This week I was inspired to go and watch dreamlike films where girls, like Alice in Wonderland, go down the rabbit hole, into an amazing, illogical fantasy dream land… Not Alice in Wonderland itself mind you… I’d seen most of those movies… and those I hadn’t seen I’d heard from good authority really weren’t worth it.

Wednesday Double Feature - Down The Rabbit Hole - TidelandI’d been hearing about Terry Gilliam’s Tideland for a while, and even though I’m a huge fan of Gilliam’s films, I’d put it off because I’d also heard that it was one of his “arty” films that took place in the real world. Turns out it takes place in the real world the way Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas takes place in the real world.

Tideland tells the story of Jeliza-Rose, played by Jodelle Ferland a young girl who lives with her Mommy and Daddy…. And we quickly realize something is wrong when the first thing we see her doing in the film is preparing Daddy’s heroin needle. When her mother dies of an overdose, her father, played by Jeff Bridges (imagine the Dude if he didn’t have the release of bowling, and decided White Russians were just not enough.) takes her to her grandmother’s house in Western Texas.

The place turns out to be an abandoned dump and her father dies of an overdose before they’re even settled in. But because she’s so used to her daddy “going on vacation” Jeliza Rose doesn’t even realize this… even when his bloated corpse starts to stink up the house. In the meantime, she slowly sinks deeper into her own fantasy life which consists of talking doll heads and talking squirrels. This is enhanced even more when she meets her neighbors, the dangerously unstable Dell, Janet McTeer, (who may or may not be Jeliza Rose’s real mother,) and her brother, brain damaged childlike Dickens played Brendan Fletcher.

This was a hard film to watch. Gilliam says himself that you’ll either hate it, love it or not understand it. While I liked it, I think I fall at the edge of the “don’t understand category and I’ll want to wait a little bit longer before I’m ready to watch it again to catch any of the nuances. In the meantime I find myself torn between the disturbing imagery and how beautifully the imagery is shot. Gilliam creates an amazing fantasy world out of the child’s eye view of a nightmare… only she doesn’t know she’s in a nightmare being completely innocent and perhaps half mad herself.

One thing’s for sure it will be a long I look at barbie dolls the same way again.

Wednesday Double Feature - Down The Rabbit Hole - Mirror MaskFor the next film on the list, I watched was MirrorMask, directed by Dave McKean with a script by Neal Gaiman produced by The Jim Henson Company! What more do you need to know? Go watch it! Oh… you do? Sigh very well…

MirrorMask tells the story of Helena Campbell (played by Stephanie Leonidasa teenage girl, growing up in a small circus who wants to run away and join the real world. When her mother (played by Gina McKee) collapses, from what is presumed to be a brain tumor, right after the two had a flaming row, this comes dangerously close to becoming a reality and she finds herself staying at her grandmother’s dingy beachside apartment with nothing to do but draw pictures.

During this time she finds herself in a fantasy world based on her drawings that are slowly falling apart, presumably due to the actions of a dark queen, who looks suspiciously like her mother. It turns out that it is the fault of the queen’s  daughter, Helena’s own doppelgänger, the princess who has traveled to the real world, taking Helena’s place and destroying everything behind her. Now Helena has to find her way through a world of, sphinxes, giants, and riddles to find the one thing that will get her back home, the MirrorMask!

This film is amazing. Using the magic of CGI McKean is able to translate the amazing imagery of his illustrations into an incredibly convincing surreal, sepia world, and with Gaiman’s script, none of it is wasted. I was amazed when I first heard about how much of a shoe string this was made with. It convinces me that with any luck this will allow the artists back into film since it’s finally possible to make wonderful like this on a budget.