director Aleksandr Rou
I’m still new to the Russian Fantastika film and the work of Aleksandr Rou, but I’m a readily growing fan of the form and the director. I’ve seen two other films of his, Vasilissa the Beautiful (1939) and Maria the Wonderful Weaver (1959), but this was the first time I’d ventured a go with one of my kids, even though these are essentially children’s films. The films are subtitled which could daunt some kids, but Clara took to the film pretty readily herself.
I don’t know if it’s just the random smattering of Rou’s films that I’ve seen or just the consistency of folkloric narratives but the stories all kind of run together in my brain, even after just watching this one it echoes of the others.
In this case, there is a tsar who gets his beard grabbed by a magical being while drinking from a well. The being, Chudo-Yudo (pictured above) tells the tsar that he must give him anything in his kingdom of which he is unaware (the tsar has spent the beginning of the picture numerating everything in his realm and marking it down). The tsar agrees only to find out that he didn’t know that he had a brand new baby son. Conspiring with one of his advisers, the tsar trades out his baby for the baby of a local fisherman (although this goes awry when a soft-hearted conspirator can’t go through with it), so that if Chudo-Yudo comes for the kid, he’ll get the wrong one.
However, it’s years before Chudo-Yudo acts, looking to find a groom for his daughter, Barbara the Fair, who has magical abilities and a poor list of goofy suitors. To boil down a rather convoluted plot, the strapping young fisherman’s son (the fisherman’s real son as opposed to the tsar’s spoilt heir) eventually saves the day and gets to marry the beauty.
There are lurid colors and wonderful set designs, some impressive make-up and some interesting buildings…and even acting bears (does every one of these films have acting bears?) This film is made 30 years Vasilissa and 10 years after Maria yet the feeling and sensibilities seem to have changed little if at all. I consider this in contrast to American fantasy films of the time (I noted a comparison to some of Ray Harryhausen’s films before), but I don’t know what else to say. I would love to know more about the genre and the films.
Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair is as good as the others, perhaps better than Maria but I think Vasilissa is still my current favorite. I still want to tip my hat to Scumbalina, who has posted a nice list of films of the genre that I will consider now a list of films to see.
director Isao Takahata
Studio Ghibli may be synonymous with Hayao Miyazaki, but it has also been home to Isao Takahata, director of Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and Pom Poko (1994) among others. As noted in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013), as Miyazaki worked on his final feature film as director, The Wind Rises (2013), Takahata also labored on what he would call his final feature film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Adapted from a story of Japanese folklore, Kaguya tells the tale of a humble bamboo farmer and his wife who find a baby magical being in the bamboo one day. She grows quickly like bamboo and loves her life in the small village. The farmer, though, also winds up finding gold and rich kimonos and decides that the “princess” as he has always called her is meant for a richer life, so he moves them into the city and they take on the traditions then popular with the higher classes, seeking to find a wealthy husband to marry the girl off to.
The animation style is quirky, something stylized and I would describe as looking like illustrations, pen work, or watercolors, which gives it a unique look and flavor. The story itself is rather sweet, though perhaps bittersweet might be more apt. At 137 minutes long, it’s also takes its time to weave its story.
All that said, I liked it. In fact, I liked it better than either The Wind Rises or From Up on Poppy Hill (2011). Miyazaki’s later films moved slowly away from fantasy and the fantastic, which is actually quite literally where the magic has inhabited his work.
Isao Takahata has made some fine films. I doubt he’ll ever be favorably compared with his studio mate, the great Miyazaki, but his final film has great beauty and charm to it, a note of departure with which I believe he can leave his career happily and proudly behind him.
director Wolfgang Peterson
A sort of spur of the moment movie choice, Clara and a friend of hers and I hunkered down and watched The NeverEnding Story, which neither was sure if they had seen before or not. I had watched it back about 8 years ago, but apparently sans children for whatever reason. Could be that I’d rented it but then it had turned out that Felix had already seen it or something. Clara might have been too young.
I had never seen it back in the day, but was surprised at liking it when I did watch it.
Apparently, it’s only the North American version that features the Limahl-crooned version of its theme song (which was penned by Giorgio Moroder). It’s quite funny to discus cheesy 80’s music with contemporary tweens.
The girls enjoyed the film. As did I.
Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, having just come off Das Boot (1981), the story of a boy who stumbles on a book that eventually sucks him into its fantasy (literally at the end) is really all about the amazing animatronics and other traditional FX and designs. Some of them are cooler than others. And some, like the signature luck dragon Falkor verge on the creepy clown side of cool, it’s still rich, wondrous fantasy rendered without the aids of computers but rather by more classical crafts and cinema magic.
director Sergei Bodrov
A stormy Sunday had us venturing downtown to see a movie. Problem being that there really isn’t much worth venturing for out of the house right now. Sure there are some lingering movies up for Oscars, but those are due on DVD in weeks or days, for the most part. If it had been up to me, I would have taken us to see the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending (2015) because even though it looks bad and has gotten bad reviews, it seems sort of interestingly bad.
Seventh Son, however, interested Felix and Clara more than Jupiter Ascending. And I let them make the call.
Starring Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, Seventh Son is an adaptation of a teen fantasy novel by Joseph Delaney called The Spook’s Apprentice, which I guess Felix had read and enjoyed. In fact, Felix had been kind of looking forward to this movie — at least until the reviews came in.
Now despite the fact that I am essentially writing a “review” myself here, I try not to put too much into the reviews I read. I mean, I like to gauge how in general critics and moviegoers esteem a movie’s qualities, but I also try to trust my own interest in a movie. In this case, I wasn’t particularly sold by the trailer or anything. But anyways, we went to see it.
And it’s not very good. It’s not dire or anything, but it’s extremely unremarkable.
Bridges is this “Spook”, a hunter of evil creatures from ghasts to witches (ghasts being level 6, witches being the top of evil – a very post D&D world). And Bridges loses his apprentice and needs another one, a “seventh son of a seventh son” whose significance matters exactly why? And he finds it in Tom (Ben Barnes), who he enlists to fight Moore, the witch who is attempting to take over everything under a blood moon.
Strangely, all the villains of this film are either women or non-white or both. What is up with that?
Felix tells me that the film strayed considerably from the book. I don’t know. I do know that none of us was impressed by the film. I file it under the heading of “most likely to be forgotten”.
directors John Korty, Charles Swenson
This wonderful oddball animated feature showed up on TCM Underground, their dedicated programming of “Midnight Movie” fare, which I never seem to catch in real time but am wont to stumble upon in their On Demand options on Comcast/Xfinity. Actually there is a great bit on this film there. They schedule all kinds of cool movies.
The strange feature was produced by George Lucas and shot in a technique called “Lumage”, which was essentially to 2-D stop-motion animation, which is part and parcel why this film is so unusual-looking. Director John Korty had employed this style in shorts that appeared on Sesame Street, so those of us old enough to recall such things might not find the style all that foreign, but let’s face it, there aren’t many feature-length animated films that look like this one.
It’s a fantasy world in which dreams are manufactured and delivered but so are nightmares. But the guy behind the nightmares wants nightmares to be the only game in town. Ralph, the All-Purpose Animal and his sidekick Mumford step in to fix the situation, which also involves stealing a spring from the “Cosmic Clock”. The clock resides in a “real world” city of Din (seemingly San Francisco in black-and-white) photography.
It’s a strange, cool, charming film whose tone is light and offbeat as well, with Lorenzo Music as the most recognizable voice (Ralph). I really liked it and thought of several other people who I thought would like it as well. The kids were a little less excited about it but enjoyed it pretty well.
I was pleased to have stumbled upon it and am making an effort to keep up with the Joneses at TCM Underground/Movie Morlocks.
Having just watched the documentary The Sci-Fi Boys (2006), I was actually kind of keen on seeing one (or more) of Ray Harryhausen’s great movies. Here’s where Turner Classic Movies On Demand pops in and offers The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
The kids and I did the Harryhausen Sinbad cycle but that was 6 years ago now. Felix would have been 7. Clara would have been 4. So, I wasn’t all that surprised that she didn’t remember it at all.
This was my childhood favorite of the Harryhausen adventure films. For some reason, I preferred it even over Jason and the Argonauts (1963), though that is often cited as his most polished achievement. But hopped up on the joys of the clips from his films, sharing the connection with the special effects dudes and other filmmakers who thrilled to his monsters back in the days of our childhood, I was glad to revisit the movie.
Bernard Herrmann’s score channels the Scheherazade, pumps up the adventure, and Nathan H. Juran, who worked with Harryhausen on 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), among other thrillers with giant beings, sets the stage for Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews), the Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant), and the charming Genie (Richard Eyer) to do battle against the evil Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), but more importantly against the cyclopses, the Roc, the dragon and the sword-bearing skeleton.
Clara watched the movie with fresh eyes, no remembering the film at all from age 4, and she really enjoyed it. Since we watched it on demand and not with an accompanying DVD extras, I threw on Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011), which is available on Netflix Streaming. We didn’t end up watching the whole documentary, which actually covers a lot of ground and interviewees with The Sci-Fi Boys, but I wanted to give her some of the background of the way the film was made, the effects crafted. She was really into it.
director Mario Bava
Mario Bava. The more I see, the more I love.
I think this movie first came to my attention some 25 years ago, in some joking Tim Burton documentary that I saw, where referenced his childhood appreciation for “foreign films” such as Hercules in the Haunted World and some Japanese kaiju flick. And there it had lingered for all this time. I’m not sure why I never got around to seeing it before.
It’s a glorious low-budget fantasia of color and fantasy. I really don’t have words to do it justice at the moment. It’s easy to see how Bava moved from cinematography and art direction into directorhood. Sure, there is a chintzyness to the aesthetic but it’s also pure, camp gorgeousness.
Brilliant. Gorgeous. So cool.
director Nicholas Webster
When it comes to the worst films ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians tends to make the lists. And it’s bad, of course. I mean the title sort of tells you how hackneyed a concept it is.
But the film isn’t nearly the utter hack-job that movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) or Robot Monster (1953) are. It’s insipid, sure, but it’s made for a kiddie audience so it panders on a different level. Maybe that is what offers up some of its most annoying qualities.
The theme song that opens and closes the film, while a blast from a very different era, is chintzy, sure, but it’s actually a pretty catchy number, if annoying. “S-A-N T-A C-L-A U-S, Hooray for Santy Claus!” Okay, S-A-N T-A C-L-A U-S does not even spell “Santy Claus” but you know…
Some of the funnier elements are embodied in the set designs which plainly look to have come from the local hardware store with little embellishment. It would be an easy set to re-construct in that way. One would hope the yucky-colored green skin tone paint didn’t poison anyone who had to wear it, including the very young Pia Zadora in a role that was made for trivia night.
The ultimate comic moment comes from the cardboard robot and the most ridiculous polar bear ever captured on film. Those are two things for the book of classics.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It’s bad. Pretty worthy of being on all-time lists. I would just like to point out that a cheap but more accomplished job of film-making.
Though the fight sequences might be among the worst ever filmed too.
As Felix pointed out (because we ventured on this “one of the worst films of all-time” together) was that Santa Claus does not actually conquer any Martians. He actually makes friends with them, tells corny jokes, and ultimately gives the Martians their own “Droppo Claus”. I did joke that a more straight-forward modern remake as an action film where Santa Claus indeed does “conquer” the Martians might be a good opportunity for the modern makers of bad movies to attempt.
director Aleksandr Rou
It was actually Aleksandr Rou that turned my tipping point to getting a Roku box and joining the streaming movie universe. Netflix DVD service had one Aleksandr Rou film available, the quite amazing Vasilissa the Beautiful (1939). Hulu Plus offered three later Rou films and I keenly queued them up.
I am still learning about Rou, the Russian fantasy filmmaker. I learned of some of his films from Scumbalina’s Atomic Caravan, but haven’t had the chance to see the two that she wrote about, 1964’s Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors or 1973’s The Golden Horns. And really I haven’t much context for the director, the genre, its history, contemporaries, or perception. It’s all new to me.
Of course, fantasy films are fantasy films. These are Russian fairy tales, featuring evil kings, kidnapped women, transformed frogs. Whether you know the stories or not, you recognize the scenarios.
In this one, a happy-go-lucky soldier is returning home when he encounters first two baby bears crying for their grandfather to be released from a trap (Vasilissa the Beautiful also featured some pretty remarkable trained bear acting). The soldier then stumbles upon a young boy whose mother has been kidnapped by king from under the sea and goes on a venture to save his mother, the “wonderful weaver” of the title.
The effects in this film weren’t nearly as dramatic but the art design was pretty amazing and cool. The colors of the film may have been more vivid at one time, and some of them are very effective. There are brief musical interludes and a goodly amount of comic play. My favorite was Prime Minister Croak, the frog man, coated with a very thick green paint until he falls into the boiling water and remains red for the rest of the film.
The film reminded me vaguely of things like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and other American fantasy films from the 1960’s to 1970’s, aimed at an audience of children and fully indulging the beauty of the form, wheeling out a good yarn, with gentle humor, adventure, and strange fantastic beings.
I will venture further into the work of Aleksandr Rou and Russian fantasy films.