Static (1985)

STATIC (1985)
Article 3884 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2012
Posting Date: 4-2-2012
Directed by Mark Romanek
Featuring Keith Gordon, Amanda Plummer, Bob Gunton
Country: USA
What it is: Indie comedy drama

A young eccentric in a small town is working on an amazing invention; a television set that can see into heaven. But does it really work… and will anyone believe him?

I rarely go to movie theaters anymore, I’m ashamed to admit. Unless a movie really hits the right notes with me, or if it gives me expectations of seeing something truly unique or original, I’ll probably wait until it pops up on video. One of my weaknesses is for the truly oddball comic indie film, but my movie review series rarely points me in that direction because most of them just aren’t genre. I’m not sure this one is, either; a lot depends on how you interpret certain events in the movie, but between the science fiction concept of a new invention, the fantasy element of mysticism, and even a certain touch of horror in the fact that we may be dealing with a character whose sanity is in question. It is, however, that rare movie that would have drawn me into a theater, and I would have loved it.

Granted, the movie is quirky, and some people just don’t like quirky. However, I’m not one of them, and for me, this odd comedy, filled with offbeat characters and strange situations, actually made me laugh out loud more than I have in years, as well as providing a truly interesting set of characters for me to take in. Even the doom-talking survivalist Vietnam vet comes across as amusing rather than creepy. In the end, I was so taken in by the various characters and fascinated by the tragic and sad undercurrent to the movie that I simply fell in love with the movie. And I’ll probably never forget the ending. This one is recommended, but only if you share my interest in quirky independent movies.

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Red Dawn (1984)

RED DAWN (1984)
Article 3883 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2012
Posting Date: 4-1-2012
Directed by John Milius
Featuring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
Country: USA
What it is: INVASION USA updated

When Russians invade a small Colorado town as part of a coup to conquer the United States, a small band of teenage freedom fighters do battle with them.

This is the type of movie that I probably wouldn’t like in the first place; its very premise seems to promise a large degree of paranoia, flag-waving, breast-beating and emotional manipulation of a certain type that I would find rather unpleasant and tiresome, though I will readily admit that there are many others who would have no problem with it. To its credit, the movie eschews some of the more blatant manifestations of this approach; in fact, the movie seems less about “Russians invading America” per se, and more about “foreigners invading one’s homeland”, which gives it more of a sense of universality. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t preach to you, choosing instead to mostly let the actions speak for themselves. Still, the only way this one would really have worked for me would have been if it had strenuously convinced me of the reality of the invasion and the struggles of those involved. Instead, the movie seems intent on emotional manipulation, but there are too many times where the melodrama, implausibility, and lack of subtlety have the opposite effect on me; instead of drawing me in, its unreality keeps me out. Once again, those who buy into the premise from square one may have no problem with it, and those who just like action movies may be quite satisfied. Me, I’m just ready to move on to the next movie.

The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo (1973)

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND OF CAPTAIN NEMO (1973)
aka La isla misteriosa
Article 3882 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2012
Posting Date: 3-31-2012
Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem and Henri Colpi
Featuring Omar Sharif, Ambroise Bia, Jess Hahn
Country: Spain / France /Italy / Cameroon
What it is: Verne adaptation

A group of POWs escape from the confederate army in a hot air balloon, but a storm blows them to a deserted island where they must fend for themselves. But they have an unexpected if secretive ally. Could it be Captain Nemo of the Nautilus…?

I’m cheating a little on this one. My first reaction as I started watching this that was that the movie was dwelling much longer on the civil war sequence at the beginning than was strictly necessary, and I was a good forty minutes into it before they even reached the island. It was at this point that I became curious, and checked the stats on it from IMDB. The movie clocks in at 96 minutes, but there is a two-hour Spanish version. And then I discovered that it had all been edited from a 6-episode TV series, with each episode 52 minutes long. After a while, it finally dawned on me that I had netted a version that seemed to have almost all of the TV episodes in their entirety; the beginning and ending credits are missing, but the whole thing ran about 4 1/2 hours for me. Well, seeing that I was already about ninety minutes into it at that point (and that I had no other source for it that I knew of), I decided to sit through the whole thing and review it.

This turned out to be a bit of a chore; the pacing is very deliberate, and there were a few times I just had to take a break from it. It took me two days to get through it. Now I don’t know what the 96 minute version must have been like, but I suspect that it would have been rough and rather fragmented. This version more or less follows the novel, and I think I actually liked the bits where deals with the Robinson Crusoe-like survival tactics of the castaways; despite it’s slowness, I liked the sequence where a scientist builds a makeshift lens from a couple of clock faces, a process which is shown in thorough detail. The story gives away the presence of Captain Nemo early on, most likely due to the fact that the big name here is Omar Sharif, and they probably wanted to feature him in every episode in some capacity, though he doesn’t really take a major part in the action until the final part of the story. Still, the story is sorely lacking in energy, and this is never more apparent in the disappointing climax, which is mostly talk when it should be emphasizing action. Sharif looks good in the role, but his performance lacks pizzazz (or as much of it that I could tell, given that my copy was dubbed into German with English subtitles). All in all, it was sporadically interesting, but it would probably be best enjoyed an episode at a time over a few weeks.

Hollywood Ghost Stories (1986)

HOLLYWOOD GHOST STORIES (1986)
Article 3881 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2012
Posting Date: 3-30-2012
Directed by James Forsher
Featuring John Carradine, William Peter Blatty, Arthur Conan Doyle
Country: USA
What it is: Paranormal documentary

John Carradine takes us on a journey of real-life hauntings that have something to do with the movie industry.

In terms of its exploration of the paranormal, this movie isn’t really much different from most of the others out there; I doubt it will change anybody’s mind about anything. However, for fans of fantastic cinema, this may be one of the more interesting ones out there, if for no other reason that the events discussed all have some connection with movies, TV and/or Hollywood, and the movie uses a lot of movie footage to pad things out. Still, even if you enjoy the footage, you’ll realize that padding is just what it is; much of it seems to be there to distract you from realizing that the movie is pretty threadbare. You’ll see clips from THE EXORCIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and THE ENTITY, plus any number of short clips from other films. There’s very little here I haven’t encountered before.

Gulliver’s Travels (1977)

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (1977)
Article 3880 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2012
Posting Date: 3-29-2012
Directed by Peter R. Hunt
Featuring Richard Harris, Catherine Schell, Norman Shelley
Country: UK / Belgium
What it is: Another take on the Swift satire

Gulliver becomes a ship’s surgeon, but after a storm, he is stranded in the land of Lilliput, where everyone is tiny and he’s a giant.

To its credit, this take on Jonathan Swift’s famous book doesn’t completely eliminate the satire, but given the fact that it’s still seen as primarily a children’s story, it does soft-pedal it quite a bit. As expected, it sticks to the first book of the novel, though it does end on a note that at least addresses the second voyage to Brobdingnag (perhaps a sequel was hoped for). It’s a combination of live action and animation; the latter is serviceable but uninspired. I could do without the songs myself, and though Richard Harris does all right with the title character, it’s hardly a challenge the way it’s written. Oddly enough, there’s a glimpse of totally gratuitous animated nudity as well; why, I don’t know. It’s not awful, but it’s probably the weakest take on the tale that I’ve seen for the series.

Vargtimmen (1968)

VARGTIMMEN (1968)
aka Hour of the Wolf
Article 3879 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2012
Posting Date: 3-28-2012
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh
Country: Sweden
What it is: A descent into madness

An artist, tortured by memories and unable to sleep at nights, shares his darkest memories with his wife. He is invited to a party by the owner of the island… but what do the owner and his friends intend for him?… and are they even real?

Many Bergman films have touches of horror to them; I’ve had the chance to cover several of them already. However, this is the one that is usually thought of as his horror film, and, given some of the events and imagery during the final half of the movie, I’d say that’s fairly accurate, though it’s certainly not one that can be easily parsed out. It most reminds me of REPULSION and THE TENANT, and both Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are excellent as the artist and his wife who has loved him so long that she has begun to see the ghosts that haunt him. Some of the imagery and events are truly haunting; there’s a shocking encounter with a young boy on a cliff side, and a nightmarish sequence where a woman finally removes her hat. It’s not Bergman at his very best; for one thing, it does take a little too long before things get moving. But even with that in mind, it’s fascinating. The script is apparently a scaled-down, reworked version of an earlier one called THE CANNIBALS, which Bergman abandoned because he thought it would have been too expensive and involved to make; however, I would love to have seen that one.

Garden of the Dead (1974)

GARDEN OF THE DEAD (1974)
Article 3878 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2012
Posting Date: 3-27-2012
Directed by John Hayes
Featuring Phillip Kenneally, Duncan McLeod, John Dullaghan
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget zombie mayhem

Convicts forced to work in a camp manufacturing formaldehyde plan a breakout which then goes awry, and they all die and are buried in unmarked graves. But some of the formaldehyde spills onto the graves, and they rise to take revenge!

I’ll give the movie a little credit for not being a slavish imitation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the zombies here are intelligent (which is to say that they’re as intelligent as they were when they were alive), able to talk, and can move fast. But that doesn’t keep this one from going off the goofy meter; for one thing, despite the fact that they’re intelligent, they still like to walk around saying “Urrrr… Urrrr….Urrrr” (Is that all they can think of to say, or does that just come with the territory?) And instead of going after human flesh, they’re after … hold on, I can barely believe it myself… FORMALDEHYDE!! which they sniff, pour over their bodies, rub on their faces…I guess it must be like zombie catnip. Oh, they have their weaknesses; bright light is fatal to them, they can be killed by close-range shotgun blasts, and they’re hypnotized by… and once again, I can barely believe it myself…. CLEAVAGE! Yes, they can be stopped in their tracks by the sight of a low-cut blouse. No wonder Troma’s logo opens the movie. Can’t you just see the inevitable sequel being made, BIKINI BIMBOS VS. FORMALDEHYDE ZOMBIES. Oh, I certainly hope I don’t give anybody ideas out there. Awful, but irresistible.