Birth of the Pearl (1901)

Birth of the Pearl (1901)
Article 5640 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-26-2019
Directed by F.S. Armitage
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Early adult film

On a stage, a woman rises from the shell of an oyster.

This is classified as a fantasy on IMDB, and insofar as women don’t grow in oyster shells, I suppose it is. But obviously the fantastic content isn’t the selling point here; the fact that the woman is wearing a skintight leotard that makes it look like she might be naked is. I suppose this is called “erotica”, which I usually take to mean it’s like sexploitation, only artier. It may have been hot back then; today it’s just a curio.

Barnyard Bunk (1932)

Barnyard Bunk (1932)
Article 5608 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2018
Directed by John Foster and George Rufle
Country: USA
What it is: A Dick and Larry cartoon

A failing farm is about to be taken over by mice. Can Dick and Larry turn things about with their magic saxophones?

What’s the difference between a Dick and Larry cartoon and a (not cat and mouse) Tom and Jerry cartoon? The answer is – a title card; otherwise the characters are the same, and since no one mentions their names, the difference is of no consequence. I almost skipped reviewing this one until I realized that the saxophones were supposed to be magical. I almost didn’t notice this because I was expecting it to turn into a variation of “The Pied Piper”, with Dick and Larry leading the mice away with their toodling; this doesn’t happen, though the appearance of a walking skeleton emerging from an outhouse does add a bit more to the fantastic content. For all that, this is admittedly one of the better cartoons of the series; some of the gags are a bit creative, including a running gag in which a mouse holds up a “danger” sign anytime some one is about to get hurt. Not a word is spoken in this one.

The Bulleteers (1942)

The Bulleteers (1942)
Article 5600 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-17-2018
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Orestes Calipini
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Another Superman short

Criminal extortionists with a flying bullet plane threaten Metropolis with destruction if they don’t pay them. Can Superman defeat them?

I will openly confess that I’m not a big superhero fan; unless the superhero has an interesting character to go along with his superpowers, I lose interest rapidly. That’s why ultimately the Fleischer Superman shorts get a little tiresome for me; in the quest for non-stop action, personality is left on the sidelines, and the series get repetitive. This one does very little for me; though well animated and colorful, the story feels like a cross between the first Superman short and THE MECHANICAL MONSTERS, both of which were fresher and more fun. Granted, those that love superheroes will quickly forgive any shortcomings like these and enjoy them well enough, and it’s for those people these shorts were made.

Billion Dollar Limited (1942)

Billion Dollar Limited (1942)
Article 5598 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-17-2018
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander and Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Fleischer Superman short

Masked crooks in an armored car attempt a train robbery to get the largest shipment of gold ever made. Can Superman stop them?

Personally, if I were in charge of the biggest gold shipment in history, I certainly wouldn’t invite the press in so they can have a big front-page story about it, but what do I know? What we have here is another efficient Superman animated short from the forties; it’s packed with action and short on character (the villains in particular are pretty anonymous this time), but that’s par for the course. Granted, it looks like the villains are more interested in crashing the train rather than robbing it, but I’m sure that was just their way of stopping it so they could get the gold out. It’s entertaining enough, but the cookie-cutter style of plotting for this series is becoming rather apparent.

Batman vs. Two-Face (2017)

Batman vs. Two-Face (2017)
Article 5514 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Rick Morales
Featuring the voices of Adam West, Burt Ward, William Shatner
Country: USA
What it is: Animated super-hero shenanigans

Batman discovers that some recent criminal plans by King Tut and Bookworm were actually plotted by Two-Face, who seems to have returned even though Harvey Dent appears to have been cured.

This is the second in an animated series that is modeled off of the sixties TV-series and features the voices of Adam West and Bert Ward; West’s recent death means that this was one of his last projects. Like the first, it successfully taps into the feel of the series, and there are a few fun references to the original series, including the touch that the characters played by both Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether end up in the Catwoman outfit. Shatner plays Two-Face, and does a fine job while avoiding the acting quirks for which he has gained a certain notoriety. Two-Face never appeared in the original series, though I gather that a treatment for one was written by Harlan Ellison and there were plans to get Clint Eastwood to appear in the role; according to IMDB, this animated movie is not based on that script. I’m not sure whether they’ll continue the series without Adam West, as I suspect that was one of the selling points of the series.

Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939)

Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939)
Article 5483 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2017
Directed by James P. Hogan
Featuring John Howard, Heather Angel, H.B. Warner
Country: USA
What it is: Bulldog Drummond thriller

Drummond’s impending marriage to Phyllis Clavering is interrupted when it is discovered that a hidden fortune can be found in the house… and that a desperate man is willing to kill anyone in his way to get his hands on it.

I’ve covered most of the other Bulldog Drummond movies from the thirties because one of my sources listed them, though they’re all pretty light in terms of fantastic content. Actually, I’m surprised this one was omitted; given that the climax of the movie takes place in spooky underground passages in an old mansion with skeletons and torture chambers, this one seems to have a greater degree of horror content than any of the others. At any rate, I’ve always been fond of the series, and it’s fun to encounter the various characters from the series again, even if they do have to fill in the edges of the running time with clips from the previous entries of the series. It was also fun to encounter the always welcome Leo G. Carroll as the main villain here; I was almost tempted to describe him as a “young” Leo G. Carroll when I checked his birth date and realized he was into his fifties when he made this one. This one is one of the most exciting entries in the series, so I’m glad I’ve finally gotten around to covering it.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
Article 5473 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-22-2017
Directed by Rick Morales
Featuring the voices of Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar
Country: USA
What it is: Animated retro Batman

Batman and Robin must contend with the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman, who have joined forces in a plot involving a duplicating gun.

Since I’m no longer restricted to a given hunt list, I’ve opened up my series to anything I see that qualifies as genre, so I’m covering this animated Batman movie that revives the campy style of the mid-sixties TV series, and even nets three of its original actors to do the voices. Those who never liked that TV series will find little of appeal here; me, I always prefer my superheroes with a humorous approach, and I quite liked this one. It does manage to capture the feel of the original series, and it even takes a couple of good-natured stabs at the “Dark Knight” portrayal of the character. The original actors featured are all in their seventies or eighties, but only Adam West sounded old; fortunately, his sense of humor was still intact, and he delivers his character’s “goody two-shoes” dialogue with the proper aplomb. No, it’s not a modern classic, but it’s not trying to be; it’s more of a laid-back nostalgia piece, and it hits the target close enough that it works on that level. At least one sequel is planned, though the recent death of Adam West may end the series after that one.

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Article 5468 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2017
Directed by Peter Hewitt
Featuring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler
Country: USA
What it is: Multi-genre comedy

A would-be dictator of the future sends a pair of robots into the past to kill off Bill and Ted and take their places at the Battle of the Bands. Can Bill and Ted return from the afterlife and set the path to the future on its correct course?

I never saw the first movie of the series until after I saw this one; there was something about the vibe of this one that drew me into the movie theater several times. They had a bigger budget this time out, and they upped the ante considerably by concocting a dizzy and bizarre plot that spans all three fantastic genres – science fiction (a future society, several robots, time travel, and an alien that can split into two beings), fantasy (the character of Death, a visit to heaven, and the Easter Bunny) and horror (part of the story takes place in hell, and there’s a seance as well). The supporting characters are a lot of fun this time as well; William Sadler is wonderful as Death, who desperately tries to hold on to his dignity while dealing with Bill and Ted but is eventually won over by them. Joss Ackland is also memorable as the villain of the piece, a gym teacher turned revolutionary named De Nomolos (spell each name backwards and compare to the list of writers). My favorite scene has Bill and Ted challenging Death to a game to win their right to return to the land of the living. This one is a personal favorite.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Article 5467 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2017
Directed by Stephen Herek
Featuring Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction comedy

Bill and Ted want to form a rock group, but if they fail history, the group will be split up when one of them is sent to military school. However, an envoy from the future gives them the use of a time-traveling phone booth that will allow them to go back in history and bring back historical figures for a final project.

I have a soft spot in my heart for movies about dimwitted innocents; though I’ve heard Bill and Ted described as stoners, there is no evidence in the movies they take drugs – they’re just naturally the way they are. I also have a soft spot for movies with comically absurd premises; the reason the envoy from the future is seeking to help them is that the entire future society of the world is built on the popularity and the message of Bill and Ted’s rock group. The movie sat on the shelf for a couple of years when the original backers went bankrupt, and it was almost dumped into cable TV, but fortunately, it got a theatrical release and became a cult classic. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have a great rapport, and much of their interaction is inexplicably hilarious. Overall, the movie is inconsistent, but for every moment that falls flat there are a couple that work, and the colorful array of historical characters chosen (Billy the Kid, Napoleon, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, etc.) adds to the fun.

Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish (2003)
Article 5466 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-31-2017
Directed by Tim Burton
Featuring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup
Country: USA
What it is: Drama…sort of

The son of a man dying from cancer tries to rebuild his relationship with him. He wishes to know the true story of his father’s life, but his father had a penchant for exaggeration and wild story-telling.

In some ways, this movie was a bit of a departure for Tim Burton, but in other ways, it is not. It is primarily a drama about a father/son relationship (though there is plenty of humor in the story as well), which is a novelty coming from Burton. However, since the story is laced with the father’s elaborate exaggerations, it gives Burton a chance to incorporate many fantastic elements; before it’s all over, you’ll encounter witches, giants, mermaids, Siamese twins and werewolves. The best performances come from Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney (both in the same role as the father, younger and older versions). The movie is packed with other familiar faces and names; I especially like Steve Buscemi as a poet turned bankrobber turned tycoon and Matthew McGrory as the giant. It’s an engaging and unusual film in which the central question becomes just how extensive the father’s exaggerations are; there’s a great scene near the end of the movie where we find that perhaps there was more truth in the father’s stories than you might have expected. I’ve not seen all of Burton’s oeuvre yet, but this ranks near the top of the ones I’ve seen.