Los jueves, Milagro (1957)

Article 5344 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2017
Directed by Luis Garcia Berlanga
Featuring Richard Basehart, Jose Isbert, Paolo Stoppa
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Comedy /Satire

A group of men from a small village (once famed for its medicinal spa which then lost its power) decide to revive tourism by faking the miraculous appearance of a local saint. Things go well at first, but complications arrive when a stranger arrives in town who knows the truth about the miracle.

My copy of this movie is in Spanish without English subtitles, but the plot descriptions I found helped me through most of the movie; the action does become somewhat more obscure for me during the second half of the movie. The movie was directed by prominent Spanish film director Luis Garcia Berlanga, but reportedly it was held up from release for many years by censors, and what remains is a very watered-down version of what was intended. Still, I did get some enjoyment out of the movie; much of the humor is handled visually, and the scene where they first fake the appearance of the saint is a definite highlight of the movie. The fake miracle is the obvious initial fantastic content, but later developments augment that content and the movie becomes a fantasy of sorts; the first appearance of the stranger gives a definite clue to his secret. I liked this one, though the language limitations do mean that I can’t give a full evaluation of it.

The Jeep (1938)

THE JEEP (1938)
Article 5332 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer and Margie Hines
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

When Swee’Pea goes missing, Popeye employs the talents of his “magic dog” to track him down.

Usually when a Popeye cartoon does not add spinach and the super-powers it grants into the mix (like this one), it’s a little difficult to argue its inclusion in the realm of the fantastic. However, that’s no problem here; the Jeep, Popeye’s “magic dog”, is a legitimately fantastic character. He can disappear, defy gravity, and walk through walls. Bluto is absent from this cartoon, so the main story involves Popeye’s struggle to keep up with the Jeep as it tracks the baby. Jack Mercer gets to ad lib a lot of hilarious dialogue here, and you do have to wonder how Swee’Pea managed to get through some of obstacles encountered; that is, if the Jeep isn’t just leading Popeye on a pointless runaround. This one is a lot of fun.

Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse (1925)

Article 5307 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-27-2016
Directed by Henri Chomette
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Experimental film

No plot

I encountered Chomette just a couple of months ago with CINQ MINUTES DE CINEMA PUR, which didn’t do much for me due to its abundance of static shots. Apparently, he learned; this one is full of movement, with many of the shots being from fast moving trains and boats, which makes it much more interesting from a visual perspective. The opening sequences are shot through a prism, so the objects are unidentifiable, and here is where the fantastic content is, if there is any. The sequence where we see the lights in a train tunnel is interesting when it starts because we’re not sure what we’re looking at. There’s a few other tricks, including a clever transition from riding a train to riding a boat, and he uses fast motion and double exposure to good effect at times. Still, much of this is less effective nowadays, as many of the techniques in use here were used by more conventional movies; think of how many times you’ve seen trains running over you on ground level like it does here in other movies. At any rate, this is much better than the previous movie mentioned.

Joan the Woman (1916)

Article 5287 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-2-2016
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Featuring Geraldine Farrar, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth
Country: USA
What it is: Biography

The story of Joan of Arc is told.

Given that Joan of Arc heard voices and saw visions of angels, the fantastic content is already built into the story. However, the movie as such augments that content by having a few minor miracles (such as having Joan identify the true king of France when she is presented to a pretender) and by adding a framing story which throws reincarnation into the mix as well. Now I’m not intimately familiar with the full story of Joan of Arc, so I can’t say for sure what is true to the story and what is made up, but moments of this movie don’t ring true; certainly, the romance/betrayal subplot seems fake and largely exists to connect the framing story to the main biography. As for the movie itself, some of the spectacle is quite impressive during the Orleans battle sequence, some of it is silly (the flower sequence), and some of it is rather dull; the last third of the movie in particular drags badly. All in all, the movie was okay but too long, and it didn’t really blow me away.

La joie de vivre (1934)

Article 5242 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2016
Directed by Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Experimental but not abstract animation

Two women dance at a power station, but when one of them loses a shoe and it is picked up by a man, they lead him on a merry chase.

I have to admit that I was quite taken by this odd little animated film from France. The animation is elegant and fluid; in fact, it’s downright seductive. Unlike much experimental animation, this one has characters and something of a story. The short has a lovely flow to it; it’s fascinating to just watch these characters move around the screen. I’ve never heard of either of the directors, but from the looks of it, this is their only movie. It’s a shame; I myself would like to see what else they could have done in this field.

Japon de fantaisie (1909)

Article 5241 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-2-2016
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Exercise in stop-motion animation

That I’m foregoing a plot description of an Emile Cohl short should be no surprise; most of his work involves rushes of stream-of-consciousness images and doesn’t really have a story. Even by those standards, this one is slight. This short falls roughly into two segments. The first twenty seconds involves stop-motion animation involving Japanese figurines. The last forty seconds features an insect that hatches an egg of a Japanese mask, and mice emerge from the mouth of the mask. It’s mostly notable for Cohl trying his hand at stop-motion rather than his usual animated chalk drawings. However, with a running time of one minute, it’s over before it’s managed to work up any real impact; it seems more like a snippet of footage from something larger than a movie in and of itself, and maybe it is At any rate, this is hardly Cohl at his most interesting.

Jenkins and the Donkey (1911)

aka Tontolini e l’asino
Article 5178 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-8-2016
Director unknown
Featuring Polidor
Country: Italy
What it is: Silly comedy

A schoolboy steals a donkey and a bunch of balloons to join a parade, but ends up airborne along with the beast.

Here’s one that entered my “ones that got away” list a few days ago, and it prompted someone to point my way to an abbreviated version that was online; all it’s missing is part of the beginning, the ending, and a few title cards. It is a fairly amusing little short, but given the fact that the title character is holding the balloons which are otherwise not connected to the donkey, I can only marvel at the strength of his thighs at being able to carry the beast with him once he gets airborne. The Walt Lee guide describes the comic business with the balloons making the character airborne as the fantastic content, but if that seems more like comic exaggeration than full-blown fantastic content, then be aware that the story eventually deals with their encounter with angels as well. It’s silly, but fun.

The Jaws of Death (1976)

aka Mako: The Jaws of Death
Article 5125 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-5-2016
Directed by William Grefe
Featuring Richard Jaeckel, Jennifer Bishop, Buffy Dee
Country: USA
What it is: Shark snack time

A man develops a telepathic link to sharks, and woe to anyone who threatens one of his seafaring beasties…

Here’s another example of the work of low-budget Florida filmmaker William Grefe, and this one was no doubt inspired by a similarly titled Hollywood blockbuster by a certain Steven Spielberg. Certainly, the artwork on the DVD I found of this movie was clearly modeled off of that of this other movie, with the second word of the title easily the largest word on the cover. Grefe does not borrow the plot of his model though; after all, he can just borrow the same basic story as his own earlier movie STANLEY, only substituting sharks for snakes. Richard Jaeckel gives a good performance, but the script is slow and clumsy, the direction is weak, the sound is very bad, and it sounds like the score consists of about twenty seconds of music on an endless loop. In a way, this movie looks even cheaper and shoddier than some of this other movies, which is no mean feat. The movie does have a certain amount of interest value in that it doesn’t use mechanical sharks or cages, but there are also moments where it looks like real sharks were killed for the movie. The movie also features Harold ‘Oddjob’ Sakata and a man named Buffy Dee who may qualify as the most massive actor I’ve ever seen in a movie; be warned that he spends portions of the movie shirtless. There are a few points of interest here, but the production is too weak to sustain interest.

Journey to the Unknown (1969)

Article 5113 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2016
Directed by Don Chaffey and Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Featuring Joan Crawford, Vera Miles, Patty Duke
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Movie cobbled together from episodes of a TV series

Joan Crawford hosts two stories of endangered women. In the first, a mystery writer finds herself trapped in a library and transported into the past where a serial killer murdered a librarian. In the second, a woman trying to get rest at a seaside hotel finds herself threatened by a mysterious bespectacled figure.

This TV-Movie is cobbled together from two episodes of a British TV series produced by Hammer called “Journey to the Unknown”. The two episodes chosen were “Makahitas is Coming” and “The Last Visitor”. Based on the IMDB ratings, these were two of the highest rated episodes of the series, and they’re both quite good; the “Makahitas” episode (in the library) is particularly striking . As individual episodes, they receive an 8.3 and an 8.0 rating respectively. Yet, oddly enough, this movie is sitting on IMDB with an embarrassingly low 2.7 rating. Why? I don’t know. I doubt it’s the new footage of Joan Crawford introducing the episodes; the sequences are a bit on the awkward side, but they’re too brief to significantly impact the movie as a whole. It’s almost as if a group of people came in and gave the movie the lowest rating a propos of nothing. Yes, it should lose a few points for not really being a “movie”, but it actually works better than some other examples of this sort of thing I’ve found. As it is, it does make me curious about the series as a whole. I quite liked this one.

Journey Back to Oz (1972)

Article 5033 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2015
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Featuring the voices of Liza Minnelli, Milton Berle, Margaret Hamilton
Country: USA
What it is: Animated sequel to a classic

Another cyclone whisks Dorothy back to Oz, where she discovers a plot by the wicked witch Mombi to dethrone the Scarecrow at the Emerald City.

No, I didn’t expect this animated sequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ to match the quality of the original. It does, however, surpass the other musical animated sequel to the original that I’ve encountered, RETURN TO OZ from 1964, which serves as a better yardstick for comparison. For one thing, it chooses to base its story on another of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (“The Marvelous Land of Oz”) rather than jury-rigging a plot that does little more than rehash the original. It also has better songs than that one does; in fact, a few of these songs recall the spirit and jauntiness of those of the original movie, which means they got much closer than I thought they would. The movie does have a few direct associations with the original movie. Dorothy is voiced by Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, and former wicked witch Margaret Hamilton provides a voice as well, cast against type as Aunt Em here. The movie is not great, but it’s not too bad overall, and it even achieves a memorable sense of weirdness with a scene involve ambulatory trees in a haunted forest chopping at each other with a golden axe, which for some reason transforms them into giggling tree matrons. There’s quite a bit of star power in the voices here; along with those listed above, we have Mickey Rooney, Danny Thomas, Herschel Bernardi, Paul Lynde, Ethel Merman, and (to round out things a bit) Mel Blanc and Larry Storch.