A propos de Nice (1930)

A PROPOS DE NICE (1930)
Article 5146 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2016
Directed by Jean Vigo
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Avant-garde documentary

A fractured day in the life of the resort city of Nice is portrayed.

Jean Vigo was an openly political avant-garde filmmaker who was hoping to inspire revolution with his work. Whatever his intentions, one thing he was clearly able to do was to imbue seemingly ordinary scenes with a kinetic, visual rhythm that makes them fascinating, and I found it hard to tear myself away from this twenty-five minute barrage of bizarre images. Though it can’t really be described as fully genre, it does manage to lapse into scenes of fantasy at times, such as a scene where a woman sitting cross-legged in a chair appears in various items of clothing until we reach a shot where she is naked. Sexual imagery abounds, some of it subtle, some of it less so. It’s quite surrealistic at times, and there are moments where the movement of people is made to look like it’s mechanical, or even similar to the flow of blood through the veins. Part of the action takes place during a carnival with people wearing grotesque costumes, and it’s hard to miss a political statement of some sort where we see a person peering out from one of the costumes in a way that makes him look like he is imprisoned in jail. Jean Vigo directed only a tiny handful of films, and this is the third of the four he made that I’ve seen. So far, this is perhaps my favorite of the bunch.

A la conquete de l’air (1901)

A LA CONQUETE DE L’AIR (1901)
aka The Conquest of the Air, The Flying Machine
Article 5122 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-31-2016
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What is is: Trick film

A man pedals his flying machine over a city.

I haven’t seen the complete version of this silent short, but I’ve been told that the YouTube video for it pretty much captures the experience; in this case, all I’m missing is about 23 more seconds of the man pedaling over the city. The special effect is the whole story here; the man alternates between pedaling his vehicle and occasionally tipping his hat. It’s similar to THE TWENTIETH CENTURY TRAMP, except I think this one has better special effects; there isn’t that sharp delineation on the screen between the man in the sky and the cityscape, so it looks more convincing. That being said, there’s not a whole lot to this short, but I do have one question; I can understand the vehicle in question having one of those spoked steering wheels you see on ships, but wouldn’t it have been better to have the wheel facing the pedaling man rather than facing the audience?

El amor brujo (1967)

EL AMOR BRUJO (1967)
aka Witch Love, Bewitched Love
Article 5028 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2015
Directed by Francisco Rovira Beleta
Featuring Antonio Gades, La Polaca, Rafael de Cordoba
Country: Spain
What it is: Drama

Two men vie for the heart of the same woman.

The only copy I was able to find of this one was in Spanish without subtitles, so I had to do a little research on it. The movie is based on a ballet about a woman in an arranged marriage who loves another man. When her husband dies, she thinks she’s free to pursue her true love, but the husband’s ghost refuses to let her go, and she must find a way to get rid of him to win her true love. However, the movie version appears to modify this plot, largely removing the ghost angle and turning the story into two lovers, one good and one evil, competing for the same woman. However, the ghost angle does not appear to have been jettisoned completely; at the beginning of the movie, she thinks her husband is dead and that his reappearance is that of a ghost.

Despite having been based on a ballet, the movie is not one, though it does use dance extensively, particularly in some rather striking and eerie dream sequences, particularly one in which the woman is chased by several zombie-like characters. The language problem prevented me from effectively following the plot, but it is directed with a striking visual sense and is very well acted. It was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film for the year it was released, so it’s definitely a more cultured affair than most of the Spanish movies I cover for this series (which usually star Paul Naschy). I was able to enjoy many of the visual elements, but until I get around the language problem, my enjoyment of this one will be somewhat limited.

The Archer: Fugitive from the Empire (1981)

THE ARCHER: FUGITIVE FROM THE EMPIRE (1981)
Article 5017 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-13-2015
Directed by Nicholas Corea
Featuring Lane Caudell, Belinda Bauer, Victor Campos
Country: USA
What it is: Epic fantasy, TV-Movie style

Several tribes band together to do battle with an empire run by a magician with a band of snake men. When the tribes are betrayed, the leader’s son becomes a fugitive, inherits a powerful bow, and sets out on a quest to seek a magician who can help him.

This is an unsold TV pilot, and knowing this about any movie potentially gives you a warning, to wit – there’s a strong possibility that some major plot element will remain unresolved so that the series it would have spawned would have somewhere to go. Unfortunately, that usually means that the movie by itself will inevitably be a little disappointing because it will feel incomplete. Given this, there are parts of this one I quite like; TV rarely tried for epic fantasy in those days, and this one has some nice flavor, a sense of humor, and the requisite sense of wonder, even if it is sometimes cheaply done. On the down side, there’s a certain problem inherent to the whole genre of epic fantasy; it’s so full of standard plots and cliched situations that if you don’t have some specific element that sets it apart from the many examples out there, you run the risk of doing little more than walking through overly familiar territory. And, sadly, that’s the problem here; there’s nothing to really set this one apart or make it special. Other than that, its main problem might be that there’s some truly monumentally bad over-acting from time to time; the movie is strewed with chewed scenery. In short, it has its joys, but it’s nothing special.

Amuck! (1972)

AMUCK! (1972)
aka Alla ricerca del piacere
Article 5016 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-12-2015
Directed by Silvio Amadio
Featuring Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy
What it is: Sexy crime movie

In order to find out what happened to her female lover, a woman takes the last job her lover had – as the secretary to a writer whose wife is addicted to strange sex games.

Every once in a while a movie has the dubious distinction of making me realize that I’ve seen a certain plot set-up one too many times. It isn’t necessarily the fault of that movie itself; it just happens to be the one where my brain says “Enough!” That’s the case here; I’m really sick of the concept of someone trying to solve the murder/disappearance of a friend/relative/lover by putting themselves in the same situation that caused the friend/relative/lover to die/disappear in the first place. In almost every case where that plot is used, the heroine (and it’s almost always a female who tries this) needlessly puts herself in danger and hasn’t adequately prepared herself for that danger. That’s the basic story here, and I really find it hard to sympathize with a character who is being that foolish and short-sighted.

This movie is supposed to be a giallo, but I don’t think that’s a good fit; there’s very little blood here, and it seems a lot more interested in getting as much nudity and sex into the story as it can. In short, it’s mostly a sexploitation crime movie, though there is a truly repulsive scene where an eel is killed and gutted onscreen for what seems to be purely shock value. Beyond that, the closest it gets to any fantastic content is when the wife comes down with what amounts to an “attack of ESP” where she becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead woman, though in all honesty, it seems to be a ruse designed to mislead another character. There is one good suspenseful scene when the heroine investigates a cellar, but most of the rest of the movie is sleazy variant of an overly familiar story. I’m afraid I didn’t really care for this one.

Aftermath (1982)

THE AFTERMATH (1982)
Article 5000 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-26-2015
Directed by Steve Barkett
Featuring Steve Barkett, Lynne Margulies, Sid Haig
Country: USA
What it is: Another movie where the description begins “It’s after the apocalypse.”

It’s after the apocalypse. A pair of astronauts return to Earth to discover that nuclear and biological war have destroyed most of humanity. They have to contend with ugly mutants and a gang of brutal killers.

The DVD package for this movie has a quote from Video Review Magazine which describes it as “The best post nuclear film since ON THE BEACH.” Uhh, no, I don’t think so. It does serve as a description of the movie’s pretensions, however. By this I mean that the movie doesn’t obviously go the route of trying to be an imitation of THE ROAD WARRIOR; rather than a stylish action thriller, it does take a stab at being something of a drama. Unfortunately, as a drama, it suffers from a weak script, indifferent acting, and characters that simply lack the complexity to make it work as such. Instead, as should be obvious from the scenes near the beginning where Sid Haig and his cohorts chase down and capture or slaughter a bunch of people, this movie’s heart is squarely in a more mundane category – the exploitation revenge action thriller. In short, any pretensions towards drama give way to sequences of bloody revenge during the last quarter of the movie, but then, what would you expect of a movie which features Sid Haig as one of the top three billed performers? There are cameos from Jim Danforth and Forrest J Ackerman to enliven the proceedings, and Dick Miller provides the voice of a broadcaster. I will admit it is rather ambitious for a low-budget independent movie, but ultimately it treads ground that is a little too familiar.

Angel on my Shoulder (1980)

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)

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.