Byakuya no yojo (1958)

aka The Temptress and the Monk
Article 5343 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-12-2017
Directed by Eisuke Takazawa
Featuring Yumeji Tsukioka, Ryoji Hayama, Tadashi Kobayashi
Country: Japan
What it is: Eerie Japanese horror/fantasy

A monk, lost in a sinister forest, seeks refuge at a house where a woman lives with her dwarf husband. She seduces passers-by and turns them into animals, but will she do so to the monk?

This is another one that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but it apparently popped up on YouTube and someone pointed me the way to it. It’s in Japanese without English subtitles, but a basic plot description helped me to follow it, and though some of the plot details eluded me, I found it quite enjoyable. It’s well acted, has a nice visual sense, and has a lot of eerie atmosphere. In particular, I liked the use it made of animal sounds; every time you hear one you wonder if it’s made by one of the women’s conquests. The movie has only a mediocre reputation based on its rating on IMDB, and perhaps it’s less satisfying if you can understand the language, but on the terms that I saw it, I found it satisfying enough.

La brulere de mille soleils (1965)

aka The Burning of a Thousand Suns
Article 5331 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2016
Directed by Pierre Kast
Featuring the voices of Pierre Vaneck and Barbara Laage, and Barbara Aptekman
Country: France
What it is: Animated Science fiction short

A man travels to another planet and falls in love with a woman there. However, whenever they try to make love, six people show up in their bedroom.

This one has been on my hunt list for some time, but it proved rather elusive, so I’m glad that it showed up on Vimeo. Unfortunately, it is in French without English subtitles, and given that the style is that of very limited animation (it mostly comes across like a series of narrated pictures), there’s not much to be gotten from the action, such as it is. What little I know about is based on some rather vague plot descriptions I stumbled across, and it may be about (unless I misunderstood) the differences of mores between two cultures. The visual style is like a combination of the UPA look and woodcuts, and though most of it is very static, it does look interesting. The movie delves into live action towards the end, mostly of shots of beautiful women smiling into the camera; the significance of these scenes is no doubt buried in the narration. I enjoyed it, but I can’t say I can really evaluate it.

The Bad Lord Byron (1949)

Article 5295 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-11-2016
Directed by David MacDonald
Featuring Dennis Price, Mai Zetterling, Joan Greenwood
Country: UK
What it is: Biography

Lord Byron finds himself on trial in a heavenly court. Was he good or evil?

I love a movie that brings history to life. Unfortunately, this static talkfest isn’t one of them. The fantastic content is there in the plot description; it’s used as a framing device to set up stories from his life. Like too many cinematic biographies, it’s far more interested in his love life than any of his other accomplishments, and most of the movie consists of long conversations between him and the women who knew him. The direction is perfunctory and Price’s performance in the title role fails to make the character much fun. You know a movie is disappointing when you see Ernest Thesiger’s name in the cast and you almost miss him because he barely registers in his role. Lord Byron could well be the subject of an interesting movie, but that’s not this one.

Brasil ano 2000 (1969)

BRASIL ANO 2000 (1969)
aka Brazil Year 2000
Article 5249 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2016
Directed by Walter Lima Jr.
Featuring Anecy Rocha, Enio Goncalves, Hello Fernando
Country: Brazil
What it is: Allegorical / Satirical Science Fiction

After World War III, three wanderers in Brazil impersonate Indians in order to get food. They meet a reporter who is seeking to show the hypocrisy of the post-apocalyptic government.

I’m glad I found a few short plot descriptions of this one; the copy I found was in Portuguese without English subtitles, and I don’t think I would have even been able to cobble together that much of a plot description without them. No, I wasn’t really able to follow the story , but I’m not sure I’d have been able to follow it very well even if it had had subtitles, as it has something of a non-linear arthouse feel about it. However, it does have some surreal moments that did keep the viewing somewhat interesting; I was particularly intrigued by a musical number celebrating a rocket, and a climactic battle between two of the characters fighting each other with giant cutlery (I assume that symbolically this means something, but what it is is quite beyond me). On a gut level, I feel that the movie is good-but-not-great, but I’m hardly watching it under the best of circumstances here, am I? At any rate, here’s another one I can cross off the list.

Bosko’s Mechanical Man (1933)

Article 5248 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-13-2016
Directed by Hugh Harman
Featuring the voices of Rochelle Hudson and Johnny Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Early Warner Brothers cartoon

Bosko creates a robot in the hopes it will help do the dishes, but the robot goes wild and wreaks havoc.

Warner Brothers earliest star was Bosko, who could perhaps be described as a black boy, but he’s best approached as a human variation on Mickey Mouse, which was probably what was intended. This cartoon is from the days before Porky was created, so it’s not up to the level of their classic era. However, for one of their early cartoons, it’s not too bad; though much of the humor falls flat, the robot itself is a pretty wild creation, and it’s very well animated. It also adds the fantastic content to this cartoon; given that Bosko and Honey or more-or-less human, it can’t get in genre-wise by the anthropomorphic animal route. Furthermore, when the robot goes wild, Bosko describes it as a “Frankensteen”. This one is no classic, but it may be one of the better cartoons from this studio during this era.

Birdy and the Beast (1944)

Article 5247 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-12-2016
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Robert Clampett
Country: USA
What it is: Tweety cartoon

A tiny bird finds himself threatened by a hungry cat, but the bird isn’t exactly helpless…

In terms of its fantastic content, this cartoon is the usual thing – anthropomorphic animals performing impossible gags. It is only the second of the Tweety cartoons, and though part of his character is already in place (the bizarre speech impediment, for example), it still isn’t quite the Tweety of the later cartoons; he’s pink rather than yellow (making him look like he’s been plucked), and the character hasn’t quite developed the unflappable innocence he has in the later cartoons; he sometimes shows that he’s fully aware of the damage he’s doing. Nor has he yet been paired with Sylvester; though the black and white cat here bears a certain resemblance to him, he is clearly a different character. The action is a bit wilder than your usual Tweety cartoon, mostly due to the fact that this one is from Robert Clampett rather than Friz Freleng. It’s a good cartoon, but it is a transitional one, and is best taken as such.

La belle au bois dormant (1935)

aka Sleeping Beauty
Article 5235 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2016
Directed by Alexander Alexeieff
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Freaked-out fairy tale

A prince journeys through a castle to find and waken Sleeping Beauty.

If yesterday’s movie was a somewhat inconsequential entry in Alexeieff’s oeuvre, this one is not. It’s a surreal but balletic puppet animation telling of the climax of the Sleeping Beauty story, with rather trippy and somewhat abstract moments. In some ways, Alexeieff comes off here as a slightly less grotesque version of Wladyslaw Starewicz, but the style has a very different feel to it. I really can’t describe this one, and it doesn’t really work on a linear level; it plays with its various ideas, and even throws in characters from other fairy tales; Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood pop up. This marks the third Alexeieff movie I’ve seen, and all three of them have proven to be very different from each other. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Brave Little Tailor (1939)

Article 5179 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-9-2016
Directed by Bill Roberts
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney, Marcellite Garner, Eddie Holden
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fairy tale whimsy

A tailor kills seven flies with one blow; when he brags about it, he is mistaken for a giant killer and is sent out to save the city from one.

This is another of Disney’s best cartoons, and it features Mickey Mouse well cast as the tailor who is suddenly thrown out of his depth when he faces off with a giant. It’s superbly animated and the gags are creatively rendered. The middle section is my favorite part; Mickey finds himself in constant danger from the giant’s actions before the giant is even aware Mickey exists; the sequence inside the giant’s mouth is quite amusing. I also remember a comic book adaptation of the short that used many of the images from it. Once again, this is Disney at his best.

The Beautiful Leukanida (1912)

aka Prekrasnaya Lyukanida
Article 5171 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-30-2016
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
No cast
Country: Russia
What it is: Insects at war

Two King Insects go to war over a beautiful princess.

Here’s another of Starewicz’s animated insect movies. There’s not a whole lot here from a plot perspective, but fortunately, the creativity and imagination Starewicz uses in staging his scenes is still strong. In particular, there’s a battle scene on the ramparts of a castle that is pretty impressive, especially because of the number of insects that appear in the scene. It’s not one of Starewicz’s better productions, but is still pretty solid, and fans of Starewicz will find much to enjoy.

Beanstalk Bunny (1955)

Article 5170 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan
Country: USA
What it is: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets the giant… only this time he has a rabbit for his companion.

Chuck Jones made four cartoons in which he incorporated the characters of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd; this is perhaps the least of them. This is perhaps because the other three used them as a comedy team adept at verbal gymnastics, the end result being that Bugs always bamboozled Elmer into shooting Daffy rather than him. This one takes a more conventional route by casting them in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, with Daffy as Jack, Elmer as the Giant, and Bugs as a rabbit who just happens to follow along (not a regular character in the story). Nonetheless, this is still a solid Warner Brothers cartoon, with two great lines (one is Elmer’s comment when he picks up a pepper mill, and the other is Daffy’s first line after having been caught in a mousetrap), and some fun slapstick. One of the odd touches of this one is that the characters know they’re playing characters in a fairy tale, so we get some self-referential humor as well. The cartoon also has one of my three favorite moments in which Bugs Bunny proves the effectiveness of tripping an enemy.