Fairytale – A True Story 1997 Directed by Charles Sturridge. Loosely based on the true story of The Cottingley Fairies. Sixteen year-old Elsie Wright and her cousin, nine year-old Frances Griffith were obsessed with fairies they believed lived at the bottom of their wooded garden. One day, they made off with Elsie’s father’s camera and took some photos in which the girls are seen with what appear to be fairies. He assumed the images were faked, but her mother believed. Mrs. Wright attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society and showed the photos to speaker Edward Gardner.
Gardner sent them, along with the original glass-plate negatives, to photography expert Harold Snelling whose verdict was “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time.” The images then found their way to author/spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle who took them to Kodak for appraisal. The response was “the pictures showed no signs of being faked.” Conan Doyle then championed them as authentic, making the photos public. Private property was trampled and a flurry of publicity surrounded the family.
The film follows and fills in based on reporting and conjecture. We get a good sense of the period just after WWI with so many looking for a way to believe in connecting to recently lost loved ones and fantasies offering other worlds. Elsie (Florence Hoath) and Frances (Elizabeth Earl) – the kids are terrific- have both made studies of fairy lore. The story mirrors history beginning with Mrs. Wright’s (Phoebe Nichols) attending a lecture by Edward Gardner (Bill Nighy) in part because she lost her young son. (Family dynamics add poignancy.)
Testing photos, Conan Doyle’s involvement (Peter O’Toole) and the credible inclusion of his skeptical friend, Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel) follow. A snooping reporter reveals the Wrights’ identities. Elsie and Frances are interviewed. Sure the winged creatures will be angry, the girls make a peace offering, but the garden is inundated with tourists. The film beautifully manifests fairies whose part in narrative is paramount. There’s also a tangent involving Frances’ “missing” soldier father. Charming and rather moving. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Photographing Fairies 1998 Based on the novel by Steve Szilagyi. Directed by Nick Willig. In this film, the Cottingley Fairies contribute to the search of an unhappy protagonist for solace after his wife dramatically dies on their honeymoon. The era is depicted as battle between religious faith and the need for other realities. Folklore, parapsychology, and hallucinogens are featured. Photographer Charles Castle (Tobey Stephens) has seen his wife die in an accident for which he feels responsible. After WWI, he and fellow soldier Roy (Phil Davis) set up a professional studio in London.
Charles disrupts the Theosophical Society meeting affirming fairy existence. Attendee Beatrice Templeton (Frances Barber) shows up at his studio with the Cottingley photos, here taken by her children. At first dismissive, he finds reason to question possibilities and goes to see her. Beatrice is married to a rigid Christian minister (Ben Kingsley) immediately suspicious of the Londoner. The Templeton’s nanny, Linda (Emily Woolf), takes a liking to him.
When Elsie and Frances (the girls) prove elusive, Charles arranges to meet Beatrice who, by the time he gets there, has fallen to her death from a tree while ostensibly communing with the winged creatures. While a (natural) hallucinogen is involved, other forces are also at play and fairies here are real. Except for the premise of rejoining loved ones, the story grows quite dark. Kingsley is excellent. The fairies leave something to be desired. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008 Loosely based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Told in flashback by dying Daisy Fuller (Cate Blanchett). 1918 New Orleans. Baby Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born with the appearance and infirmities of an old man. His mother dies, his father abandons him on the porch of a nursing home owned by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), who raises him. The boy meets seven year-old Daisy, whose grandmother lives in the home and they become friends.
They both grow “up,” she older, he younger. Daisy goes to New York to study dance, Benjamin ships out on a tugboat to see the world. Adventures and relationships follow.
On a visit back home, Benjamin again encounters Daisy, now the “right” age to pursue romance. They fall in love, marry, have a child, and live happily until he nobly decides his age reversal will not be good for the family and leaves. Daisy embarks on a new life. Benjamin grows younger…and younger. They reconnect once more. The director used a camera system called Contour to capture facial deformation data from live-action performances. It’s unnervingly effective. A good tall tale. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Time Traveler’s Wife 2009 Based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Directed by Robert Schwenk. Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), a Chicago librarian, has “a paranormal genetic disorder” (don’t you love that term?) that randomly sends him traveling from time to time in his life. He literally disappears out of his clothes and wakes up elsewhere in another era. In 1991, he meets Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) who explains she’s known him since she was a child and that he’s visited her repeatedly through the years. In fact, she fell in love with him way back then.
The couple begin a complicated relationship. Henry meets Clare again and again. All of this, including practical aspects, seem to make sense within the parameters of the story. They marry and have a little girl who carries his gene. She’s seen him in the future and knows when he’ll prematurely die. Of course, dying means something different when other versions of oneself are still out there. Appealing actors make this a nice watch. About Time is another pleasant time travel romance. Rent both on Amazon Prime.
The Shape of Water 2017 Directed by Guillermo DelToro. 1962 Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (the incomparable Sally Hawkins) leads an orderly, quiet life. Mute and communicating by sign language, she works as cleaner at a secret government laboratory with occasional translation help by fellow cleaner/friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). Elisa’s only other friend is a neighbor – reclusive, struggling illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins).
An amphibian man (Doug Jones) captured in South America is locked in a tank at the facility. Elisa hears commotion and slips in “meeting” the creature for whom she feels great empathy. They secretly bond over hard boiled eggs and music during her lunch breaks. It hurts the young woman to see him badly mistreated. Violent, single-minded project head Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) wants to dissect him/it while head scientist Robert Hofstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy, wants to keep the creature alive to study despite direct orders from Russian command.
Elisa panics and asks Giles for help to free the amphibian. Hofstetler overhears and offers to help. When she comes upon the plan in process, Zelda also takes part. The creature ends up in Elisa’s bathtub with care instructions from the scientist. Both the spy’s handlers and Strickland come after him. Elisa and the amphibian have loving sex, probably her first. She knows she has to release him back into the ocean, however. Strickland gets closer and closer until…
The creature himself is inspired. There are several detailed and poignant character portrayals. This won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood memories of the film Creature From the Black Lagoon, wanting the Gill-man’s romance to succeed. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Good Omens 2019 A British series based on the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Directed by Douglas MacKinnon. Running into one another at pivotal events over centuries, the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant) begrudgingly grow to like one another despite opposite missions. They’re also both fond of mankind. In 2018, Crowley discovers the Antichrist is being delivered from Hell to a human mother and that, as a boy, he’ll provoke the final battle between Heaven and Hell. He confides in Aziraphale and the two decide to try to stop the war.
Because the baby ends up with the wrong family, Aziraphale and Crowley keep an eye on the wrong boy for years, learning their mistake very close to D-Day. In each episode one or the other hero flashbacks offering a wry look at history. There’s a lot of bungling, clever excuse, unlikely escapes, and interference from both sides. We see Heaven and Hell. Add Madame Tracy- a prostitute/medium, a witch descendant named Anathema Device, a warlock, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the hellhound…The reason for a final stand down is brilliant.
The production used physical props, animation, illustration, 3D and some live-action motion. “A U.S. Christian organization criticized the show’s irreverent treatment of topics relating to satanism/the devil, and the use of a female voice for God (Frances McDormand).” I loved this. It’s wry, quick, and creatively manifest with terrific chemistry between the two leads. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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