Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972)

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1972)
Article 3294 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2010
Posting Date: 8-21-2010
Directed by William Sterling
Featuring Fiona Fullerton, Michael Jayston, Hywel Bennett
Country: UK
What it is: Classic fantasy adaptation

Alice falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Wonderland.

This movie makes a real attempt to stick to the original story; in many ways, it may be the most faithful attempt yet, with only the appearance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee as sops to the sequel. It also has a bevy of famous British actors and comedians in the cast, including Ralph Richardson, Peter Bull, Roy Kinnear, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Dennis Price and Spike Milligan. Nevertheless, I found myself hating the movie. Part of the problem is that the movie caves in to certain kiddie movie conventions, such as having Alice sing and dance with the other characters at every opportunity. Another problem is the score which, to my mind, gives the movie the air of “knees bent before a classic” rather than the sense of comic absurdism the story needs. The acting is frantic and confused, the cinematography is often static, and the editing increases the feeling of disjointedness. In the end, the movie left me feeling rather nauseous, and the sense of fidelity towards the story started to come across as the director’s attempt to get around the fact that he didn’t really ‘get’ the story. On the plus side, the costumes and makeup are excellent, and the casting is occasionally inspired; my favorite example of the latter is Peter Bull as the Duchess, a cross-gender conceit that is surprisingly appropriate.

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984)
Article 3293 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2010
Posting Date: 8-20-2010
Directed by W.D. Richter
Featuring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin
Country: USA
What it is: Self-conscious cult movie

When modern renaissance man Buckaroo Banzai develops an oscillation overthruster that can take him to a dimension in between the atoms of a mountain, he sets into motion a chain of events that could release upon the world and invasion of red Lectroids. A race of black Lectroids, intent on preventing the invasion, threaten to start WWIII if Buckaroo Banzai doesn’t destroy the evil Dr. Lizardo.

This was a deliberate attempt to start a movie franchise, and on that level, it must be considered a failure, as it never did result in the series of sequels that it intended; I hope no one is still waiting for BUCKAROO BANZAI VERSUS THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE. Why did it fail? It’s not the convoluted and somewhat confusing plot; if the other elements had worked, this would have just given viewers the impetus to rewatch the movie to sort it out. I’m guessing part of the problem was the casting of Peter Weller in the title role; he simply doesn’t project the right level of charisma and likability to make a go of the series. Furthermore, his sidekicks are a dreary bunch; practically all of them are playing in the same low-key laconic mode as Weller plays Banzai, with the result that none of them really becomes an interesting character; a greater amount of variety would have done wonders here, but ultimately the most interesting thing about them is their names and costumes. I suspect Ellen Barkin’s character is supposed to give the movie a bit of depth, but she ends up feeling more like a plot device than a real character, and when the movie turns her attempted suicide into a joke by having it mistaken as an attack on Banzai, the movie only underlines its shallowness. In the end, the movie is stolen by John Lithgow, who opts for a bizarre, manic performance that provides the most consistently enjoyable part of the movie. Other than that, the movie only works in fits and starts, and it is a little disappointing to see Christopher Lloyd stuck with a role that is little more than running joke about his character’s name (John Bigboote). Some recasting and better direction might have saved this one.

Anju to Zushio-Maru (1961)

ANJU TO ZUSHIO-MARU (1961)
aka The Littlest Warrior, The Orphan Brother
Article 3278 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2010
Posting Date: 8-5-2010
Directed by Taiji Yabushita
Featuring the voices of Yoshiko Sakuma and Kinya Kitaoji
Country: Japan
What it is: Animated folk tale with fantasy elements

In feudal times, a father is exiled. When the rest of his family attempts to rejoin with him, they encounter kidnappers who separate them and sell them into slavery. Will they ever reunite?

I was only able to find this movie in unsubtitled Japanese, and maybe I was the better off for it. I’ve seen two other animated movies by this director (PANDA AND THE MAGIC SERPENT and ALAKAZAM THE GREAT), both of which had been dubbed into English and both of which came across as having been heavily compromised by the English dubbing. The language barrier proved to be only a minor inconvenience; though I couldn’t find a good plot description of this movie, I did discover that it was basically a version of the same story of SANSHO THE BAILIFF, and a few plot descriptions of that one gave me the framework I needed to follow this one. Since I don’t see the latter movie listed in any of my guides to fantastic movies, I assume that much of the fantastic content here is unique to this telling. We have talking animals, for one thing, and since this is a children’s version of the story, I’m not surprised at the addition. There’s also a battle with a giant spider. Still, the final fantastic aspect is truly striking; when certain characters die, they undergo a transformation to another form which seems to give them power over that form’s particular element. One transforms into a mermaid, and the other into a flying swan, and both the forces of air and water play into the story to bring justice on the villains. The story has no doubt been cleaned up a little; I believe in the other movie, one character was forced into prostitution, but that detail understandably doesn’t appear here as far as I can tell. Still, it doesn’t soft-pedal the tragedy; though it more or less has a happy ending, there are some great losses, and quite a few tears are jerked in the final parts of the movie. Somehow, I suspect the English version of this would have weakened the movie considerably, so I’m glad I saw it as I did.

Alien Warrior (1985)

ALIEN WARRIOR (1985)
Article 3233 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2010
Posting Date: 6-21-2010
Directed by Ed Hunt
Featuring Brett Baxter Clark, Pamela Saunders, Reggie De Morton
Country: Canada
What it is: Liberal Christ fantasy/violent exploitation flick

A visitor from outer space comes to Earth to prove his worth by defeating a Great Evil, which comes in the form of a violent drug dealer. However, the visitor has a limitation; the use of violence on his part causes him to weaken.

Liberal do-gooder fantasy or sex-and-violence exploitation flick? Take your pick; the movie is obviously trying to have it both ways. Unfortunately, rather than achieving an amazing amalgamation of diverse genres, it comes across as merely split-personality goofiness, probably because it does neither one well, though it’s obviously more at home with the sex and violence. Our visitor arrives on Earth naked (someone has seen THE TERMINATOR), but, thanks to a friendly wino who just happens to have an extra set of clothes, he is soon ready to look for Great Evil. On the way he saves a woman from a gang of rapists, and then reforms the gang by getting the leader to face his shame over being called “stupid”, and then getting the boy to read “Alice in Wonderland” while he himself peruses a complete set of encyclopedias. With the help of the wino and his reformed-gang friends, he builds a really cool car that he uses to impress and reform the members of a protection racket so they can come to the reading center and break-dance, and then he… well, I could go on, but suffice it to say that interspersed between these moments are scenes where the “Great Evil” takes voyeuristic movies of his harem making love to members of the local police force or doing away with rivals in as violent a way as possible. It’s rating on IMDB is 4.3, but don’t let that fool you; the user comments are split between those who think the movie is godawful and those who think it is a hilarious camp classic, which, if you do find yourself watching it, is perhaps the best way to approach it.

Atragon (1963)

ATRAGON (1963)
aka Kaitei gunkan
Article 3193 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2010
Posting Date: 5-12-2010
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Tadao Takashima, Yoko Fujiyama, Yu Fujiki
Country: Japan
What it is: Invaders from an undersea kingdom, Japanese style

The underwater empire of Mu threatens to take over the world with their superior technology. The only hope for the world is a missing Japanese captain who has designed the ultimate fighting machine, a flying submarine known as Atragon.

I think this popped up on TV when I was a kid, and I watched it expecting a monster movie; I soon switched it off in frustration, and even had I stayed with it, I would have been disappointed by Manda, who is more reminiscent of Reptilicus than any of the great Japanese monsters. However, as an adult, I can admire it for what it really is; I consider it the best of the various Japanese invasion movies of that period, as I find it more interesting and enjoyable than either BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE or THE MYSTERIANS. Not that I don’t see some problems with the story. The residents of Mu show real shortsightedness in their attempts to keep Atragon from being used against them, as their every action seems destined to encourage that the machine be used, such as calling the attention of the Japanese government to its existence in the first place. However, the scenes of destruction are colorful and well done, and I enjoy various touches. I like the scene where the humans taken prisoner by the Mu empire are brought in during an impressively staged ritual dance, and I like the way that Kenji Sahara really underplays his role; given that the common acting mode in Japanese movies seems to be rather strident, underplaying is always a striking touch in their movies. I originally started watching this in the English-dubbed version on my disc, but the dubbed acting was so weak I eventually switched to the Japanese version with English subtitles, which I liked a lot better. Jun Tazaki’s role of Captain Jinguji was originally to have been played by the great Toshiro Mifune, but a prior commitment kept him out of the production. That’s a real pity; I would really liked to have seen him in one of these Japanese science fiction movies.

Alf’s Carpet (1929)

ALF’S CARPET (1929)
aka The Rocket Bus
Article 3170 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2010
Posting Date: 4-19-2010
Directed by W.P. Kellino
Featuring Carl Schenstrom, Harald Madsen, Gerald Rawlinson
Country: UK
What it is: Fantastically themed comedy

Two ne’er-do-wells happen upon a magic carpet which they use to run their dilapidated second-hand bus. They then agree to help a woman find her missing father.

First of all, a little history. This movie was based on a play that was the sequel to the original play version of ALF’S BUTTON. The story appears to have been changed to accommodate the use of a pair of Danish comedians. The movie was apparently released in both sound and silent versions. Sometime during the sixties or seventies, a silent Danish print of this movie was edited and shown on TV in Germany (where the duo was known as Pat and Patachon) in two half-hour segments. In place of title cards, the story is fleshed out by a German translator who narrates the story and dubs in voices for all the characters. This is the version I’ve just seen. Let’s face it; this is hardly the ideal way to experience a movie.

Still, this is probably the closest I’ll come to seeing the movie. Thanks to doctor kiss, I was armed with a cursory plot description that clears up a few details, but most of the plot is fairly obvious, and since the majority of the humor involves slapstick antics, it’s not really that hard to figure out. The comedians have a bit of character to them, which makes the movie easier to enjoy. I could describe the German dubbing as awful if I felt it was meant to be convincing, but I don’t suspect it was ever meant to be, as the whole affair has that air of being narrated. Some of the special effects are quite good as well. So, despite the fact that my version is quite a long ways from the original movie, I enjoyed it nonetheless. At least I can now mark this one off the list.

L’Affaire des poisons (1955)

L’AFFAIRE DES POISONS (1955)
aka The Poison Affair
Article 3143 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-15-2010
Posting Date: 3-23-2010
Directed by Henri Decoin
Featuring Danielle Darrieux, Viviane Romance, Paul Meurisse
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Historical crime drama with horror touches

A mistress, jealous of a new rival for the king’s affections, plans to frame the new mistress for the poisonings of several nobles.

I knew the bare basics of the plot before I saw this movie, but even with that as a helper, I found much of the movie, which I was only able to see in French without subtitles, very difficult to follow. Things get a little better about forty minutes into it when the poisonings begin, and though I spot a clear villainess, I still found the details very unclear because of my lack of comprehension of the language. So we’ll pass by the plot for the time being and look at the genre touches. The plot description I saw didn’t offer much help in this regard, though a case could be made for the “serial killer” theme. On seeing the movie, however, the touches become clearer; the story involves witchcraft and black masses, and part of the plot revolves around a wax doll of a woman which has a needle thrust through it. There’s also a harrowing torture sequence. Visually, it’s probably most enjoyable to people who love period costumes, but there are some sequences that have a nice moodiness to them. Still, until I can see it subtitled, I’ll reserve any sort of judgment on this one.