Angel on my Shoulder (1980)

Article 4962 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2015
Directed by John Berry
Featuring Peter Strauss, Richard Kiley, Barbara Hershey
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie remake of forties classic

The devil recruits the soul of a gangster being punished in hell to possess the body of a look-alike incorruptible D.A. and ruin his reputation. However, things do not go as planned…

Two minutes into this movie I was ready to consign it to the dustbin. Why? Because the character of the gangster in the opening scene seemed to be such a compendium of old-movie gangster cliches (ESPECIALLY the lingo) that I found it impossible to take him or the movie seriously. The fact that the movie then manages to flub my favorite line from the original version certainly didn’t help matters either. It’s not until the gangster is in possession of the D.A. and begins to develop a conscience that the movie starts to right itself and begins to win me over. It never succeeds completely; though I don’t object to them updating the movie to the present, I’d rather they did so with the beginning of the movie as well rather than setting it in the past and then piling on a series of ineffective jokes about a man from the past trying to adjust to the technologies and mores of the present. Peter Strauss’s performance is fine once the movie starts to work, and though Richard Kiley is certainly no Claude Rains, he does well enough as Mephistopheles. No, this remake doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but it’s not totally worthless, either. I do, however, find myself wondering if one of the main characters ends up in heaven or Metaluna, though; you have to see the movie to know why I wonder this.

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1970)

aka Aladin et la lampe merveilleuse
Article 4957 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-14-2015
Directed by Jean Image
Voice cast unknown
What it is: Animated Arabian Nights tale

An evil magician from Egypt attempts to get his hands on an incredible magic lamp, and he uses an innocent young boy as his tool to get it. However, he leaves the boy trapped in a cave with the lamp. The boy figures out what makes the lamp magical…

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that if Disney decides to do an animated version of a famous story, budget video companies will scour the archives for any earlier animated versions of the story and put them out in the market, perhaps even hoping that it will be mistaken for the Disney version and purchased. I have no doubt that this French version of the Arabian Nights tale became generally available after the release of the Disney version. I didn’t list a voice cast above despite the fact that IMDB does list one; however, the one they list is for the French version, and I’m pretty sure the English version featured a different set of voices, and one should bear in mind that my comments refer to the English version. This one is not impressive; the animation, though it isn’t quite in the realm of limited animation, is not very smooth. The character design is rather dull, and the songs featured throughout will not linger in the memory. There are some interesting plot elements at play here; I don’t know whether it’s this way in the original story, but I found it interesting that the evil magician and the sultan’s Grand Vizier are two distinctly different characters. And for those who’ve followed this series for a while, you may remember my rule about how talking birds are never funny; well, this movie gives us two of them, and they’re both annoying. This one is for uncritical kiddies.

Aoom (1970)

AOOM (1970)
Article 4951 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2015
Directed by Gonzalo Suarez
Featuring Lex Barker, Teresa Gimpera, Luis Ciges
Country: Spain
What it is: Arty comic fantasy

An actor tries to have a mystical experience in which he takes his soul out of his body and places it in the body of a doll. When the doll and his own body get separated, he is believed to be dead by all but his lover, who visits the site of the experiment and attempts to track down the doll.

The opening scenes of this one make it look as if this is going to be one of those impenetrable art films that is designed to leave you scratching your head. However, this one is surprisingly coherent; not only is the story quite easy to follow, but the fantastic content is a necessary part of the story and not just an arty trick. Furthermore, the presentation is overtly comic and consistently amusing. Even the odd touches that come out of nowhere manage to fit into the story; a scene where a madman murders a woman and a scene where another woman is searching for a lost rubber dinghy both come to mind in this regard. This is one of those movies where I’m really grateful for the English subtitles; I wouldn’t have been able to make heads or tails out of it by the visuals alone. This is one of those movies that I really enjoyed, and the more I thought about it, the more I enjoyed it. Granted, it’s not for everybody, and you do have to have a weird sense of humor to appreciate it, but I found this one a lot of fun, and you can’t say that about many art films. Incidentally, the title is a variant spelling for the meditation sound generally written as “om”.

All of Me (1984)

ALL OF ME (1984)
Article 4923 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-9-2015
Directed by Carl Reiner
Featuring Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A female tycoon, sickly from birth and now dying, plans to migrate her soul into the body of another female so she can live a new, full life. However, an accident causes her soul to be deposited into the right half of a male lawyer, so that the two of them are trapped in the same body.

I was a big fan of Steve Martin during his stand-up days, but I found his movie career to be rather uneven, because his stand-up style really didn’t translate smoothly into that form. I quite liked this one though, at least partially because it gave Martin a real comic acting challenge – how to play a person whose body halves are inhabited by different people, and he makes the most of the physical shtick that results. Tomlin is also quite good as the tyrannical woman whose soft side only comes out because she can’t really hide it while in someone else’s body; after her death, she only appears physically in mirrors. Richard Libertini almost steals the movie as a foreign guru whose grasp of English is not the best; yes, the laughs he gets are a bit on the cheap side, but they’re still pretty funny. The plot contrivances are a bit silly and pat at times, but for the most part, the movie works and is a great deal of fun.

Artistic Rag-Pickers (1908)

aka Chiffonniers et caricaturistes, The Rag-Picker Caricaturist
Article 4878 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-21-2015
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Stop-motion trick short

Two rag-pickers demonstrate their magical artistic prowess with their given mediums.

This silent short falls roughly into two parts. In the first, the male rag-picker throws scraps onto a black sheet of paper and they form themselves via stop-motion into caricatures of various famous people. In the second part, the female rag-picker demonstrates how her clay arrangements form themselves into strange faces. Beyond demonstrating these two special-effect techniques, there’s not much purpose to this short. It’s fairly entertaining, but it probably would have been even more entertaining to see it when it was first made and recognize the various personages being caricatured; beyond a couple that were of Teddy Roosevelt, I really couldn’t tell you the identities of the models. The clay sculptures don’t appear to be of specific people; the faces are rather demonic, and one looks a bit like Popeye. Chalk it up as another trick short from the silent era.

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Article 4863 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-6-2015
Directed by Damiano Damiani
Featuring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda
Country: Mexico / USA / Italy
What it is: Evil house refurbishment

A dysfunctional family moves into a house where there is a great evil.

This prequel to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR falls roughly into two parts. The first part mostly just regurgitates the elements of the first movie (including the regurgitating clergyman) with a few other elements added to the mix (an abusive family dynamic and an incest subplot) and then takes the step the previous movie only threatened to take. The second half mostly uses THE EXORCIST as its model, though I can’t say it does so with a great deal of intelligence. The end result is a movie that feels doubly derivative, sometimes silly, and even a bit desperate at times; there are moments where it feels like it’s just throwing out whatever it can to make itself scary. At its best, the movie is merely okay; at its worst, it’s positively dim-witted, especially when the priest decides to break the possessed boy out of prison. I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed with this one.

Arnulf Rainer (1960)

Article 4846 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-12-2015
Directed by Peter Kubelka
No cast
Country: Austria
What it is: A minimal assault on the senses

Light or black screen, silence or white noise.

All of the pieces of abstract cinema I’ve encountered so far have one thing in common; there is a certain attempt to be aesthetically pleasing. This is an exception. For seven minutes the visual input is either a completely white or a completely black screen, while the audio portion consists of either silence or harsh white noise. They start out in sync, but they don’t stay that way. Is it pleasant? Hardly. Is it maddening? Very much so. Ultimately, the only thing you can think of to hold on to during the watching this is the visual audio rhythms as the short switches back and forth between the two extremes. It’s a good thing this doesn’t last any longer than it is; if ever I saw a movie that was capable of driving someone mad, this would be it, and I would imagine it would be even more unnerving on a theater screen than it is on my television. Still, I have to admire the way a movie this abstract can actually build suspense. At about the halfway point, the white noise stops and the screen goes black… and it stays that way….and stays that way… and stays that way…. and you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for it to kick in again. Somehow, I can only admire the movie’s ability to pull that one off. Yet I can’t help but wondering what kind of mass exodus would have taken place when it did play on the big screen.

The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle: Cannibal Land (1928)

aka The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle, Dr. Dolittle und seine Tiere – Die Affenbrucke
Article 4828 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-21-2015
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Silhouette animation fantasy

Dr. Dolittle arrives in Africa to treat a monkey plague, but is captured and imprisoned by a tribe of cannibals for trespassing on their land. Can he rely on his animal friends to help him escape?

Apparently, the three Dr. Dolittle shorts Lotte Reiniger made have an overriding story arc involving the monkey plague, and wouldn’t you know they would come up on my hunt list in reverse order? Still, each episode apparently has a story arc of its own, so they can be enjoyed individually as well. This one has the same charms as the one I saw yesterday, and in some ways, it’s even a bit more impressive; there are lots of paper figures to coordinate in this one, especially during the climactic chase scene. There are definite limitations to silhouette-style animation, but once again the story flows so nicely and the animation is so smooth that you barely notice those limitations.

The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle: The Lion’s Den (1928)

aka Dr. Dolittle in the Lion’s Den, Dr. Dolittle und seine Tiere – Die Affenkrankheit
Article 4827 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-20-2015
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Silhouette animation fantasy

Dr. Dolittle is treating a tribe of monkeys that have come down with the plague. When some of the jungle animals volunteer as nurses for the doctor, an angry lion forbids them to be of help. Then the lion discovers his own cub is ill…

Lotte Reiniger made three shorts in 1928 about the adventures of Hugh Lofting’s veterinarian, Dr. Dolittle. In 1929, the three shorts would be combined into a feature called DR. DOLITTLE UND SEINE TIERE, and though IMDB lists this feature, it does not for some reason list the individual shorts. Since the Walt Lee guide lists the shorts as separate entities, I’m following his lead and reviewing them separately. My first encounter with Reiniger’s work was a bit frustrating, as my copy did not have English titles, and the plot was rather difficult to sort out. This one had English titles, so I could sit back, relax, and be utterly charmed by the fluidity of the animation and the charm and wit of the story. The opening titles explain the animation process involving backlit pieces of paper, and then explains that the viewer will nonetheless marveled by the degree of life given these pieces of paper, and the titles are right; the animation here is masterly, and the fact that they are only silhouettes does not take away from it in the least. I anticipate covering several of Reiniger’s shorts during the next few days; if they’re all as charming as this one is, it will be a pleasure.

The Atoms (1947)

THE ATOMS (1947)
aka Atom na rozcesti
Article 4814 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Cenek Duba
Voice cast unknown
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Animated allegory

A mad scientist is trying to invent the atom, but when his assistant beats him to it by inventing the good atom, the scientist locks the atom away and invents an evil atom. To demonstrate its power, he locks the evil atom in a bomb and intends to test it on a small inhabited island. Can the assistant prevent this?

This title just recently ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but since their was no listing on IMDB, I harbored very little hope of ever seeing it. However, almost immediately, a friend posted a link to the short on YouTube, where it was listed as THE ATOMS and dubbed into English. It’s an allegory about the good and evil uses of science; the good atom produces abundance and rebuilds the world, while the evil one destroys things. The animation is excellent, and the English narration is quite effective; it’s an interesting and effective short. From the looks of it, the YouTube video was culled from its appearance on a “Something Weird” tape or disc. I’m glad to see that this one was available.