Total Recall

Total Recall: Fairy Tales for Grownups

Let us tell you a story about Freeway, The City of Lost Children, and Tideland.

by | February 27, 2008 | Comments

On the festival circuit,
Penelope,
starring
Christina
Ricci
as a pig-nosed recluse embarking upon the modern world for the first
time, seemed to get
about as much press attention as its shut-in titular character. Now that the
film is seeing release Friday, we thought it time to conjure up other movies in tiny cross
section of the genre to which it belongs.

No one’s going to argue that traditional fairy tales have a
creep factor. Perhaps we can credit Disney for our unnatural comfort with
anthropomorphic animals, but before you go squealing about the cuteness of a
talking hedgehog, let’s remember that both the Three Little Pigs (talking
abominations in and of themselves) and Little Red Riding Hood were duped by
talking wolves. Which brings to bear a point: To a kid these tales may be
literal, but to adults, the beauty is all in the metaphor.

Playing fast and loose with a familiar story,
Matthew Bright‘s 1996 update of Red Riding Hood,
Freeway
(74
percent on the Tomatometer)
, cleverly modernizes Red by swapping the gothic doom
of the fairy tale for the danger of South Central.

Vanessa Lutz (Reese
Witherspoon
) lives with her prostitute mother (Amanda Plummer) and her sexually
abusive (wicked) step-father (Michael T. Weiss). Surrounded by meth addiction and
crippled gang war veterans, Vanessa is barely literate but commands a lot of
respect in her neighborhood. When her parents are arrested she takes a basket
and a six-pack and drives (did I mention she’s probably 14?) to the mythic
sanctity of her grandmother’s trailer. En route to the trailer park her car dies
and the perfectly clothed Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland) "saves" her. Called
"Cynical, stylish and witty" by Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail, Freeway
looks far more original than most other fairy tales out there. No wonder it
kick-started Witherspoon’s career.



Freeway‘s opening animated credits.

As mentioned, the gothic touch has always loomed large with
these stories, and here to prove that the gothic is not the sole province of the
Germans are Marc Caro and
Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Previously
affiliated with graphic novels, French duo Jeunet and Caro reached new career heights with
1995’s
The City of Lost Children (82 percent), their second film to see a broad
success in the States (the forerunner being 1991’s
Delicatessen
).
New Times critic Andy Klein wrote, "Anyone
looking to lose themselves in an engrossing fairy-tale world will be richly
rewarded."

Starring
Ron Perelman
as One, a circus strongman, City
follows this unlikely hero and his world-weary orphan guide Miette (Judith
Vittet
) into the belly of a nightmare factory. A mysterious band of Cyclops/cyborgs
steal One’s little brother and through a bizarre chain of events One and Miette
trace the Cyclops colony to a nightmare factory. The villain of this netherworld
is an ancient, bony man who’s lost the ability to dream and so has dedicated his
life to stealing the dreams of children. Ironically all he does to inspire these
dreams is incarcerate the children and scare the crap out of them — which is
fine because his mad scientist lab is equipped with its own diaper service.
Those mad scientists are prepared.



The City of Lost Children‘s trailer.

Sadly,
nothing could prepare
Terry Gilliam
for the critic beating he received for his last endeavor
Tideland
(28
percent)
. Critic Chris Barsanti said, "If there was ever a film to end a career,
Tideland
is it." Barsanti was only one of a wave of critics who wrote about Tideland
as if Gilliam himself had entered their homes and beat their children. And with
little reason, if you ask me. Gilliam’s work has always bordered the dark and dry
aesthetic of old England. (He himself admits he stole his best material for
Robert Hamer‘s
Kind Hearts and Coronets
.) Adult
fairy tales paved the
golden path of Gilliam’s early career and outlined some of his pet themes.
The
Adventures of Baron von Munchausen
,
Time Bandits
, and
Brazil

all bandy in the same aesthetic and each are considered noteworthy contributions
to the lexicon.

What makes Tideland different is that instead of celebrating
Gilliam’s previous themes, he’s pulling them apart; Gilliam himself is looking
for the source. Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) is the daughter of two washed-up
rock musicians who manage their home, family, and heroin addictions with uniform sloth. Jaliza fixes her father Noah (Jeff Bridges) his
"vacations" (hypodermics) and withstands her mother’s cruel and insane fits.
When her mother dies her father flees with Jaliza to his childhood home. Shortly
after arrival, her father dies and Jaliza is left to make her way, surviving the
cruelties of her circumstance with a mixture of fantasy and denial. Though in
some ways Jaliza’s fairy tale are inspired by her life, she uses these fairy
tales to escape reality.

Perhaps the reason Tideland wasn’t a crowd pleaser
is the same reason Penelope could be. Sometimes the best part of a fairy
tale is the escape it affords you, and maybe we just need more of that escape
when we’re small. Like Lillian Gish says in
Night of the Hunter
, "It’s a
hard world for little things."



Tideland‘s trailer.

If you like these fairy tales for the fully grown, consider
also Ridley Scott’s
Legend
(52
percent), Atom
Egoyan
‘s pied piper revision,
The
Sweet Hereafter
(100 percent), or
Steven Spielberg‘s
Pinocchio,
A.I.
Artificial Intelligence
(72 percent). And if you’re in
the mood for comedy, there’s always
The Princess Bride

(95 percent) — which is as much
about the fairy tale as about the telling.

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