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Don't really know what to make of this one
I'm somewhat of two minds about this instructional short, made for teachers and social workers who assisted the developmentally handicapped. One the one hand, it addressed a real need in the education of the developmentally disabled, who though they may lack the intellectual capabilities of others, still have to deal with their sexuality like anyone else, and need guidance in this area as much as anyone else. This film makes an honest (perhaps even heroic) effort to deal with this delicate topic with sensitivity and common sense. Moreover, the "trainables" (this rather patronizing term notwithstanding) are depicted with great respect for their dignity as human beings. And yet....
I found certain facets of this film's presentation a little disturbing. I'm not sure if it's the gaudy 1970's clothing and hair styles, or the use of very tight facial closeups (including several of the narrator, which offer the viewer several seconds of unflattering footage of every pore on his large pock-marked face). Then there are several extremely awkward minutes of a perky young teacher filling an entire blackboard full of slangy synonyms for the, ..., uh, ... membrum virile for the benefit of her bewildered students.
To this film's credit, it is really only risible to the extent that it makes the teachers seem goofy; the "trainables" are, in contrast, models of human dignity. It is certainly a product of the 1970's, a time in which the idealistic young of the 1960's were beginning to move into positions in which they could put their idealism into practice.
Make the knee test!
I like instructional shorts, generally. Sure, they often seem pretty goofy, but they did serve a purpose, and were generally progressive, despite their occasional tendency to encourage conformity, particularly to roles of gender and social class. But this one!
Is it really so important to maintain balance and good posture that it is necessary to compromise your dignity by placing your palms on your knees and swinging your can around in a circular motion? Besides, I actually tried making the Knee Test (strictly in the spirit of investigation, and in the privacy of my own home), and I honestly can't figure out what I was supposed to learn from it.
Sorry, but I'm just not buying this one.
They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
Goofy but enjoyable
Freddie Francis, who gave us Day of the Triffids and The Deadly Bees, among others, presents They Came From Beyond Space. Mr. Francis, who seems to have been Great Britain's answer to Roger Corman, obviously tried hard to make intelligent, compelling sci-fi movies, but was apparently restrained by tight schedules (and budgets).
This movie (based on a novel called "The Gods Hate Kansas"[???])is about a group of hyper-intelligent aliens who take over the minds of a group of brilliant scientists so they can enslave humans and build a spacecraft to allow the aliens to leave the moon, where they've been stranded, and return to their own planet. And the goofiness only begins there. There are many unintentionally funny moments in the movie (maybe not completely unintentional - it's hard to tell), such as the scene where the Main Scientist Guy discovers that the meteors that have landed in a Cornish farmer's field have come from the moon. The diagram that's apparently supposed to prove this is an ink drawing on a restaurant place mat with a large circle (maybe traced from a coffee cup bearing the bold legend "MOON".
Wow, I'm convinced!
There are many other funny scenes, but I don't want to reveal them for fear of spoiling the movie for our readers.
And spoilers they would be, for this movie, as goofy as it is (sometimes even looking like an old episode of Batman with Adam West) is actually very good. It is well written, the dialog is generally above average, the acting is good, and there is some genuine suspense. It's also refreshing to see a Pakistani actor cast in a prominent role, not as the Main Scientist Guy, but as the Auxiliary Scientist Guy, a brilliant man in his own right who assists Our Hero.
In short, this movie is worth seeing. You'll laugh, you'll be thrilled, etc. etc., etc. Best of all, you can probably get it on DVD for less than $10.
Cop Rock meets Rocky meets Superman
The strangest movie I've seen since "Popeye" - part action movie, part fantasy, part comedy and part musical, this movie stars Alan Arkin as a onetime Captain America-type superhero who fell into obscurity after being accused of being a Commie by a McCarthy-like politician. Now years later, a group of scientists, government officials and military types are trying to sober him up and bring him back to superhero trim so he may save the human race from a new peril.
That's the plot in a nutshell, but it's really the songs which make the movie. The President of the USA, annoyed at the bovine excreta being shoveled his way by his advisers, suddenly screams "B______t!", and turns the expletive into a snappy toe tapping tune. If you look carefully, you can see the actor playing the President trying to keep a straight face (and not quite succeeding).
This isn't a consistently good or entertaining movie, but the parts that are good and entertaining are well worth the $10 DVD price.
Speech: Using Your Voice (1950)
Plenty of Lip and Tongue Action!!!!
Professor E.C. Beuhler, having gained immortality (or was it infamy?) a year earlier by consenting to have himself filmed while making the Knee Test for the first "Speech" short, gets a speaking role in this sequel. But for a guy who seems to be such an expert on elocution, he seems to have an awfully raspy, sloppy voice. It's definitely not what I would call pleasing. However, the good professor wisely forgoes the opportunity to use himself as an object lesson, opting instead to parade before us even more pathetic examples of people who cannot be "heard, understood, or pleasing."
Incidentally, one of these poor souls is a rather well dressed man in what looks like a business meeting type of setting. This man incoherently mutters an odd rambling story of how he had his seat taken away from him at the bus station. Now what was the point of that story, and what was the situation that inspired its telling? That's what I want to know!
Beautiful but insubstantial
I really wanted to like this movie. The makers of this film obviously worked very hard on it and paid the most meticulous attention to detail. And it really is a beautiful movie to look at. But it's kind of like a really well presented plate of celery and whipped topping - pleasing to the eye, but it just doesn't fill you up.
As I watched the movie I kept thinking, "What's the problem? What bothers me about this movie?" It's true that there is hardly any plot (just a huge collection of action scenes) and that the dialog is really stupid. But that didn't really bother me; this is supposed (I guess) to be an homage to those old Saturday matinée serials they showed in movie theaters during the 1930's and '40's - it's juvenile on purpose. Then it hit me - those Indiana Jones movies already did this more than 20 years ago, and they did it much better.
It's never a good sign when the movie you're watching makes you think of other movies you like better.
So, sorry as I am to say, I guess I just didn't like this movie. At least I saw it at a matinée and didn't have to pay full price. That's some consolation.
The Projected Man (1966)
What's all this then?
Start with a knockoff of "The Fly" with the setting changed from Montreal to London (England, not Ontario) with added elements of "Darkman" (though that movie was still more than 20 years in the future). Add liberal amounts of nondescript English actors, add an officious bureaucrat who looks like G.I. Joe (the one with the fuzzy hair and beard) and a cute young blonde who spends much of the movie in her underwear. Fold in lots and lots and lots of talking and top off with Bryant Halliday in some pretty cool monster makeup, and you have this movie.
Was it any good? Well, it was OK, but a movie like this seems like it should have been much more interesting. David Cronenberg could have done this much better. Heck, Freddie Francis could have done this movie better....
The Mole People (1956)
Dull movie, great beginning
Although this movie boasts a great cast (including Hugh "Ward Cleaver" Beaumont, Alan "Alfred the Butler" Napier, Nestor "Indeterminate Foreign Guy" Paiva, and John Agar, the patron saint of cheesy '50's sci-fi films), it isn't much of a movie. The real standout, and the guy who really makes the movie is Dr. Frank C. Baxter, Professor of English at the University of Southern California. His tedious and pretentious introduction to the film, complete with halting delivery and awkward gestures gives the movie an element of risibilty that raises it marginally above mediocrity.
What was Dr. Baxter even doing there? He was a professor of English, not a scientist, or even a social scientist. His lone qualification, apart from large bald head and round rimmed glasses, seems to have been a stint as narrator of a series of classroom instructional shorts on science. But whatever may have been the rationale for his being there, I'm just glad he was there. As the good Dr. Baxter himself would say, "Down, down, down...."
X Marks the Spot (1944)
Drive safely and live long enough to win the war
This short, introduced by New Jersey's Commissioner of Something-or-Other Arthur W. Magee (who talks a lot like Arthur Q. Bryan), was made during World War Two. That is very significant in that the plea for safe driving is connected to patriotism - the soporific and indeterminate commissioner makes this explicit by saying that poor driving hampers the productivity of war workers by rendering them dead. If you're dead, you probably won't punch in on time at the aircraft plant tomorrow.
After Joe Doakes (a name which was evidently the 1940's equivalent of Joe Sixpack) demonstrates is ineptitude behind the wheel in a series of comical vignettes, the mood shifts drastically as Mr. Doakes comes a cropper at a dangerous intersection. He is then escorted by his guardian angel (who wears an academic gown and a winged mortarboard!) to the place of judgment.
There a celestial judge, who may or may not be God, interrogates the angel on how well he did or didn't look after the hapless Mr. Doakes when he was out motoring. Incidentally, the courtroom seemed to specialize in handling cases of sins committed against the motor vehicle laws of the State of New Jersey. That must be a really huge courthouse!
The angel defends his actions in a series of flashbacks showing Mr. Doakes lumbering his way through wartime New Jersey, which looks arrestingly to me like Malden, Mass. in the 1960's, when I lived there as a very small child.
Having hectored the angel for his supposed incompetence, the judge turns his wrath on Mr. Doakes, who is just now realizing that he won't be home for dinner that evening. The judge then breaks the fourth wall, calling upon us, the motoring public, to pass judgment on Mr. Doakes.
Guilty or not guilty? The jury will now deliberate....
Once Upon a Coffee House (1965)
A latter-day Miniver Cheevy
I was born in 1964. The world into which I was born was a fascinating place - Space Age optimism abounded, the War on Poverty was bravely being waged on several fronts, and rock music still had to contend with jazz and folk for the hearts and minds of the young.
However, before I could get to know this world, it changed beyond recognition. By the early '70's, only shadows remained of this world (for example, the folk-singing family who played at guitar Masses at my church).
This lost world inhabits the deepest recesses of my consciousness, and manifests itself in my fascination with movies from that period. Films like "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies" (to provide one example) provide a window into a time when bouffants, beehives, flips and cat's-eye glasses ruled the streets.
So when I ran across this movie, titled "Hootenany a-Go-Go", in the two-dollar bin of local video store, I salivated over another chance to live, even vicariously, in this lost time for an hour and a half or so. And on that score, it didn't disappoint. Sure, the canned folk music was mostly awful, the forced attempts at humor are irritating, and even the featured act of Jim, Jake and Joan (featuring a very young Joan Rivers) isn't all that interesting. Also, the tenuous plot surrounding a racy painting holds about as much water as a ten nanoliter-capacity sieve.
But who cares? For another chance to live in 1964, I'll put up with shortcomings like these.
P.S. - Hooray for Oscar Brand....