Mazes and Monsters (1982)

MAZES AND MONSTERS (1982)
TV-Movie
Article 4630 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2014
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Featuring Tom Hanks, Wendy Crawson, David Wallace
Country: USA
What it is: Cautionary (?) drama

A group of college students who engage in role playing games decide to use some local caverns for live-action play. One of the people loses touch with reality and becomes the character he was playing.

There’s a scene here near the end of the movie where the mother of the student that goes crazy tells the other players of the game that she doesn’t hold them responsible for what happened to her son. However, I’m not sure whether she is speaking merely for herself or the movie in general. This movie has a 4.1 rating on IMDB as of this writing, and though the movie is heavily flawed (it’s indifferently directed, many false notes are struck, and some of the dialogue is quite bad) it does have its fleeting moments. Still, I don’t think that it’s just the quality of the movie that’s at issue here; I think that’s the reaction to the perceived message of the movie, which is that these role-playing games are dangerous destroyers of our youth, driving them crazy and sending them around the bend. Now I don’t know if that message is intentional or not, but I do know that the end of the movie left me with the feeling that it was made by those who do not like or approve of these games. I do know this much; if I were to have made a movie on the same subject, I would have made it a comedy, because as a drama it comes across as silly and unconvincing. The scenes at the beginning where we meet the characters and their parents in particular feel like a parade of child/parent conflict cliches, and whenever the movie starts dealing with the various character’s personal problems, it comes across as phony and facile. In other words, as propaganda, it just doesn’t convincingly sell its subject. As for the movie’s fantastic content, the very game under discussion provides at least a little of that, though this is augmented by the fact that there are scenes where we see the hallucinatory fantasy world of the main character, and the theme of madness is there as well. Still, I suspect those that love the worlds of the fantastic will be the ones who like this movie the least.

Un centenar de juegos (1906)

UN CENTENAR DE JUEGOS (1906)
aka A Hundred Tricks, Les cent trucs
Article 4629 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-12-2014
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A magician appears and performs several tricks for us.

This is Segundo de Chomon’s take on one of Melies’s more common subjects; basically, it’s nothing more than a series of cinematic magic tricks as performed by a magician. He actually does a fairly decent job of it as well, with some of the tricks very well timed. I don’t think it ever reaches to a count of 100 in its three-minute running time, but it is lively. On a side note, I like the clever way the short tried to protect itself from cinematic pirates (a common problem in the early years of cinema) by having one trick involving the name of the production company (Pathe Freres) written across one of the props. There’s nothing really new here, but it’s an amusing trifle.

Cinderella (1899)

CINDERELLA (1899)
aka Cendrillon
Article 4628 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Barral, Bleuette Bernon, Carmely
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella is able to go to the ball, but will she be back by midnight?

Georges Melies took two stabs at the Cinderella story, both of them extant. This, the earlier one, tells the story in five minutes and 41 seconds, so you can imagine that things are rather rushed. Also, given Melies’s love for special effects spectacle, it is perhaps no surprise that the fairy godmother first appears about ten seconds into the production and immediately starts in on all of the magic transformation of preparing Cinderella for the ball. Once she gets there, we get about ten seconds of dancing before the clock strikes midnight, and after being warned by the gnome of the clock (which I’m pretty sure is original to this version of the story), she turns back and rushes off, leaving the slipper. It’s here that Melies definitely goes off on his own tangent, as Cinderella arrives back home only to be tormented by creatures from the clock, which allows Melies to indulge in a lot more magical hocus-pocus. Then the prince shows up, tries on the slipper, and finds Cinderella, and the fairy godmother reappears to give her nice clothes to wear. The amazing thing at this point is that the movie still has about two minutes to go, so we have about one minute of a long wedding procession and then another minute of dancing girls. Well, I will say this much about the movie; it’s definitely true to Melies’s muse, and even with the padding in the last two minutes, it’s rather fun.

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)
Article 4627 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2014
Directed by Sam Firstenberg
Featuring Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett
Country: USA
What it is: Martial arts horror

A female phone company employee and aerobics instructor is on hand for the death of a black ninja; when she is given his sword, she becomes possessed by his evil spirit and sets out to kill all the policemen that killed the ninja. However, another ninja arrives from Japan to save the day.

Apparently, the first two movies in this series (ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA) had no fantastic content, so I haven’t covered them; nor have I seen them. Why they chose to go with a horror subplot in this one is unknown to me; maybe they wanted to widen the appeal of the series from lovers of cheesy action flicks to lovers of cheesy horror movies as well. So they throw in some scenes that vaguely reminded me of similar moments from movies like THE EXORCIST or POLTERGEIST, and then had some of the fight scenes you’d expect from a Ninja movie. Is it any good? Not really, but I don’t think it’s trying to do anything more than to leave uncritical action fans believing that they haven’t wasted the two bucks they spent on the rental. There is one camp moment that I have to admit did amuse me though; during one of the sequences where the evil spirit is trying to possess the aerobics instructor, she tries to battle it by drowning it out with loud eighties music. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how successful that strategy was.

Liquid Sky (1982)

LIQUID SKY (1982)
Article 4626 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-9-2014
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Featuring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre independent film

A small flying saucer lands on top of a skyscraper in New York, and infects a female model who is active in the underground post-punk scene. The aliens feed off the orgasms of her sexual partners, who then die.

This movie was put together by a small core group of Russian film-makers in America with a predominantly American cast and crew. It was apparently a sensation in the independent film scene at the time, and it garnered lots of rave reviews as well. I can see why it was a sensation; there was definitely something audacious in its style, it gives what appears to be an authentic glimpse of the underground post-punk scene in New York at the time, and it’s not like anything else I’ve seen. However, the movie has its share of naysayers as well, and the user comments on IMDB give me the impression that quite a few people find this to be one of the worst movies ever made. I can see this as well. For one thing, the musical soundtrack (which mostly consists of arty, pulsing and droning synthesizer music) damn near drove me over the edge, and the music is inescapable during the first twenty minutes of the movie. Furthermore, I find it very hard to get into the lives of people who seem to be defining themselves through drugs, affected decadence, self-conscious overuse of bizarre facial makeup, and hair styles that make me think of mutant peacocks. As a consequence, I was prepared to hate this movie as well, but ultimately I was able to see through this vast array of artifice and see some of the sadness of the human condition showing through. In the end, I can’t say I really liked the film all that much, but I was able to see its appeal and at least gained a respect for it. It’s also one of those movies where the decadence is essential for the story at hand.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)

JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1969)
aka Doppelganger
Article 4625 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-8-2014
Directed by Robert Parrish
Featuring Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction

When it is discovered that there is a planet on the other side of the sun directly opposite the Earth in the Earth’s orbit, an expedition is sent out to investigate it.

I saw this movie many years ago, so this viewing is in essence a return to it. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases that a re-viewing is bound to be a very different experience from the first viewing. If you’ve seen the movie already, than you know that the movie builds up to one humdinger of a revelation, and I’m willing to bet that if anything sticks in your memory about this movie, it will be that revelation. My problem is that it’s one of those revelations that, if you stop to think about it, raises more questions and issues than it answers, and while I watched this movie this time, those questions and issues were always foremost in my mind and colored the movie considerably, whereas they simply didn’t exist on my first viewing. I won’t go into more detail here except to say that the revelation involves a “coincidence” that seems to go beyond all scientific explanation in favor of poetical or mystical explanation, and that the movie never quite addresses the “why” of the revelation. Still, despite this problem, the movie is an enjoyable watch, at least partially because the solid acting from everyone involved, the appeal of the special effects and scene design (which is something I’d expect from the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson), and some of the details of the story. There are things that don’t work, though; there’s an espionage subplot that is brought up only to be summarily dropped, the movie indulges in trippy sequences similar to those in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for no good reason, and once the big revelation is made, the movie doesn’t really have anywhere good to go with it. It is worth catching at least once, if for no other reason that it might make a subject for interesting discussion afterwards.

The Christmas Angel (1904)

THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL (1904)
aka L’ange de Noel
Article 4624 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-7-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Christmas tear-jerker

In the cold of winter, a poverty-stricken man with a sick wife, no wood to heat the house, and on the verge of being evicted, sends out his daughter to beg for alms. However, bad luck prevails and the daughter is soon near death from the cold. But then….

Let’s face it; dramas are not Melies’s forte, and this one has its fair share of flaws, such as some over-theatrical acting and a story that tries to push the pity buttons a little too insistently. Nevertheless, this is perhaps one of Melies’s more successful forays into drama; the story is efficiently told and easy to follow (even without the English narration), the sets are wonderful, and it maintains the right mood. There’s only a single element of fantastic content to the story, and that can be found in the title; it doesn’t appear until near the end of the short, but you can probably figure out how it plays into the story. It’s one of Melies’s better departures from his usual style.

Polidor al club della morte (1912)

POLIDOR AL CLUB DELLA MORTE (1912)
aka Polidor at the Death Club
Article 4623 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2014
Director unknown
Featuring Polidor
Country: Italy
What it is: Parody of Robert Louis Stevenson story

Polidor dreams that he has become a member of the death club, a society for those tired of life. The loser of a card game must commit suicide, and Polidor is dealt the wrong card…

This is a parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Suicide Club”. I’ve seen several versions of this story, and though admittedly there’s a certain macabre aspect to the concept, they’ve been pretty light on the fantastic content. If there’s one thing that can be said about this short, it ups the fantastic content considerably; on top of the basic premise, all of the other members of the club look pretty cadaverous, there’s a floating skull that pops up, several hooded members of the club appear out of nowhere, and much of the action takes place in a locked room with bizarre trap doors. Furthermore, Polidor is an amusing comedian who makes good use of the concept, and the short remains amusing after all these years. This is one of those movies that I couldn’t find for years and finally ended up on my “ones that got away” list; it’s good to see it finally appear.

A Canterbury Tale (1944)

A CANTERBURY TALE (1944)
Article 4622 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2014
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Featuring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price
Country: UK
What it is: Unusual comedy/drama

An American soldier, a British solder, and a girl from London all en route to Canterbury end up in a small farming town called Chillingbourne. The girl encounters an assailant who pours glue in her hair, and it is discovered that she is one of eleven girls who have been so assaulted. She vows to solve the mystery of the identity of this man, and the two soldiers assist her.

There’s no way to adequately describe this offbeat, gentle, bizarre and sometimes moving movie. Though it initially plays itself out like a mystery of sorts (via the investigation of the Glueman’s identity), this plot line is mostly a framework from which we can examine the various characters and the losses that each one has endured in their lives. This is all tied to the fact that these characters, like the ones in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (from which the movie derives its title) are, in their own way, on “pilgrimages” of their own, and their own personal stories will play their way out when they finally arrive in Canterbury during the last quarter of the film. It’s an engrossing movie for those willing to sit back and let the movie take its own time in unfolding; those only interested in the mystery aspect will probably find the movie frustrating. The fantastic content here is subtle but intentional; the historic significance of the Road to Canterbury is sprinkled with mysticism, and the story ultimately culminates with a series of “miracles” (the quotes are here to indicate that there is certain amount of ambiguity as to the degree to which they might be called “miraculous”). It also bears mentioning that the concept of the Glueman may be one of the strangest and least sinister variations on the horror concept of a serial killer. It’s an entrancing movie, but I’ve always come to expect something a bit special whenever Powell and Pressburger combine their forces, as they do here.

Le cerceau magique (1908)

LE CERCEAU MAGIQUE (1908)
aka The Magic Hoop
Article 4621 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick / animation short

When her hoop breaks, a little girl gets a replacement from a magician, and this hoop has magic powers.

This short adds a little variety to the oeuvre of French animator Emile Cohl. About half of it is a live-action trick film, with the magic hoop showing its ability to change its size and to make the person looking through it change their clothing. This part is entertaining but standard trick-film fare for its time. The animation section only begins at about the halfway point when the hoop is hung on a wall by itself; at that point, animated events occur within the confines of the hoop. During this sequence, Cohl toys with stop-motion animation, with some of the special effects involving pieces of paper being folded into origami shapes. Part of it is the usual stream-of-consciousness animation we’ve come to expect from Cohl, but about a minute of the footage is hard to make out, due to the extreme deterioration of the print. As a result, this isn’t quite as enjoyable a watch as it might have been (though that is not Cohl’s fault), but it is fun seeing him vary the routine somewhat.