Zasadil dedek repu (1945)

Article 5389 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-9-2017
Directed by Jiri Trnka
No cast
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: East European whimsy

An old man plants a beet in his garden.

The title translates as “Grandfather Planted a Beet”. It’s an early work from animator Jiri Trnka, who here works in the realm of hand-drawn animation rather than the puppet stop-motion style with which I’m mostly familiar from him. It’s a charming bit of whimsy without a shred of dialogue, so it’s one of those shorts that doesn’t require subtitles or translations. I’m not going to give away too much of the action here; it’s best enjoyed as it unfolds at its own pace. I will say that the fantastic content turns out to be that the beet grows to massive proportions before the short is over. There’s almost a sense of mime to the way the characters move and communicate in this one. This one is cheery and pleasing.


Zvenigora (1928)

Article 5380 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2017
Directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Featuring Georgi Astafyev, Nikolai Nademsky, Vladimir Uralsky
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Avant-garde folk fantasy

A centuries-old man guards the hidden treasure of Ukraine in the steppes of Zvenigora.

There are some movies you can go into without knowing anything about them in advance and have no problem appreciating them. There are others where it’s helpful if you know what you’re getting into. I went into this one cold and about thirty-five minutes into it, I found myself scrambling over to IMDB to see if there was some plot thread I had forgotten to pick up. It was only then that I discovered that the movie was a non-linear avant-garde movie. I wish I had known that at the outset; I think I would have gone into it with a different frame of mind, and I wouldn’t have gotten frustrated. I’ve encountered Dovzhenko before with ARSENAL, and I remember that one being a little difficult as well, and if I’d remembered that before I started this movie, that would have helped as well. At any rate, once I overcome my frustration and adjusted my expectations, I found some of this fascinating; the two scenes which involve attempted self-executions (one by firing squad, another by post-lecture suicide) are quite fascinating. There’s a lot of war footage as well as footage of industry in action. Does it all make sense? I’m not sure; I may have to give it another viewing. However, when I do, I hope it’s with a better copy of the movie than the one I have; I hear tell cinematography is excellent, but that’s a bit hard to appreciate with the copy I found. There are magical scenes involving the treasure, so there is genre content. For the moment, I think I need to refrain from any judgment about the movie.

Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

Article 5379 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2017
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, George Sidney, and five others
Featuring William Powell, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland
Country: USA
What it is: Revue style musical

Ziegfeld in heaven ruminates on when he was alive and produced his Follies, and decides he would like to do one more, which he plans, and we see.

The fantastic content is right there in the plot description, so that’s taken care of. Of course, there is no overall plot to this one; it’s a compendium of song and dance numbers interspersed with comedy sections. The use of color and the set design is top-notch throughout; the movie is worth catching for this alone. It also helps that four of the sequences feature Fred Astaire, one of which even pairs him up with Gene Kelly. My favorite sequences include an early sequence in which puppets are used to re-create an original Follies production, an underwater ballet featuring Esther Williams, and an atmospheric, evocative and brilliant sequence that takes place in Chinatown called “Limehouse Blues”. Some of the sequences and moments are just weird; we have Lucille Ball taming dancing cat women with a whip, Judy Garland singing a jazzy song about the invention of the safety pin, and a big production number that uses colored soap suds. The movie’s weakest segments are generally the comic sections; with the exception of the one featuring Red Skelton, they seem stiff and forced and they fall flat. Still, when it works, it works very well, and though I’ve never been a big musical buff, it held my attention.

Ztracena tvar (1965)

aka The Lost Face
Article 5159 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-16-2016
Directed by Pavel Habl
Featuring Jana Brejchova, Jana Brezkova, Vlastimil Brodsky
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Comic medical science fiction

A doctor researching face transplants can’t get funding for his research, so he agrees to transplant a gangster’s face with that of one of his victims for a lot of money. However, complications arise and the doctor discovers he’s going to have to change his own face as well.

I was able to find a copy of this, but not one with English subtitles. This is a pity, as I’m quite fond of Czech science fiction, and though the existence of a few plot descriptions did help me have some idea of what was going on in this movie, the subtleties escaped me. Therefore, I can’t really give an adequate review of the movie as such, but it does seem quite amusing and appears to be very well acted. One element that does come through is that after the doctor’s own change of face, he finds himself reliving various elements of his life in the previous face, only with noticeable changes in the way the action pans out. This one looks quite interesting, though I’m told it gets a bit preachy before all is through. Nevertheless, I’m glad for the chance to see it.

Zombie Island Massacre (1984)

Article 5097 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-3-2016
Directed by John N. Carter
Featuring David Broadnax, Rita Jenrette, Tom Cantrell
Country: USA
What it is: Not what you think it is and nothing you’d want to see

After witnessing a voodoo ceremony, several vacationers in the Caribbean find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, and something is picking them off one by one…

When I saw CANNIBALS, I made the note that most of the alternate titles had the word “zombie” in the title, and I pondered on the fact that though there were indeed zombies in the movie, they largely served as minions and racked up no body count. But…at least it HAD zombies. Which is not to say that a body count is not racked up here – in fact, the murders come so thick and fast at a certain point, you’ll wonder if the movie will be longer than forty-five minutes. But when you find out what’s racking up the body count, it will be the final nail in the coffin of this one. And I do mean “final nail”; the lifeless direction, the characterless characters, the bland dialogue, and the listless pace will most likely have drained your will to pay attention by that point. I always wondered why the only comments I ever found on this movie highlighted Rita Jenrette’s nude scene near the beginning of the movie; it’s about the only thing worth remembering. And you know a movie is shoddy when it can’t even be bothered to find enough background music to cover the closing credits.

By the way, IMDB lists the length of this movie as 95 minutes. My print ran 84 minutes. I consider this a blessing in disguise; about the only thing that other eleven minutes could add to this movie is running time.

Zero for Conduct (1933)

aka Zero de conduite: Jeunes diables au college
Article 4862 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-4-2015
Directed by Jean Vigo
Featuring Jean Doste, Robert le Flon, Louis Lefebvre
Country: France
What it is: Surreal school rebellion

Several students stage a rebellion at their dictatorial boarding school.

I don’t know if I’m going to end up covering the whole oeuvre of Jean Vigo, but I’ve covered half of his output in the last week. He was the son of an anarchist who had a troubled childhood and suffered from ill health his whole life; he died at the age of 29 having made only four movies. His style was clearly ahead of his time, and his work was initially banned in France; it didn’t get much distribution until after WWII. This is a strange movie, full of surreal imagery that occasionally slips over into the realm of the fantastic (a disappearing ball and a drawing that comes to life are its most notable manifestations). The strange textures he created with water in the Jean Tarin film are here recreated with the use of pillow feathers near the end of the movie. I can’t quite evaluate it at this point; it’s one of those movies that may require several viewings to fully appreciate, but it is clearly innovative and proved quite influential.

Zapped! (1982)

ZAPPED! (1982)
Article 4542 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-23-2014
Directed by Robert J. Rosenthal
Featuring Scott Baio, Willie Aames, Robert Mandan
Country: USA
What it is: Teen comedy with telekinesis

A high school science student has a lab accident that gives him telekinetic powers. Hilarity ensues.

The one thing that really struck me about this teen comedy was that it never really seemed to decide what it wanted to be. Most of the movie feels like a Disney shopping cart movie (albeit one with little in the way of energy or inspiration), but when it doesn’t feel like one, it goes for ANIMAL HOUSE-like crudity and sex comedy with lots of nudity. However, one aspect of the movie remains utterly consistent; it is witless throughout. Not only did I not laugh once throughout the movie, I hardly ever even got close to being vaguely amused; the closest I ever got was early on, when I heard the explanation for the diving mice experiment. There are scattered references to other movies; TAXI DRIVER, CARRIE and THE EXORCIST come to mind, but they don’t really add more than a vague sort of annoyance to the proceedings. You know, when it comes to movie-watching, I don’t think anything is quite as depressing as a comedy that totally fails to amuse, and I think this is one of the worst examples I’ve encountered in some time; even the execrable THE WORM EATERS was funnier.

Zelig (1983)

ZELIG (1983)
Article 3999 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2012
Directed by Woody Allen
Featuring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Country: USA
What it is: Fake documentary comedy/satire

The story is told of a celebrity of the twenties, a man named Leonard Zelig who is a “human chameleon”; he takes on the physical characteristics and viewpoints of those that surround him.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this movie that it was one of those rare cases where I went out to catch it at a movie theater. I ended up being mildly disappointed at the time, and mostly appreciated it for its stunning visual trickery, whereby Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were incorporated into actual footage of the period, most noticeably in a sequence during an Adolf Hitler rally. I liked it much better on my recent viewing; I can now appreciate more its satirical views of the desire to be liked, the need to conform, and the vicissitudes of fame. I also couldn’t help but notice how, in some ways, the story parallels that of the movie version of THE ELEPHANT MAN. Still, I do think Woody Allen is an odd choice to play a man who has no personality of his own while trying his best to adopt the personalities of everyone around him; Allen has a very distinctive personality, and in the scenes where we hear his voice, you mostly get the sense that he’s playing himself again. Had the movie been formatted in such a way that we actually saw Zelig interacting with the people he’s imitating, it most likely would have required an actor of much greater range. Still, Allen does have a grasp of the psychological underpinnings of the character, which is probably the reason he wrote and directed the movie in the first place. And the footage throughout does look pretty authentic.

Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978)

aka Dracula’s Dog
Article 3936 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2012
Posting Date: 5-23-2012
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Michael Pataki, Jan Shutan, Libby Chase
Country: USA / Italy
What it is: Vampires with fleas

When a vampire’s tomb is unearthed in Romania, a half-vampire manservant of Dracula’s is revived as well as a vampiric dog. Together they seek the last of the Dracula line, who is living in Los Angeles. Their mission – to turn the man into a vampire so they can serve him.

Okay, I’ll buy that if Dracula had a dog, he’d name him something other than Fido or Rover. The movie has a pretty bad reputation, and although I think it’s a little better than that, I mean by only a hair. The biggest problem is the rather silly plot, though it’s not appreciably sillier than the title would lead you to believe. There’s a scene of a dog having a flashback, lots of close-ups of Reggie Nalder (I think Nalder has a great face for a horror movie, but it’s possible to overuse him, and this movie does so), a side character whose only purpose in the movie is to be torn to shreds, lots of glowing dog eyes, and a twist ending that won’t surprise anyone because it’s been set up a little too memorably to be forgotten by the time it’s needed. Despite the silly story, it still might have worked had the direction been stronger; as it is, the title is really the most memorable thing about the movie.

Zombie (1979)

ZOMBIE (1979)
aka Zombi 2
Article 3533 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2011
Posting Date: 4-17-2011
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy
What it is: Zombie movie

When a doctor’s sailboat drifts into New York with the crew missing, the doctor’s daughter and a reporter seek the island the doctor was known to have visited. But the island is overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and they’re hungry…

When George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD played abroad, it did so under the title ZOMBIE. This movie was made as an unauthorized sequel with the title ZOMBIE 2, though it was released in the US as just ZOMBIE. I have yet to see the Romero film, so I can’t make a comparison. Most of the reviews I’ve seen mention two scenes in the movie – the Zombie vs Shark battle and the scene with the wooden splinter. These two scenes probably stand out because they’re the most memorable moments during the first half of the movie, and though in some ways they can be a bit impressive, they also feel a bit out of place, as if they were thrown in to keep the first half of the movie from dragging. Once the people in the boat finally reach the island, the pace picks up quite a bit, and the final twenty minutes probably owes more to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD than its sequel. In the final analysis, the movie is not bad; it does work itself up to a decent amount of suspense in the final half, though I do think some of the characters act rather stupidly. This is probably Fulci’s most famous movie in the US, though his best work was probably in some of the giallos he made during the seventies. It’ll be interesting to compare it to DAWN OF THE DEAD when I eventually get around to seeing that one.