Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday, 11 June 2021

Burl reviews Slumber Party '57! (1976)




 

With a golly gee and a hey daddy-o, it’s Burl, here with another one of those flashback teen sex comedies that came out in the wake of American Graffiti! The form reached its apotheosis with Porky’s, and maybe its height of classiness, relatively speaking, with Mischief, but it was the first knock-offs, the ones from the 70s like Hometown U.S.A., that really give the impression of desperate coattail riding with a T&A twist! Ha ha, and another of these cras-cren-bons, perhaps the greatest of them in fact, is the skinfest known as Slumber Party ’57! 

It hasn’t got a story so much as it has a carelessly geomantic structure! After the first of the requisite easily-licensed 50s hits (or 60s hits; the picture is unconcerned with strict fidelity to its period), we meet five young ladies, apparently high school students but clearly in their early to mid 20s! Ha ha! Debra Winger from Black Widow is one of them (an appearance that has long since dropped off the bottom of her resumé); Noelle North, who also showed up in the superficially similar Sweater Girls, is another; Rainbeaux Smith from The Pom Pom Girls, Massacre at Central High, and Parasite, is still another, and there are yet more played by actresses I failed to recognize! Their boyfriends being away for a weekend football trip, the ladies decide to hold the titular party, and, once they’ve had a nude pool frolic, proceed to each tell the story of how she lost her virginity!

 

The bulk of the movie is these stories, told one by one in flashback, and set to more easily-licensed doo-wah hits, which are always played in their entirety to justify the cost! There’s a Daisy Mae type who tells the tale of her deflowering at the hands of the local moonshiner, a Li’l Abner who manages a roll in the hay somewhere between his still blowing up and being chased by revenooers! Noelle North next tells her story: she’s in her room reading Lolita while her parents hold a party downstairs; one of the guests, played by Will Hutchins from The Horror at 37,000 Feet, blunders in and stammers his way to a seduction! But this goes sour when North’s burly dad, in a frightening appearance from Bill Thurman, the sheriff in Creature From Black Lake, bursts in and puts his daughter over his knee for a good llarrupin’! The girls all agree that they secretly enjoy such treatment from their fathers, urgh!

Between their stories the girls leave the mansion they’re slumber partying in to grab a bite to eat at the local drive-in ask-n’-wait, where they meet an out-of-control hophead played by Rafael Campos from Astro Zombies and soon find themselves in a street race with him! Ha ha, can’t make a movie like this without a street race! After the final boringly gymnogynous tale is told, and they’re all revealed to be spurious anyway, the girls must deal first with a cat burglar played by Larry Gelman from Dreamscape (who might as well have been voted “Least Likely To Ever Portray A Cat Burglar" at his acting school), and then with a cop played by Joe E. Ross, who says “Ooh, ooh!” a lot just as he did in Car 54, Where Are You, and is clearly delighted when he’s surrounded by nubile girls and Debra Winger starts kissing him! Ha ha, Debra Winger and Joe E. Ross: truly a thespian summit for the ages! 

The movie leans right in to its exploitation angle, with few opportunities for nudity ignored and several more invented! The young ladies come off well, though - several give good, spirited performances and are at a consistently higher level than the movie they’re in! Which, all things considered, is a bad movie! The script is unspeakable, the direction pretty foursquare, and it’s filled with anachronisms, like the drive-in screening of Cauldron of Blood, which wasn’t even shot until 1967! Ha ha, and I wonder if Debra Winger wants to forget about this movie more for the nudity or for the Joe E. Ross scene! I give Slumber Party ’57 one giggling hillbilly!

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Burl reviews Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown! (1977)

 


Good grief, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an animated picture: one of the few I actually saw in the theatre! Growing up I had a neighbourhood theatre, what Variety used to call a “nabe” before all the nabes closed down! That's a very sad loss to me, and I expect it is to you too! Anyway, I used to go down to my nabe every wek and see whatever was playing, and if it wasn’t some weird Sunn Classics pseudodocumentary, or a genuine motion picture like The Bad News Bears or The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, it was a children’s animation just like today’s picture, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown!

I remember enjoying it at the time, ha ha, but then I was just a wee tyke and my critical faculties had not yet been fully honed! I’ve watched it again several times over the past five years or so because my son had fallen under the Peanuts spell and so I went and hunted down a VHS copy of it! The Peanuts spell is a perfectly healthy spell so far as I’m concerned, and it was a pleasure to watch the movie again when I initially found the VHS, and an undiminished pleasure to watch it once more the other day!

We were at a wilderness cabin for the screening, and it was a very hot and summery evening, and these are the second most ideal circumstances under which to see this picture, the first most, naturally, being to see it at the nabe when you’re six years old! Ha ha! But however you watch it, the movie remains the story of the Peanuts gang, or selected members thereof, attending a summer camp and engaging in a raft race through an endless variety of landscapes such as you find described in books like Blood Meridian!

Charlie Brown proves himself a blockhead right from the opening moments, after the credits and their bad-but-catchy theme song that is, when he fails to step back on the bus after a rest stop and must travel the rest of the way riding pillion on Snoopy’s chopper, in constant screaming terror for his life! Once there, a group of camp bullies take Charlie Brown to task straight away for his round head, his bizarre name (?), and his pathetically evident need to prove himself! Only Linus cracking his blanket like a whip rescues the hydrocephalic hero from his trouble!

After some camp gags and a few competitive activities which the bullies win by rank underhandedness, the race is under way! Our hero gang divide themselves by gender: Charlie Brown, Linus, Franklin, and Schroeder in one boat; Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie in another; and of course Snoopy and Woodstock participate in the race too, using their own jury-rigged watercraft! The bullies have a powerboat equipped with radar and sonar and all manner of technology, and they, along with their spike-collared cat, engage in never-ending shenanigans in their monomaniacal effort to win!

Ha ha, I always thought the Peanuts gang were supposed to be six or seven years old, but this race, which takes multiple days and shunts them through an array of biospheres and climates, landscapes of desolation and abundance, through blasting sites, fishing villages, and over waterfalls, would test the mettle of the most experienced of raftsmen! On top of these hardships, the gang must not only contend with the bullies and their fiendish plots, but Peppermint Patty’s deluded, fascistic idea of how democracy works, and how it must be constantly applied by secret ballot to every decision made by the group!

The movie’s own politics are equally confused, as, after a series of highly annoying episodes in which Patty’s balloting madness results in, for example, the boys being forced to sleep outside in a (highly incongruous) snowstorm, some cohesion is only reached when she appoints Charlie Brown as Supreme Leader, singularly responsible for all decision-making! And while this doesn’t lead to triumph in the race, it at least helps prevent the bullies from winning, so there’s some semblance of a happy ending; at least, as much of one as a depressive like Charles M. Schultz could manage!

It’s a nice-looking picture, adhering to the patented simplicity of the Peanuts world, but mustering a bountiful supply of landscape and flora to spruce it up; and of course it wins points for using real children as the kids’ voices! One big debit, though, is the treatment of poor Franklin, who is given virtually nothing to say or do! I’ve always liked Franklin, so would that it were otherwise - and, I mean, just look at that poster! He doesn't even get his own little name-box! Shameful, says I! I give Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown two and a half corned willies!

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Burl reviews Crunch! (1979)

 


43, 27, 62, hut hut hut, it’s Burl, here to review an old-fashioned teen sex comedy which features plenty of football! Ha ha, this is a picture that sits right at the junction between the 1970s cheerleader pictures like The Pom Pom Girls and the 1980s antecedents like Porky’s! It’s perhaps best known under the ludicrous title The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats, and also gets called Heartbreak High for no particular reason, but the title it was made under, which was also the title of the version I saw, is simply Crunch!

I guess that title refers to the clashing of football lines, because there’s quite a bit of that particular sport in this picture! The funny thing is, despite being a study of two rival schools for whom football glory means everything, which is a state of mind we associate uniquely with the United States, and indeed being explicitly set in the States, though the specific state or town is left unnamed, this is in fact a Canadian picture! It therefore has a strangely ersatz quality, a feeling of community playacting, and in no scene is this more apparent than late in the movie when the football teams are supposed to be singing the Star Spangled Banner and it’s obvious that nobody on screen knows the words! Ha ha!

Inasmuch as there exists a narrative, it concerns the football rivalry between the City High Moose (no doubt a typical American team name, ha ha!) and the Johnson High Eagles! The Moose are coached by a deep-voiced hard case called Bulldog, played by John Vernon from Sweet Movie and Curtains and Fraternity Vacation, who has a pathological attachment to a pair of long johns he feels he must wear for his team to win! Coaching the Eagles is the considerably more easy-going Arnoldi, essayed by Robert Forster from Alligator, The Banker, and The Descendants! Meanwhile a sportscaster played by Norman Fell from Bullitt, The Graduate, and Catch-22 prowls around trying to get interviews with the coaches about the big upcoming game!

We get to know some of the students on both of the teams, and none of them are particularly likeable! The Eagles’ star quarterback and general BMOC is Gary Leonard, played by Kimberly McKeever from Scanners and Visiting Hours, and he’s one of those possessive, inconstant boyfriends, who tries to get his girlfriend to forget about her causes and just play bohankie with him! His Moose counterpart and personal rival is Plitt, played by Thom Haverstock from Hog Wild and Terror Train, an oily creep who pretends to care about causes in a bid to make sweet love to Gary’s girlfriend! Anthony Sherwood from City on Fire and Wild Thing is in there, and there’s a gross guy called Pigger who snorts and oinks a lot, and sits down so hard on a cream pie that the entire Eagles team is covered in futz!

There are pranks and inter-team one-upmanships, and the Eagles successfully steal Coach Bulldog’s precious long johns! There’s a crazy sports-themed sex scene involving Forster going practically crazy with lust, and a game of strip-poker held in a boogie van that simultaneously recalls many moments in the Crown International filmography while predicting others in the rush of 80s teen sex comedies to come! In the middle of it all there’s a rather sweet-natured scene in which Forster and Vernon, evidently upholding a longstanding tradition, share a pre-game drink and wish each other good luck on the gridiron! 

It’s all pretty lackluster, though! Fell gives a grimly un-Roperish performance as the sportscaster, which leads one to wonder why he’s there at all! The direction is artless and the humour pretty muted, and the climactic football game seems to go on forever! Ha ha, football’s a pretty boring game to watch on screen, I always find - even the game in M*A*S*H gets a little tedious! I won’t say I didn’t enjoy parts of Crunch, because I did; but in the end, I can’t give it more than one unicycle-riding chicken!

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Burl reviews Conspiracy Theory! (1997)

 


Hi there and hello, it’s Burl! Now, I’ll say this right off the bat: the movie I’m reviewing for you today is Conspiracy Theory, and the whole entire review could simply read “Ha ha! This is a terrible movie!” and that would be the end of it! But I feel I’d be betraying the Reviewer’s Code of Ethics if I did that! Mind you, I’ve done it before, in another persona as a paid movie reviewer, but now that I’m Burl, I’m really going to try to maintain some kind of standards here!

The fact remains that Conspiracy Theory is a terrible movie! I had some hopes for it back when I first saw it in 1997 - I can’t recall if I reviewed it then, but I’m pretty sure I saw it at some kind of preview screening, so I probably did! I do remember thinking it was a pretty sour fardel, and I think my hopes for it came from the fact that Richard Donner was still at that time considered a pretty solid action director, thanks to the Lethal Weapon pictures (even though each one was poorer than the last, ha ha!), and of course the picture was written by Brian Helgeland, who’d written A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master!

Plus the whole idea of a suspense/action picture revolving around conspiracy theories sounded like it had real possibilities, much as the idea of a horror movie based on urban legends sounded good! But, like Urban Legend, Conspiracy Theory doesn’t do much more than pay lip service to its titular phenomenon and then go its own way!

Mel Gibson from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome plays a cabbie with a head full of skunkfire who jabbers endlessly to his passengers about this nutty theory or that one; meanwhile, he stalks and bothers Alice Sutton, a pretty woman who works in the Justice Department and who is played by Julia Roberts from Mystic Pizza and Ocean’s Eleven! He publishes a conspiracy newsletter with a circulation of five, and apparently one of the theories he’s published is real, and so a rogue government psychologist played by Patrick Stewart from Dune and Lifeforce kidnaps him to find out what he knows! But Gibson puts a nose-biting on him, and then the chase is on!

The chase stays on for the rest of the picture, but not in a way that offers blazing excitement to the viewer! Oh sure, Donner is a foursquare professional and knows very well what he’s doing, and so the picture is made with slick Hollywood aplomb! But all that aplomb is in the service of a movie that's little more than a sort of stalker fantasy-apologia!

There are a few appealing performances in the picture! Cylk Cozart, who played another federal agent in In the Line of Fire, is a personable FBI agent who keeps getting clonked on the head; Terry Alexander from Day of the Dead and The Horror Show is in there too, not doing his Jamaican accent; and of course we have Julia Roberts, who is not without her natural charms, but is cruising on autopilot here, as though she alone recognizes the true worth of the material! The central performance here is Gibson’s, and while I think we can all agree it’s highly annoying, it is uncontestably a performance, a skillful assemblage of jerks and pops and clicks housed in the skinsuit of a man with a head full of cracklin' bran topped by a black woolen toque! Of course, based on what we now know of Gibson, one must ask whether this was a performance or a rehearsal! Ha ha!

In conclusion, I can only say that Conspiracy Theory is a noisy, vacant thriller with some pizazz and wit, but not enough to offset the overlength, the irritating energy it radiates, and the vacuum at its core! I give the picture one wheelchair poking!

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Burl reviews Evil Dead II! (1987)



Hi, groovy friends, and happy June - it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an old favourite, a movie as comfy and familiar as an old worn hoodie! It’s Evil Dead II, and for me it was a story of triumph, because in my neck of the woods, an R rating meant no one under 18 allowed in, whether with a parent or not! The trade-off was that movies were not often rated R, but when Evil Dead II showed up in my town, it did carry that restrictive rating! It played a huge, venerable old downtown moviehouse, just about the best venue possible, and so on opening night I showed up, aged maybe sixteen but determined not to be stopped! By sheer persuasive force of will, I and my friends all got in, employing the same deep, commanding growl as the teen wolf in Teen Wolf (which, by the way, I was once forced to see instead of Return of the Living Dead because I did not yet know the trick Teen Wolf was about to teach me), and entered the cinema to find a big crowd just as pumped as we were to see it!

I’ve gone and immersed myself in nostalgia now, and I’m rambling; but the point is that seeing Evil Dead II on a huge screen on opening night with a large responsive crowd can be, and was, a formative experience for a young man! And I’ll admit this without hesitation: my review of it will probably not entirely be able to escape that cherished memory!

Of course it’s one of those half-remakes, half-sequels, as was the case with Phantasm II: intended equally to please fans of the original Evil Dead as well as people who’ve barely heard of it! Those of us who’d seen the first one knew the story of Ash and his friends and their holiday weekend at the old cabin in the woods, and the Book of the Dead and its demon-bothering passages! At the beginning of the new one Ash arrives at the cabin again, this time with just his girlfriend, and some audiences were confused as to how he could be stupid enough to return to the same cabin and play the same tape recording all over again! Ha ha!

But of course even Ash isn’t that dumb - it’s just a retelling of a similar story with the same character! Ash awakens the demons by playing the old professor’s tape recordings, his girlfriend is possessed, then he is, and he flies through the forest and bangs into trees, and later there’s a remarkable comedio-horror scene involving his hand! New characters arrive, a hideous bloblike basement dweller plagues them all, and many Three Stooges gags are cleverly retooled in shock-horror settings! Ash’s hand causes many problems, as does an overalls-clad hillbilly; but eventually a vortex is opened in the fabric of time-space and by the end of the movie we are left with the setup for the third film in the series, Army of Darkness!

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the plot, and that’s because everyone knows the plot, and anyway there is no plot! Ha ha! It’s all about the gags and the trick effects (which are plentiful and impressive) and Sam Raimi’s living camera, which prowls around and spins and pushes in aggressively at just the right moments, and the performance of Bruce Campbell as the punishment-absorbing Ash! Ha ha, you can tell that Campbell himself absorbed no small amount of punishment in the shooting of this picture, and that just makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable! Sorry, Bruce! Hopefully he had it easier in later pictures like Maniac Cop, The Hudsucker Proxy, Escape From L.A., and Congo!

I find it all highly entertaining, and I think I always will! Evil Dead II may come off to some as just an exercise in trick effects and camera style and silly gaggery, and I can’t call that position unreasonable, but to me that’s a formula for success, at least in this specific case! Ha ha, I’m as fond as can be of Evil Dead II and I give it three and a half work sheds!

Friday, 28 May 2021

Burl reviews Jet Pilot! (1957)

 


Up up and away, it’s Burl, here to review aeronautical derring-do! Ha ha, we’re all familiar with the Duke, which is to say John Wayne, and his many horse operas, from Randy Rides Alone to Rio Bravo! But in today’s picture he’s bestride a different sort of saddle: the pilot’s seat of the latest in jet fighter technology! The picture in question is titled, with admirable prosy, Jet Pilot!  

The Duke stars as Jim Shannon, one of the Air Force’s top wingsmen! When a pretty pilot called Anna, played by Janet Leigh from Halloween H20 and The Fog, drops into the Alaskan air base run by General Jay C. Flippen (an actor we may recall from Thunder Bay) and requests political sanctuary, Shannon is enlisted to keep her company! They fly around together and of course fall in love! Ha ha, but is she truly sweet Anna, wholeheartedly wanting to defect, or is she the duplicitous Olga, sent in order to lure the lovestruck Duke back to Mother Russia?

The answer, it turns out, is “both!” But there’s a lot of back and forth along the way, and plans within plans, and chumps made on both sides! Ha ha, Anna and Shannon even get married, and you know what that means - blanket hornpipe! Considering the political leanings of both the Duke and of Howard Hughes, who produced, or anyway “presents” the picture, we can be pretty sure from the start which side will prevail! In the meantime, some fun is made of Anna’s socialist values, as when she notes that a hotel suite is far too large for just two people, so invites a number of other, including Paul Fix from Night of the Lepus, to bunk with them!

Ha ha, the picture was released in 1957, but a little research taught me that it was shot in 1950, so that all the cutting-edge technology it wanted to show off had long passed its sell-by date! At this remove of course that doesn’t matter much, and so we’re left with a whole heck of a lot of excellent flying footage, with the pilots doing little rollover tricks, and voiceover radio chat between “A for Anna” and “S for Shannon!” But the aeronauts seem to fly everywhere all the time, and it eventually gets tiresome!

When the Duke follows his bride back to Russia, he finds Hans Conried from Summer Stock, The Monster that Challenged the World and The Twonky running the show, and that Anna has reverted to her more Soviet persona, Olga! She flips back and forth between these identities, even seeming to change her hair colour sometimes, and I found it as confusing as the Duke did! Leigh’s character is as split as that of her later co-star in Psycho, ha ha, and when she starts casually murdering people at the end, by tricking them into pulling ejection seat handles at inopportune moments for example, she seems more a narrative instrument than a character at all!

A funny thing about Jet Pilot is that it was directed, nominally at any rate, by Josef Von Sternberg! Ha ha! It really doesn’t seem like his sort of picture, and the picture itself doesn’t seem much like it was directed by von Sternberg! Still and all, that’s a pretty interesting fact! Hughes was the real auteur here, I suppose! But the overlapping part of a Hughes/von Sternberg Venn diagram is eroticism, and somehow this is a strangely sexy movie! Leigh looks great in her flight suit; she loses her harem pants at one point and is almost spotted trouserless by a marching band; and after their marriage, there are several references to the notion that Leigh and Wayne are doing nothing besides bohankie all the day long! It starts right from the beginning, as the Duke observes Leigh warming her bum at a stove and musing “This might be some new form of Russian propaganda!”

 

 

The flying scenes are impressive, but too long and too numerous; the geopolitics are childish and binary of course; and the characters are little more than blank figures moved around the landscape like quoits! It’s entertaining in its 1950s way, but seems more an interesting relic than a piece of cinema! But if you like watching jets fly around, this is the motion picture for you! I give Jet Pilot one and a half barrel rolls!

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Burl reviews Marked for Death! (1990)


 

With a hapkido hello, it’s Burl, here to review midbudget action! I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Steven Seagal Three Word Title series, inaugurated by Above the Law in 1989 and maintained through to the year 1991 by equally dopey movies like Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, and today’s picture, Marked for Death!

Now, as you might guess, I don’t hold Seagal in terribly high regard, either as an action hero or as a person, based on what I’ve heard! But of course it’s not always the best idea to form an opinion based on rumour and innuendo! Such rumour and innuendo as there is insists that he’s a big blowhard who treats people terribly and plays up some kind of mob connections! Ha ha, I don’t know how much of that is true, but the personal qualities it implies are clearly detectable in his screen presence!

Marked for Death opens with Seagal’s character, John Hatcher, in Mexico, running down good old Danny Trejo of Con Air fame, shooting up a drugs den, and acting like even more of a jerk than he usually does, even to his putative partners! It turns out that at least some of this jerkiness is part of the performance, as we next see Hatcher in a confessional, telling the priest he doesn’t want to be such a knob any more! Ha ha, then he quits his job with the DEA, though his boss, played by good old Peter Jason from Prince of Darkness, doesn’t want to hear about it!

Next the ponytailed ex-cop heads for his home territory of Chicago, where he visits his sister and her family and hooks up with his longtime buddy Max, played by good old Keith David from They Live! He finds, to his dismay, that the old neighbourhood has been taken over by Jamaican drugs gangs, or “posses,” and Max is already prepared to take them on! A dread mon called Screwface, played by Basil Wallace from Return of the Living Dead III, is behind it all, and is much feared in the drugs gang community for his brutality and his voo-doo!

Seagal struts around looking ridiculous in dumb clothes he designed, or anyway chose, and speaking dumb words that he wrote, or claimed to, and wearing just the dumb expression you’d expect from, say, a caveman being shown a flashy card trick! In most of his movies, thanks to the crushing insecurity he feels every day, Seagal’s slapfight style involves mainly him delivering beatings on people and twisting limbs here and there, while never so much as feeling the brush of his opponent’s fingertips ‘pon his cheek! Here he at least gets a few bonks, and finds himself in a couple of sticky situations, as when the drugs gang crushes his beautiful Mustang with him inside, then tosses a Molotov cocktail in with him, or when they tie him down and prepare to sacrifice him to Damballa or someone similar!

Other characters include Joanna Pacula from Gorky Park and Black Ice, playing some kind of ill-defined expert who gets a crush on the kung-fu blockhead and is completely forgotten about by the end of the movie; and Tom Wright, the hitchhiker from Creepshow 2, playing a Jamaican cop on the hunt for Screwface so the movie can claim not to simply be a 90 minute anti-Jamaica slur! Other attempts to ward off criticisms the filmmakers clearly expected include a small speech about the tough lives led by the underclasses of Kingston, a little note at the tail end of the credits reading “The posse phenomenon is estimated to be a fraction of one percent of the Jamaican population and should not detract from their country or the contributions Jamaicans have made to this country,” and a cameo appearance by Jimmy Cliff of Club Paradise fame! But it all still seems a little bit mean!

It’s a pretty poor show, but it has a few pleasures! Seagal and his awful outfits have camp value of course, and the action is sometimes okay, sometimes ho-hum, but there are Special Makeup Effects, which I always like to see in an action movie! Ha ha, some of them, like a fake head for an eye-gouging scene, are a bit ropey, but that somehow makes them even better! Lots of early-90s action pictures seem coughed in from the 80s, and this, with its Reefer Madness-like sophistication about drugs and its hero who forswears violence only to renege immediately his loved ones are threatened, is certainly one of them!

It’s full of Jamaican accents and patois that are as phony as the bad guy’s blue eyes, and while it might be one of Seagal’s goriest movies (there’s a hand chopped off, a head chopped off, the requisite broken limbs and of course the eye gouge), it’s also one of his stupidest, and that’s really saying something! I give Marked for Death one inscrutable hand signal!

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Burl reviews Stray! (2020)


 

Woof woof, it’s Burl, gone to the dogs! I’m here to review a pooch picture that tells the true-life tail of bowsers on the streets of Istanbul and the people who love them: a new documentary by the name of Stray!

The picture mainly follows two four-footers as they travel the streets and harbor areas of this polyglot city on the border of Europe and Asia! West and East are the warp and weft of this town, and even in its less glamourous quarters, where these dogs and their human pals mostly roam, this unique admixture is evident!

The starring hounds are named Zeytin and Nazar, both bitches of indeterminate breed! They roam the town looking for chow, stare balefully around at the tourists, poop on the grass, lounge on the roadway, fight over meatbones, eavesdrop on couples at outdoor cafes, and spend time with some glue-huffing street kids from Syria! There’s a group of construction site security guards who treat the dogs more kindly than they do the kids - the homeless immigrants are kicked out of their construction site squat, while the bowsers are given heaping bowls of tasty slops!

In Istanbul, it seems, it has lately become illegal to put down street dogs, and so the people there have a unique relationship with the canines who roam the city! In their turn, the doggies don’t seem to have become the ravening killers we see in movies like Dogs or The Pack or Wolfen, but do their best to go about the business of survival with the least possible amount of fuss!

The camera spends a lot of time cruising around at the dogs’ level (there’s a lot of dog anus in this picture, ha ha!), and one must admire director/camerawoman Elizabeth Lo, whose lower back must have needed great slatherings of Rub A5-35 after each day’s shoot! The footage she shot has been assembled into a film that never really coalesces into a story, but manages something rarer and more nuanced! It exudes a spell that’s very minor, and which doesn’t stay with you long after the movie is over, but is quite enchanting while it lasts, particularly for dog lovers!

The more sentimental dog lovers may find the picture unsatisfactory for a different reason, though! The movie avoids both anthropomorphizing and over-romanticizing its canine characters - they’re simply animals in the world, and while their big brown eyes give them a soulful look, they’re not particularly cute or clever! I myself think this was the right approach, and it should go without saying that the lack of narration was also the correct choice here!

The picture is spotted with quotations from Ancient Greek philosophers, mostly the dog-loving Diogenes, but frankly they don’t add much to it! It’s not a movie that will live for a tremendous long time in my memory or my heart, but I admire it for its moxie, its technical acumen, and its intelligence! I give Stray two government ear tags!

Friday, 21 May 2021

Burl reviews Rambo: First Blood part II! (1985)


Fighting the battle for cinema, it’s Burl, here to review a continuation of the saga that began with First Blood and apparently ended, in a pretty pedestrian way, ha ha, with Rambo: Last Blood! The installment I’ve got in mind today is the one that was the biggest hit of all, Rambo: First Blood part II! Ha ha, it was a true phenomenon back in 1985, though I ignored both it and all the flying-bamboo-splinter pictures* that followed, like Missing In Action and such stuff!

As the picture begins, our unkempt hero is breaking rocks in the pokey, where he was put after busting up a town and traumatizing its police force in the original picture! Good old Colonel Trautman, played as ever by Richard Crenna from Summer Rental, appears as though out of a dream and offers the taciturn convict a chance to do a mission back in ‘Nam, to discover and photograph any P.O.W.s who’ve been left behind! (Or is that abbreviation pluralized as “P.s O.W.?” Ha ha!)

As ever, our compact, shag-headed hero is played by Sylvester Stallone, known from pictures like Cliffhanger! He’s as clam-lipped as ever, and when he gets to the Far East base of operations, which is an airplane hangar outfitted with all sorts of communications equipment, he finds it staffed by Charles Napier from Last Embrace, assisted by Martin Kove from White Line Fever and Steele Justice, and Andy Wood from The Annihilators! Napier wears a tie and complains about the heat a lot, ha ha, and I think it was a canny decision to cast a tough-guy actor like Napier rather than some pencil-neck to play the duplicitous bureaucrat who has no interest in finding the lost men, and in fact wants to keep the whole problem buried! One assumes a fellow tough customer will be on Rambo's side, but nope!

The action begins when our bandanna-wrapped tousle-head finally makes it into the jungle, after a spot of bother parachuting from his plane, ha ha! He meets his contact, a Vietnamese lady who seals her fate by expressing a desire to make this her last resistance job and move to America in search of the quiet life! From then on, once Rambo discovers a rat-infested cage filled with barely-alive American soldiers, it’s budda-budda this and exploding-arrow that! We get the famous scene where our muscle-bound sweat factory is captured by Russians, who are coloneled by Steven Berkoff from Beverly Hills Cop, dipped in a pigpoo pit, and electrocuted on a homemade bedspring torture mat; and the even more famous scene in which he smears himself with mud Predator-style and camouflages himself against an embankment on the remote chance that an enemy soldier will pause right at that spot for a smoke or a bite of candy! Ha ha, and guess what - it happens!

There are explosions and helicopter chases and bazookas going off and more budda-budda-budda, and it’s all captured in high 80s style by Cobra director George P. Cosmatos, and photographed, if you can believe it, by Jack Cardiff, who shot The African Queen and Ghost Story and many other marvelous-looking pictures! It’s a supremely ridiculous movie, displaying all the subtlety of a Sgt. Rock comic, but apparently in earnest! Its moronic jingoism and crepe-paper warmongery are so cartoonish as to be dismissable with a laugh and a slight wave, and really, so far as I’m concerned, the final word on the picture may be granted to Gremlins 2!

Rambo: First Blood part 2 is deeply dumb and occasionally irritating, but brisk and entertaining too, and so long as you watch it with wallpaper eyes and a frosty mug in hand, I think we can grant it one and a half machoman bucknives!

 

* A coinage, I believe, of Mr. Ebert’s!


Monday, 17 May 2021

Burl reviews Dawn of the Mummy! (1981)


 

Grooving to the the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet, it’s Burl, here to review a walking mummy movie! But it’s not a genteel Hammer walking mummy movie like The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb though, nor an old classic from the Universal cycle, though I should get to reviewing those soon! No, this variant is actually a genuinely Egyptian take on the subject, the only one I’m aware of; but if the viewer imagines some extra sheen of verisimilitude typically absent in the genre coming as a result of this, she or he will be disappointed! The picture I’m talking about is that old Thorn/EMI staple Dawn of the Mummy!

You would be forgiven for assuming the movie is not Egyptian at all, but Italian; for indeed several Italian names appear in the credits and the general atmosphere is very like any of the lower-rung zombie gutmunchers churned out by our friends in the boot-shaped pastaland! But it turns out that the director, Frank Agrama, which after all sounds like a pseudonym, is indeed Egyptian, and was merely heavily influenced by the Italian zombie pictures!

Here is the dramatic situation: A group of New York photomodels and their major league jerk of a photographer are on assignment in Egypt! Meanwhile a small gang of treasure seekers, made up of two dim-bulb locals and a gangly blond American called Rick, bust into the tomb of Sefiraman, whom we saw being buried with much pomp and circumstance, as well as with his treasures and his legion of servants, in a prefatory flashback! Rick is experienced enough to know the tomb is full of poison gas to eliminate would-be graverobbers and must be allowed to air out before ingress, but another small gang is not so clever and they end up with a bad case of lumpyface! The photomodels show up and bully their way into the tomb, commandeering it from the hapless Rick for use as a backdrop to their snapshots!

Speaking of Rick, he’s quite a character! He starts out a pretty keyed-up fellow, and seems to be driven freshly insane by every new thing that happens to him, though one must give him points for his undimmable optimism! If the treasure doesn’t turn up in the place he and his pals had hoped it would, nary a flicker of disappointment shows on Rick's face: he’s already roaring with gleeful laughter because he’s certain it’ll turn up in the very next place they look! He’s driven not by greed so much as by relentless hope!

Eventually Sefiraman and his entourage wake up, but it takes quite a while, ha ha! In the meantime, the photomodels keep discovering bodies, or parts of bodies, or else they get injured by oozing slime; indeed, even before the walking mummy becomes a problem at least a half dozen horrible things happen to this group, any one of which would in real life send any supermodels scampering back to New York! But these stalwarts stick around, and are murderized by a walking mummy and his zombie pals for their trouble!

The big finale is the walking mummy and his buddies running roughshod over a wedding party! It’s the old story: gut munching, eye poking and flesh chomping on a par with Corpse Eaters or Zombie Lake, or other similar pictures! It’s not a very elegant movie, but the walking mummy is at least a bit scarier than the one in Time Walker - the shot of the mummy sitting up for the first time is even a little startling! His killing methods are more varied, too: he strangles, yes, but at one point he busts into a pantry and gives the chop to a poor meatsman with his own cleaver! His servants, who are not walking mummies but only lowly zombies (which establishes a perhaps heretofore unacknowledged hierarchy in the monster world: walking mummies rule over zombies) eat people, as zombies will, but Sefiraman is only interested in plain old killing!

I guess my point is only that the movie is not a complete loss! It is indeed poorly made, and there’s no aspect you can really point to that’s well done, except maybe some of the makeup! It manages to completely ignore all the ways the actual Egyptian locations might have been used to create eeriness and atmosphere, or any feeling of genuineness! It takes a real lack of interest to mess that up, and it’s a hard mistake to forgive! But parts of it are effective, or at least amusing, and it’s sure worth seeing Rick’s crazy performance! I’m going to give Dawn of the Mummy one and a half hookah binges!