Jabberwocky (1977)

Article 4001 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-10-2012
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Featuring Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier
Country: UK
What it is: Comic adventure fantasy

A hapless cooper, forced to leave his small village in the hopes of making it in the city, becomes embroiled in a quest to slay and defeat a hideous monster.

I looked through the trivia section for this movie on IMDB before I started writing this review, and I discovered one piece of information that explains a lot; apparently, the movie was shot with such a low budget that many of the scenes had to be shot in a single take. This explains to me why much of the movie seems messy and muddled and why some of the humor falls flat, and rather than faulting director Terry Gilliam (who was here engaging in his first solo directorial effort of a full-length motion picture) for the mess, I actually end up admiring that he kept it together as well as he did. There are touches that I’ve come to expect from Gilliam, such as that his portrayal of the dark ages was about as squalid as he could make it, and that he has a real flair for the visual sense of dark fantasy, and, to be truthful, the actual monster was much better than I expected it to be, given the film’s budget. Still, there are problems with the script (which he co-wrote); the first half is something of an aimless mess, and the often crude humor often lacks the intelligent panache I’d expect from a member of Monty Python. Nonetheless, the second half works much better, and overall, I was satisfied with the movie. Outside of Michael Palin in the lead role, other Pythons that show up include cameos by Terry Jones and Gilliam himself. The movie is based, of course, on the poem by Lewis Carroll. Gilliam is actually one of the few directors who I think might have actually done a worthy job of bringing Carroll’s Alice books to cinematic life, but this is probably about as close as we’re going to get.

The Jungle Book (1967)

Article 3937 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2012
Posting Date: 5-25-2012
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Featuring the voices of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fantasy

An abandoned baby is raised by wolves in the jungle. When a man-hating tiger returns to the area, a panther undertakes to escort the young boy to the man-village for safety, but the boy wants to remain in the jungle and runs away. Can the panther and a bear befriended by the boy save him before he encounters the tiger?

This is the first movie I actually saw in a theater, so it’s no surprise that I have a real affection for the movie. Had there been home video in those days, I probably would have gotten a copy and seen it over and over again. As it is, many years passed before I saw it again, and by that time, I’d had a chance to see many of Disney’s other animated features, and I came to the sad realization that it didn’t rank with the company’s very best work. Watching it now, I think the primary problem I have with it is that its episodic structure makes the movie seem a bit aimless, and though there is talk of Shere Khan the tiger, he really doesn’t appear until the movie is half over. I think the movie would have worked better had Shere Khan appeared much earlier in the action; it would have added an urgency to the trek to bring the boy to the village. I do like the choice of George Sanders as the voice of the tiger. Still, the one thing I remember most from the initial viewing in the theater is Mowgli’s encounter with the orangutan king, and that remains my favorite musical moment from the movie. And if I don’t place the movie in the front rank of Disney’s animated features, I do at least recognize it as being one of the strongest of Disney’s animated movies from that period in their history.

Jack Frost (1965)

aka Morozko
Article 3908 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2012
Posting Date: 4-26-2012
Directed by Aleksandr Rou
Featuring Aleksandr Khvylya, Natalya Sedykh, Eduard Izotov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Fairy tale

A young man meets and falls in love with a young woman, but the path of true love does not run smooth. The young man is given the head of a bear by a mushroom, and must learn humility to return to normal, while the girl is tormented by an evil stepmother and then abandoned in a forest in the middle of winter. Can the two lovers find happiness?

This is one bizarre fairy tale. The plot involves a magic mushroom man, a grandfatherly personification of winter, a witch that lives in a hut with chicken legs, a gang of bandits, a pig that turns into a sled, and ambulatory trees, to start with. It’s all thrown together with a manic energy that leaves your head swimming. The music is equally bizarre, but I can actually say it didn’t annoy me, and I think leaving the lyrics in some of the songs in Russian rather than translating them into English was a good idea. As a result of the movie’s strangeness (and also because the movie was featured on MST3K), the movie is often dismissed in this country as merely bad, but I prefer to not look at it that way. I myself get the feeling that the movie is steeped in fairy tales of another culture; for one thing, I DO recognize the character of Baba Yaga, who I recognized as a common folklore character in certain cultures. In the end, there’s an air of authenticity to this movie that makes it an interesting watch, and I suspect that it relies on archetypes from another culture that can’t be easily translated.

Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)

Article 3886 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2012
Posting Date: 4-4-2012
Directed by Gisaburo Sugii
Featuring the voices of Jack Grimes, Corinne Orr, Billie Lou Watt
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Animated fairy tale

Jack, humiliated at having traded the family cow for some magic beans, is startled to find that the beans are really magic and have grown into a giant beanstalk. He climbs up it, and finds himself in the kingdom of the clouds, where he has to save a princess from a witch and a giant.

With a rating of 7.4 on IMDB, one thing is for sure; this movie has its fans. But I’ve come to expect that with any children’s movie; since they’re usually the first ones we see in our lives, they have a strong chance of becoming old favorites. Personally, I can’t stand the music in this one, though I will admit that it’s somewhat offbeat, and the movie does use it in interesting ways. The movie takes a few liberties with the original story; it throws in a princess and a witch to complicate things, and the witch is the real villain, since the giant is something of a half-wit who can’t even bring himself to say anything resembling “Fee Fi Fo Fum” (and for some reason, it just doesn’t seem like “Jack and the Beanstalk” without the phrase). In some ways, the giant could even be considered a hero in the story, given the role he ultimately plays; one almost wishes that he didn’t suffer his expected demise and went back and lived in a cave somewhere. There’s a few surreal touches here and there to add to the fun, but I’d certainly like this one a lot better if the music didn’t grate on me.

Jekyll and Hyde: Pact With the Devil (1969)

aka Pacto diabolico, Diabolical Pact
Article 3874 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2012
Posting Date: 3-23-2012
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring John Carradine, Regina Torne, Miguel Angel Alvarez
Country: Mexico
What it is: Jekyll and Hyde variation

A colleague of the late Dr. Jekyll is trying to come up with a formula for eternal youth so that he can become young again and continue his experiments. However, his younger self turns into a monstrous killer.

This Mexican horror movie adds a bit of American star power by including John Carradine in the cast. However, one of the appeals of Carradine is hearing his rich, sonorous voice, and since in this subtitled version of the movie his voice has been dubbed by someone who can speak Spanish, we’re robbed of that voice. Actually, the most fun I had out of this movie was imagining Carradine’s voice while reading the subtitles for his character; beyond that, this is a tired, static movie, Mexican horror at its least inspired. It does come up with a few twists to the basic Jekyll and Hyde story, but they’re not particular good or original, and the repetitive sound effects and score (which on occasion gives you the feeling that you’re watching a silent movie) gets tiresome quickly. I’d been curious about this one for some time, but it’s a real disappointment.

Jekyll and Hyde… Together Again (1982)

Article 3790 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-19-2011
Posting Date: 12-30-2011
Directed by Jerry Belson
Featuring Mark Blankfield, Bess Armstrong, Krista Erickson
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

Brilliant surgeon Dr. Jekyll plans to give up surgery to concentrate on research in the hope of developing a drug that can increase the animal instinct of survival in human beings. He ends up addicted to a drug that turns him into a sex-starved maniac.

This parody of the Robert Louis Stevenson story is aggressive, energetic, and, with its obsession with sex, drugs and general crudeness, doesn’t allow anything like good taste stand in its way of getting a laugh. This would be all right if it actually accomplished its purpose, but, sadly, I didn’t laugh once. I’m not surprised it has a bit of a following; those who like general outrageousness, for example, will probably like this. I just wished it would pull back a little from the loud, obnoxious quality of the presentation; the movie seems to be working far too hard to get its laughs. As it is, the thing I like best about the movie is that the reason for Dr. Jekyll’s experiments seems to me to be one of the more convincing explanations for the research he’s doing, and that has little to do with the humor. The joke I found the funniest comes at the very end, and has to do with Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave, and I bet you can figure that out without seeing the movie. On a side note, the sexy nurse is none other than Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Article 3503 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2011
Posting Date: 3-18-2011
Directed by Dalton Trumbo
Featuring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-war drama

A young soldier suffers from a shell attack that leaves him a quadriplegic who is also unable to see, hear, or speak. The doctors and the military also believe he is brain-dead, but he is aware. How can he keep sane, and will he ever be able to communicate to those around him?

Like yesterday’s movie, this is also a winner at Cannes; it won the FIPRESCI Prize as well as the Grand Prize of the Jury. It’s also interesting to compare this to TRACKS, another anti-war movie with fantasy sequences that rise from the mind of its protagonist. But whereas the other movie lost a lot of its power due to a certain self-indulgence and lack of focus, this one remains focused and powerful, especially at the end. It’s also a rare instance where the author of a novel not only writes the screenplay (with a slight assist from Luis Bunuel) but gets to direct it as well. The movie is at its weakest when it tries to make its anti-war statement explicit, but this is fortunately confined to a stray statement here or there. Most of the movie is concerned with the protagonist’s trying to hold onto his sanity by exploring his past and dwelling on fantasy repercussions of those events; incidentally, the scenes with Donald Sutherland as Jesus Christ were written by Bunuel. The most emotionally involving scenes involve the protagonist trying to communicate with those around him; two of the most powerful scenes in the movie involve breakthroughs, one in which a nurse discovers a way to wish him a “Merry Christmas”, and the other when he finally figures out how to communicate with those outside of his mind. This would prove to be Trumbo’s sole directorial credit, and it is a truly powerful movie.