stars Josette Day as Belle and Jean Marais as both the Beast and his rival for Belle's affections. Cocteau creates a surreal and enchanting world that you want to spend as much time as possible in, but the film is faithful to the original story to a fault. Too much time given to the financial woes of Belle's family and the scheming of her self-centred siblings to get their hands on the Beast's fortune.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer play three single women living in an idyllic small town in Rhode Island. Unaware they're witches, they inadvertently form a coven and summon Jack Nicholson's “horny little devil” to town. Between Mad Max films, George Miller has had quite the eclectic filmography, which sadly includes this watered down John Updike adaptation. The horror is tame, the sex chaste, and the FX heavy finale is practically a live action Looney Toons episode (but not in a good way). After being one of the most electrifying actors of the 1970s, Nicholson was becoming something of a self parody at this point, treating acting less like a serious profession and more like a fun little distraction between Lakers games.

Rating: ⭐⭐
Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)
John Carpenter loved this so much it inspired him to make Big Trouble in Little China. One of Tsui Hark's earliest films and it's just as chaotic and rough around the edges as his debut, The Butterfly Murders, but does a better job of drawing you in, at least until that weird final fight which relies too much on FX that is just beyond the film's capabilities. Don't ask me to explain the plot, I'm still struggling to make sense of it myself. This is a film best enjoyed by turning off your scepticism, ignoring the obvious wires, and just go along with the flow no matter how many wild turns it takes.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Panna a Netvor (1978)
Directed by Juraj Herz, this Czechoslovakian retelling of Beauty and the Beast leans more towards horror than fantasy. Like Cocteau's version it remains faithful to all the major beats of the original story (include Belle's annoying sisters), but despite great production design and a real Gothic atmosphere, I just can't get over the fact that the Beast is a bird man in this version. Almost impossible to look at him without sniggering.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Ladyhawke (1985)
Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer play star-crossed lovers in medieval Italy who are cursed by John Wood's jealous bishop. By day she is a hawk, by night he is a wolf. Together, but forever apart. Directed by Richard Donner, this is one of the more grounded fantasy films of the 1980s, and has aged better than a lot of films from this time. Visually, at least. That soundtrack is oh so horribly 80s and just doesn't fit the film at all. Hauer and Pfeiffer are bewitching as the cursed lovers, but Matthew Broderick grates as the film's POV character, a wisecracking thief who thinks this is a John Hughes film. Wood is good value as the villain, but he's sadly given very little to do except dish out orders to his various lackeys and stare at people sinisterly.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Orlando (1992)
Sally Potter's delightful adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel about an Elizabethan nobleman who lives for centuries, changing gender along the way, but no one says anything about it because this is England and that would be impolite. It's an episodic odyssey through the centuries and the quality of the individual tales does vary. Orlando's stint as an ambassador in the Ottoman Empire drags while their love affair with Billy Zane's American adventurer feels all too brief. Tilda Swinton, unsurprisingly, is simply mesmerising in the title role.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig


  1. I saw Ladyhawke when it came out, and I am so happy to read yet another reviewer mention that godawful soundtrack. Who in any sane state would have thought 'Yes, by George, Andrew Powell has earned every penny we paid him!' Remember that this is 1985, three years since Basil Poledouris scored the ne plus ultra of adventure fantasy film soundtracks for Conan the Barbarian. Maybe Powell just figured there was no point in even trying, but ... wow, was that awful.

    The two leads are great, with Rutger Hauer in top form and Michelle Pfeiffer wonderful as ever. And, yes, Matthew Broderick is annoying, but one gets used to him. It was a nice film, and I would watch it again if someone could only replace the music; otherwise, I simply can't do it.

  2. And a yay from me for Ladyhawke. I loved that movie, even though there were annoying bits in it.

  3. I saw Ladyhawke back on HBO or Cinemax so long ago now. I don't recall it well, but I do remember liking most of it.

  4. The Witches of Eastwick was meh, for me, anyway and I was always a big fan of Nicholson's. I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen Orlando, although I kept meaning to. That counts, doesn't it? :)

  5. "Nicholson was becoming something of a self parody at this point, treating acting less like a serious profession and more like a fun little distraction between Lakers games."

    One of the funniest lines I have seen in ages. I laughed like a crazy person because I could not agree with you more. Great article.


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