Electric Dreams (1984)

Article 4576 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-11-2014
Directed by Steve Barron
Featuring Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Science fiction romance

A nerdy architect buys a computer to keep himself organized. A freak accident causes the computer to become sentient, and when it begins making music for a beautiful female cellist who has moved to a floor above, she thinks it’s the architect and initiates a romance with him. The architect tries to hide the truth from her, but the computer is intent on meeting the woman, and it’s gaining power…

I’m not sure what it would have been like to have seen this movie when it was new, but watching it now is somewhat akin to entering another dimension, especially when one considers how the computer works in comparison with current computer technology. It has the primitive look and graphics of computers from the eighties, but it has a working touch screen, is capable of running all of the appliances in the house, is capable of independently composing music, emulates human speech, etc. In its time, these innovations would have probably been considered sheer fantasy, but when I look at what computers are capable of doing nowadays, the movie seems suddenly prescient. As for the story itself, in some ways it’s as old as the hills; it’s a love triangle in which one point consists of a sentient computer. Part of me feels this movie shouldn’t work, but I end up quite liking the characters (particularly Virginia Madsen’s cellist character), and I find myself caring quite a bit what happens to them. The music by Giorgio Moroder is actually quite good, and I did recognize the hand of ELO leader Jeff Lynne in a couple of the compositions. In the end, I liked this one much more than I thought I would, but at least part of that is the fascination of seeing a movie from thirty years ago envisioning the future of computing. Incidentally, Bud Cort supplies the voice for the computer.

Eureka (1983)

EUREKA (1983)
Article 4560 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-12-2014
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Featuring Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Stylistic drama

During the twenties, a prospector becomes the richest man alive after discovering a mountain of gold. Twenty years later, he finds his life beset by problems with family relationships and threatened by a mob that wants an island he possesses.

If there’s one thing I can count on in a Nicolas Roeg film, it’s that it will have its share of stylistic flourishes, and the movie at its most interesting when it’s at its most stylistic; the opening twenty minutes and a brutal murder two-thirds of the way through will be the scenes that linger the longest. As for the rest, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge; it’s a drama/love story/gangster thriller that owes (somewhat self-consciously) something to CITIZEN KANE, and there are references to “Alice in Wonderland” as well as to the Utopian novel “Erewhon”. It’s interesting but not quite satisfying. Dramatically, I’m not sure how I feel about it, nor am I particularly satisfied with it at the ending. It is very well acted, however, and it has quite a few familiar actors in it, such as Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci. The fantastic aspects are a bit harder to pin down; some of the stylistic touches give it a sense of fantasy, and there are occult references and a voodoo ceremony thrown in the mix, but it’s hard to say if these touches ever push it into the realm of the fantastical.

Echoes (1982)

ECHOES (1982)
Article 4527 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-7-2014
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Featuring Richard Alfieri, Gale Sondergaard, Ruth Roman
Country: USA
What it is: Ghost story of sorts

An artist is plagued by vivid dreams from a past life. It turns out that he has an enemy from the past who is trying to manifest himself into the artist’s current life.

In some ways, this comes across as one of the most professionally made of the movies I’ve seen lately. It’s well acted, has a decent visual sense, has a few familiar names in the cast (Sondergaard, Roman and Merecedes McCambridge), and has a potentially interesting premise in that the ghost that continues to haunt the artist down through the ages attempts to manifest himself as a twin of the artist, but who was miscarried in the womb. But the way all this supernatural material manifests itself in terms of the action of the movie is that the artist becomes increasingly rude and unpleasant, especially towards his dancer girlfriend. As a result, despite the fantastic elements, the movie mostly plays out like a really bad romantic drama, and the more the artist acts like a jerk, the less I find myself caring about him or his plight. After a while, I found myself hoping for a really downbeat ending, and I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers intended. In short, this one doesn’t work.

El extrano caso del Doctor Fausto (1969)

aka The Strange Case of Doctor Fausto
Article 4447 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-11-2014
Directed by Gonzalo Suarez
Featuring Gonzalo Suarez, Alberto Puig, Olga Vidali
Country: Spain
What it is: Art film

A narrator tells the story of the strange case of Dr. Fausto.

My copy of this movie is in Spanish without English subtitles, and I really couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. Usually, when this happens, it’s because the movie mostly tells itself through conversation and dialogue, and generally the movies are light on the visuals. However, that’s not the case here. This movie is primarily visual; almost all of the dialogue takes place in the form of narration by the actor who also plays Mephistopheles; the rest of the scenes have no dialogue at all. No, the problem is that it’s more of an art film than anything else, and the visual scenes do not appear to be telling any sort of story that I could make out. Individually, some of them are compelling and interesting to look at, but their significance and their relationships to the Faust story are obscure to me. That it’s inspired by the Faust story is obvious; the cast list on IMDB has characters for Faust, Mephistopheles, Helen of Troy and Marguerite. I’m not even sure if the movie would make much sense to me if I understood the narration. As a result, I can’t really say much about this one, though I will say that it was often interesting to look at.

The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972)

Article 4425 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-19-2014
Directed by Reza Badiyi
Featuring Peter Haskell, Joan Bennett, Barbara Rush
Country: USA
What it is: Supernatural visions drama

Upon the death of his uncle, a man inherits the ability to see mystical visions. He encounters a disturbed girl who believes her brother is dead and her relatives are covering up. He decides to investigate.

The user comments on IMDB for this movie seem mostly to be from people who remember seeing this one as a kid and being terrified by it. It seems that the vision they most remember is seeing the guy at the beginning of the movie with no pupils for his eyes, and if anything, this convinces me that fake white contact lenses are a sure way to frighten children. As an adult, my reaction is somewhat different; I felt that the scene in question (and, for that matter, much of the rest of the movie) was trying way too hard to be scary, causing it to slide into the inadvertently comic. Ultimately, I found myself more annoyed by the movie than anything. I was especially bothered by the way the heroine is portrayed; Sharon Farrell goes all out to convince us that she’s a mental basket case, but the reality of the movie is that she’s supposed to be sane and is only being framed as being crazy. Add to that another woman who is really crazy but acts totally sane during the first part of the movie and only flipping out later when it’s convenient for the plot, and you’ve got another case where you can see the strings being pulled all too obviously. I did, however, like the fact that when the hero catches the villains in a lie, he doesn’t immediately let on that they’ve been caught and confront them, but is smart enough to know to proceed with caution. In short, this one didn’t really work for me, and given the somewhat tiresome nature of the histrionics, I’m not totally surprised that this was another unsold TV series pilot. Maybe I would have liked it better had I seen it as a kid.

L’Epee du spirite (1910)

aka The Spirit of the Sword
Article 4390 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-12-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A stranger arrives at an inn and demonstrates the power of his magic sword to those present. When he settles down for the night, a manservant absconds with the sword, but finds it difficult to control…

I didn’t know the French title when this film entered my hunt list, but once I consigned it to my “ones that got away” list, not only was I given the French title, but I discovered that I had it in a collection of Segundo de Chomon shorts I had. I can’t say for sure whether it was directed by Chomon or not, but it is definitely a Melies-inspired compendium of special effects, though Melies would have probably kept all of the action in one room for so slight a plot. The special effects are amusing enough, though I’d imagine that this type of trick short was getting old by this time. In short, this is passably entertaining, if not great.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Article 4367 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-15-2013
Directed by Robert Clouse
Featuring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Country: Hong Kong / USA
What it is: Martial arts mayhem

A martial arts master of the Shaolin temple is recruited to go to a tournament being hosted by crime lord in the hopes that he will find evidence for his arrest.

I’ve covered a handful of martial arts movies for my project, but this is the first one that actually stars Bruce Lee, the master of the form. In fact, this one seems to be considered the quintessential Bruce Lee movie, and it certainly illustrates the intensity, athleticism and charisma of the man; in his martial arts movies, he was a man whose presence electrified the screen. The story itself is nothing special; it’s basically something of a James Bond movie with Bond replaced by a martial arts master. It’s Lee’s intensity and the stylish sequences directed by Robert Clouse that sell the movie, with the sequence in a hall of mirrors easily being the most memorable in the movie. Certainly, it’s the best produced of the movies of this genre I’ve covered, and the fact that it is an American co-production means that it avoids the dubbing issues which make many of the other movies of this form seem so cheesy.

However, there is an issue here as to whether the movie really qualifies as falling within the genres I’m covering. It’s listed in the Lentz film credit books, which have a number of entries that are questionable. Despite certain similarities to the James Bond movies, it lacks the gadgetry that nudges them into science fiction, and even classifying it as a marginal fantasy is a real stretch. At this point, I’d have to say that from a fantastic genre standpoint, this one is a false alarm.