Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Burl reviews Men At Work! (1990)


 

Good gravy and big blue bananas, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another movie, and this time it’s the famous garbage comedy Men At Work, which I saw in the theatre back when it came out in the late summer of 1990! Why did I go see such a movie on the big screen? At this late date I can’t tell you, and now, having re-watched the thing for the first time since that mysterious and long-ago evening, I’m even more perplexed about it!

Let’s take a look at some of the other comedies released that year: Loose Cannons, Madhouse, House Party, Nuns on the Run, Opportunity Knocks, Ernest Goes to Jail, Crazy People, Far Out Man, Cadillac Man, Ghosts Can’t Do It, Ghost Dad, Betsy’s Wedding, Quick Change, The Freshman, My Blue Heaven, Taking Care of Business, Sibling Rivalry, Look Who’s Talking Too, Almost an Angel, and others I’m too disgusted to bother typing out! But glance through those titles, ha ha – with a couple of exceptions (Quick Change, mostly), all of them are reportedly terrible scourges that have roundly earned their historical obscurity! I’ve seen exactly two of those movies, The Freshman and My Blue Heaven, and of those only one, The Freshman, did I see in the theatre! And that was the cheapo second-run dollar theatre, ha ha!

So what am I getting at here? Well, to its discredit, Men At Work fits right in with all those other debouchments, and yet something drew me to the cinema to fork over my hard-earned bucks and 98 minutes of my youth to see the thing even as I properly ignored all the others! Did it stand out somehow in the blasted post-apocalyptic landscape of 1990 comedy film? I couldn’t tell you! Maybe I won tickets in a radio station contest or something!

It’s the tale of two idiot garbagemen, one, Carl, played by Charlie Sheen from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and No Man’s Land, and the other, James, essayed by his brother Emilio Estevez, whom we know from Nightmares and Maximum Overdrive and who also wrote and directed this thing! Unsurprisingly they’re not very good at the job – they throw cans all over the street and make a lot of noise, and they roll discarded bowling balls all over the neighbourhood!

As a sort of probation, their boss, played by Estevez’s old Repo Man buddy Sy Richardson, assigns his brother-in-law to ride along with them! The brother-in-law turns out to be a guy named Louis, played by Keith David from The Thing and Road House, a hair-trigger Vietnam vet prone to flashbacks and general grumpy behaviour! And while all this is going on, a whistleblowing city councilman played by Darrell Larson from When Time Ran Out… and Six Weeks is threatening to grass on a corrupt slickback called Maxwell Potterdam III, who manufactures paint thinner and is played by John Getz from The Fly II! Potterdam III is dumping yellow barrels of waste into the ocean, and the councilman has the whole caper recorded on a cassette tape!

There’s a confusion of course, and the councilman’s comely campaign manager Susan, played by Leslie Hope from Crimson Peak, ends up with the herring-cassette, the councilman is killed by assassins, and the garbagemen end up with the corpse, which has been stuffed into one of the yellow barrels! Ha ha, they never go full Weekend At Bernie’s with the body, but it gets pretty close a couple of times! Then things become all about male duos, Platonic shadows of our dimwit heroes! The garbagemen have trouble with three separate pairs of antagonists: local bike cops who hassle them, essayed by John Putch from Jaws 3-D and Tommy Hinkley from L.A. Story; co-workers with whom they’re in a prank war, played by Geoffrey Blake from Secret Admirer and Cameron Dye from Fraternity Vacation; and hit men in Potterdam III’s employ who are chasing them for the cassette, and also to kill them, played by John Lavachielli from Time Walker and Hawk Wolinski from Electra Glide in Blue! And so Louis doesn't feel left out of the duello structure, he gets a comrade when he and the garbagemen kidnap a pizza man played by Chainsaw from Summer School!

It all devolves, as much as anything already so primitive can devolve, into a series of location shifts occasionally bridged by chases! An unforgivable lack of jokes - or, if jokes be present, they’re stolen from other movies, like Better Off Dead – keeps the thing scraping along at ground level; logic is never a consideration; there's no suspense; and the characterizations are thinner than a spaghettini! The garbagemen are half-assedly given a goal (to jointly open a surf shop) and some allegedly solveable personality problems (though the vast majority of their defects remain on display but unmentioned and unchanged), and then virtually none of this is followed through in any way! The garbagemen at the end have defeated the bad guy, sort of, we assume; but, except for a romance between Carl and Susan, they have not improved their situations in any way! In fact I think they’d be unlikely to keep their jobs and stay out of jail, if the movie had decided to cover the next six or so hours of their lives! Ha ha, of course scrupulous reality is not what I was after with this picture, but an occasional airy wave in that direction might have been nice! And, sorry Emilio, I like you man, but it’s all shot with a minimum of art and mostly, and criminally, absent the sort of peppy entertainment the 80s did so well! (Sure, this came out in 1990, but I think it was written at least a half-decade earlier - it's 80s material all right!) Anyway, I may have enjoyed it in the theatre, just because it was being projected onto a big screen, but I don’t think so! I give Men At Work one short golf clap!


Monday, 23 January 2023

Burl reviews Troll! (2022)



Höch now, it’s Burl, here to review sweet monster madness! Yes, we’re in giant creature territory here, but not in Japan this time, nor even in Korea or North Carolina! No, this monster hails from the northern reaches of our world, up in Norway! Of course we’ve had monster troubles up there before – ha ha, we all remember Trollhunter! Well, here’s a picture in the same vein, and this one is simply called Troll!

It’s not that Empire Picture from 1986 called Troll, the one where Sonny Bono turns into a jungle! No, in fact it's a pretty basic giant monster picture, garnished with a specific mythology and featuring a more human-like monster than usual! The movie reminded me of War of the Gargantuas if it had just the more sympathetic brown gargantua and not the evil green one! Still, the giant troll in this one does, like his grouch-coloured gargantua forbear, munch down on a poor unfortunate guy, eating him up just like a junior mint!

Anyway, the story is pretty simple! After a prelude showing a girl and her father climbing to the top of a Norwegian mountain and talking about the legend of the trolls, we skip to twenty years later, the present day, by which time the girl, Nora Tidemann, now played by Ine Marie Wilmann, has become a professor of paleontology working with The Rocketeer himself, Billy Campbell! When a mountain-drilling project being protested by environmentalists suffers a strange disaster which kills drillers and protesters alike, the Norwegian government puts together a task force which includes the initially baffled Nora!

Turns out the legends her father always talked about are true, and a hundred-meter troll has awakened in a grumpy mood and is wreaking destruction across the countryside! He’s not a destruction-for-the-sake-of-it sort of a monster, but he sure doesn’t shy away from causing carnage either! He’ll kick a house down without thinking twice if the house is in his way, and his melancholy, bulbous-nosed expression stays constant! But he does start to get irritated when they start shooting at him with rockets, ha ha! And who can blame him!

Most of the time is spent with the humans, though, following Nora as she's recruited by the prime minister to help out after an anthropoid form has been spotted in the billowing dust of a panic video! She’s paired up with a nerdy assistant who’s always telling people about his crazy book ideas, then is seconded to a military unit, and it looks like a pace-crippling romantic triangle might develop between Nora, the nerd, and a handsome military man, Kaptein Kristoffer; but thankfully that never happens! The gang visits Nora’s old dad, who’s now a crazed hermit because no one would listen to his troll theories, and there’s some tension between daughter and dad that needs to be worked out!

Meanwhile the troll attacks, or rather strides through, Lillehammer, where pesky helicopters are ringing church bells at him! Though annoyed he takes a moment to save a father and son from certain doom, and this is where everyone, characters and audience alike, realizes the troll’s primary goal actually isn’t to flatten (or occasionally eat) humans! But he doesn’t mind doing it either, and it soon appears that what he really wants is to stomp Oslo! It turns out he’s got his own agenda beyond that, but I’m not saying Oslo also doesn’t get a little stomped on in the process!

In many ways this is a Scandinavianized update of King Kong Lives, ha ha, but luckily they left out most of the stupid stuff! It’s not much more than a standard kaiju, complete with a “let nature be” message, and it has a few monster-less longeurs, but it’s never boring and pretty consistently entertaining! Plus the trick effects are solid, the troll is a sympathetic figure, and the whole thing is played at just the right pitch – not too self-serious, not too self-aware! Sure the characters aren’t much to write home about, some stuff doesn’t make sense, and a few threads are left dangling, but if you like a giant monster movie this ought to scratch the itch! I give Troll two and a half vintage Chevy pick-ups!  

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Burl reviews Zapped!! (1983)


 

Bzzzztt, it’s Burl here with some science psycho-pervations for you! Ha ha, here we have a precursor to the science wizard pictures of the mid-80s, like Weird Science and My Science Project, or the more reality-based (and better) The Manhattan Project; and of course a descendant of the Dexter Riley movies of the decade before, of which The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is an example recently reviewed! But here we have a movie that started out with the innocence of a Dexter Riley movie, or even a Flubber and Shaggy Dog-era Disney picture, but, in the wake of Porky’s, was garnished with some extra boobs and bums to bring it up to 80s code! Yes, I’m talking about Zapped!!

Ha ha, it’s always nice to review a movie that comes with its own exclamation point! Zapped! is the story of nerdly-but-dreamy school science wizard Barney Springboro, played by Cha-Chi himself, Scott Baio, well known for being The Boy Who Drank Too Much, and, more recently, for being a bit of a right-wing loon! As the movie opens he’s got mice swimming around in diving suits for some reason, and we learn that he’s growing special orchids for the school principal, played by Robert Mandan, the super familiar-looking guy from The Carey Treatment, and growing special mary-hoo-wanna for his best buddy Peyton, played by crinkle-haired Willie Aames from Paradise! Peyton is a strange amalgam of types: a horndog party animal who’s also a spoiled rich kid, and also, I gather, supposed to be sort of an unpopular nerd! I guess they just had him be whatever they felt was convenient for the movie in any given moment, ha ha!   

Felice Schachter is a nosy teen newshound called Bernadette who always wants to report on whatever Cha-Chi is up to with his science! What he’s most recently up to is falling victim to a lab accident that gives him Carrie-style psychokinesis, and when Peyton finds out about the power, he immediately enlists Cha-Chi to help him win first a baseball game, and then against the frat house boys in casino gambling! This causes complications and confusions, because at the same time, Cha-Chi and Bernadette are becoming fond of each other, and Bernadette strongly disapproves of the gambling; while meantime Peyton is trying his best with Jane, the randomly flatulent queen of the campus played by Heather Thomas from Red Blooded American Girl, who is dating Greg Bradford from Lovelines, the usual blond BMOC quasi-fascist and head of the casino frat house! Ha ha, phew, it’s a situation so complicated I had to use a run-on sentence to describe it!

Also meanwhile, Miss Burnhart, played by Sue Ann Langdon from Without Warning, is trying to make time with the principal and also to bust Cha-Chi for weed cultivation! And Cha-Chi’s prune juice-guzzling dad, played by Roger Bowen from M*A*S*H and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, is sleeping through everything, and his mom, essayed by Mews Small from Sleeper, stays awake, terrified, believing her son possessed by the devil and recruiting priests to exorcise him after his powers have been revealed to her in the form of a flying ventriloquist’s dummy!

Barney’s other friend is Dexter the baseball coach, played by the great Scatman Crothers from The King of Marvin Gardens and The Shining! Ha ha, it’s always nice to see him! LaWanda Page from Mausoleum plays Dexter’s wife, and is the main antagonist in an insane hophead dream Dexter has when he’s exposed to big billows of pot smoke from the furnace: he goes bicycling with Albert Einstein and chatting about relativity, until suddenly his wife comes thundering along in a chariot, dressed as Attila the Hun, bellowing threats and firing pork products at him from a bazooka!

Ha ha, and there are plenty of other familiar faces in the margins! We get Jewel Shepard from Raw Force and The Return of the Living Dead; “Boof” from Teen Wolf makes a small appearance; and there’s even a walk on from I Wanna Hold Your Hand’s Eddie Deezen, who wears a driving cap, a cardigan, a bowtie, and a shirt that reads “God’s Gift to Women,” and only sticks around long enough to accuse his friend of constant masturbation!

It sounds like I’ve been describing a parade of nonstop delights, but I’ve got to report the shocking truth: it’s not a good movie, ha ha! Sure, Cha-Chi makes dresses fly up and cardigans come apart with the power of his mind, but on the other hand Cha-Chi makes dresses fly up and cardigans come apart with the power of his mind, and it’s just all so stupid! The character of Peyton, meanwhile, is so smarmy you could spread him on toast! My goodness, what a self-satisfied, smirky, misguidedly entitled nougat he is! But you can’t argue with that supporting cast, and it does seem like a Dexter Riley movie with sleaze, which is in theory a really appealing concept! But of all the Zapped!s you could imagine might result from that concoction, the Zapped! we got would be well at the low end of those expectations! I give it one tiny scuba suit!

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Burl reviews He Knows You're Alone! (1980)


 

Sweet gumchewers, hello! It’s Burl, here to review another old school slasher picture, one of the many that came along in the direct wake of Halloween! Of course only one of these pretenders could reign supreme and that’s Friday the 13th, but that doesn’t mean the others didn’t have something to offer the undiscerning horror viewer! Take, for instance, the picture under close observation today: an east coast stalk-n-slash entitled He Knows You’re Alone!

It all gets going with a pretty decent fake-out – a cliché-filled stalking scene featuring a couple played by Russell Todd, who would later fall victim to Jason in Friday the 13th part 2 and to robots in Chopping Mall, and Debbie Novak, who had earlier appeared in jiggle comedies Team-Mates and Incoming Freshmen; but this scene turns out to be from a movie on a theatre screen being watched by two young ladies! Ha ha, just like Scream 2! Of course one of these ladies catches a dorsal poking through the seatback, and it turns out she was a bride-to-be, and very likely, according to an obsessed but incompetent moustache cop, the latest victim of a known bride-to-be killer! The killer is a jilted groom whose own abandonment at the altar sent him totally sneebarr, and ever since he’s been killing brides-to-be wherever he may find them, including the obsessed moustache cop’s fiancée!

This of course is, alongside the inciting incident in Hospital Massacre, among the weakest motivations ever tried on in a slasher movie, but never mind that – the actor playing the killer tries to compensate for this nonsense by opening his eyes as wide as possible in every close-up! He actually does convince as a madman, and you certainly buy him as a threatening one, even as you wonder what he does in his spare time and how he earns a living when not stalking brides-to-be!

Our central bride-to-be is called Amy, and she’s played by Caitlin O’Heaney, who appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and was the beautiful English teacher in Three O’Clock High! She’s marrying an obvious jerk named Phil, but at the same time her old boyfriend Marvin is trying in his ginger-headed way to win her back! Marvin has his own charms, being as how he’s played by Don Scardino from Homer and Rip-Off, but he’s also a morgue assistant, so tends to joke about dead bodies! Ha ha, if this had been more of a whodunit, I’m sure Marvin’s job would have made him a suspect, as it does Bill Paxton’s character in Mortuary!

Amy’s pals include Nancy, a goofy gal played by Elizabeth Kemp from Eating, and Diana the goodtime gal played by Dana Barron of Vacation and Heaven Help Us fame! Midway through the picture, Nancy hooks up with a friendly but pompous jogger played by none other than Tom Hanks from Dragnet and Apollo 13! The whole gang enjoys a midwinter carnival, where, on hearing that Amy has been feeling herself stalked by a tall man in black, Hanks casually dismisses her fears with some psych-babble, exits frame while asking “Ya wanna goober?” and is gone from the film for the duration! Ha ha, he doesn’t even reappear to get slaughtered, as, I will admit, I’d hoped he might!

Of course most of Amy’s friends, and some of the friends of their friends, and even a poor friendly dressmaker played by Joseph Leon from Brewster’s Millions, fall to the bug-eyed maniac’s cutlery one by one! There’s only a bit of blood in most of these sequences and no Special Makeup Effects (as the credits usually put it), the exception being when a rather goofy-looking severed head is discovered in a fishtank! Ha ha, having once made an equally goofy special effects head for a movie myself, I was pretty tickled to see it!

The climax of the picture takes place in the strangely vast town morgue, simply because that’s the building Amy happens across as she’s blindly running from the killer! I guess Marvin is there and she might have picked it because of that, but he’s not a lot of help, and nor is the exquisitely stupid moustache cop once he finally happens upon the scene! But there are some tense sequences in that morgue, as well as some that should be tense but weren’t given enough care and skill to be as scary as they should be! That there’s any real suspense at all still puts the picture ahead of most of its slasher brethren, though! In this way it reminded me of Eyes of a Stranger, right down to the head in the fishtank, ha ha, except that instead of Florida, this one is set in midwinter Staten Island! At least, it was shot there – it’s probably meant to be set in a Haddonfield-like small town!

It was the first directorial effort from Armand Mastroianni, who later brought us such laxomorphs as The Supernaturals and Cameron’s Closet, and while he’s no John Carpenter, he did a fair job here! There’s also some nice photography from Gerald Feil, one of those guys who had a strangely broad-based career in film, and also happened to shoot 3-D slasher spectaculars like Friday the 13th part III and Silent Madness! The cast includes stalwarts like James Rebhorn from If Lucy Fell and Shadows and Fog in the role of a horny professor, and Paul Gleason from Die Hard and Night Game playing, of course, a cop! We even get a touch of Steve James, whom we know from Avenging Force and so many other action pictures, and who should have been a star!

It’ll always be remembered as Tom Hanks’s debut movie, but it has a little extra going for it, like the generally strong cast and the appealing midwinter atmosphere! It’s no classic: the script is highly mediocre, the concept ridiculous, the ending extremely weak (the killer is trapped in a room and presumably arrested by local cops), and the last twist even more so, and the whole thing is fairly pointless, but, ha ha, we’ve all seen much worse, I’d guess! I’ll give He Knows You’re Alone two mildly ribald Boy Scout singalongs!

Monday, 16 January 2023

Burl reviews The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes! (1969)

 


Beep-boop, it’s Burl, here to make remarkable progress on reviewing one of those very special Disney pictures you might recall from some Sunday night of your youth! It’s the first in a small series of films featuring Kurt Russell, whom we know from The Thing and Breakdown and so many more, in the role of Dexter Riley, an averagepants student at good old Medfield College! Yes, as you’ve no doubt figured out, the movie is The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes!

Dexter is none too smart a fellow – ha ha, he’s meant to be average, as I say, but in fact he comes off as a bit dim, which gives the story more of a Flowers For Algernon feel than the makers maybe intended! He’s an amiable sort though, and he hangs out with a group of pals whose favourite gang activity is, for some reason, listening in on Medfield College administrative meetings! They overhear pennypinching Dean Higgins, played by Joe Flynn from The Rescuers, telling their beloved science professor Professor Quigley, essayed by William Schallert from Matinee and The Man from Planet X, that the college can under no circumstances afford a computer!

But the students have an idea: hit up local gangster and occasional philanthropist A.J. Arno, played by Cesar Romero from Springtime in the Rockies, for the donation of his own slightly used concubator! Well, he goes for it and the next thing you know, Dexter gets electrocuted by the room-sized device and, by a well-known scientific process, himself becomes as smart as a computer! He instantly becomes a world celebrity who does well on quiz shows and will, Dean Higgins hopes, help Medfield cruise to victory in an intermural trivia contest sponsored by Encyclopedia Britannica! But he’s not counting on the predations of a rival dean, nor Dexter’s own equivocal feelings about his downmarket alma mater! 

On the downside, so far as Arno and his bumbling lieutenant Dick Bakalyan, whose mug we know from The Errand Boy and Von Ryan’s Express, are concerned, is that Dexter’s vast new knowledge includes leftover codewords, facts, and figures from the numbers racket in which they trade! So pretty soon the gangsters are after Dexter, and, rather strangely for a Disney picture of this era, make plain that they intend to violently murder him, stuff his corpse in a trunk, dump it into a lake, and then take the opportunity to go fishing on that lake while they’re there! Ha ha, yikes!

But of course there are plenty of monkeyshines involving Dexter’s friends posing as house painters to rescue him from his predicament – though they can't do this without causing our collegiate Charly a head bonk that dwindles his brain wizardry! Then there's a big car chase with flying bullets and rolling paint cans, and the pals take all these risks despite the fact that, thanks to his incredible world fame, Dex gets a bit full of himself and forgets his old friends! Ha ha, there’s the moral lesson for you, kids - friends who are friends are real friends!

But we don't watch these pictures for moral lessons, but rather the cozy, homely feeling they radiate and the shenanigans they promise! Both of these qualities are present in the picture, but not in any great quantity I’m afraid! The storytelling is slapdash, and there’s a feeling of opportunities missed – why have a character become the smartest guy in the world and then waste his talents on a quiz contest? The picture would have benefitted from a lot more pep and energy and a tighter, funnier script! Ha ha, this was the first of the Dexter Riley trilogy, so maybe they get better as they go along – I’ll have to watch Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World to find out, I suppose, though I’m not especially anxious to, ha ha! I guess this one is not without its pleasures, but I still can’t get too enthusiastic about it! I give The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes one and a half applejacks!

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Burl reviews Plane! (2023)


 

Attention passengers, it’s Burl here to review some January schlock! Ha ha, we all know about the grand January tradition the studios have of releasing lower-brow genre movies into the theatres in the turbulent recirculating flow left by the Christmas holidays! January is regularly regarded as a dumping ground for movies that might inadvertently make some money, but which, even if entertaining, aren’t likely to garner much prestige! It’s a long and glorious tradition and I could name plenty of examples from the past: Deep Star Six, The Kindred, Demon Knight, Phantoms – all of these being entertaining genre fare that appeared in the first month of their respective years!

And now, whoosh, here comes Plane! Ha ha, that makes me sound like a caveman who’s just seeing an airplane for the first time; but yes, the movie is actually called Plane! Yes, just Plane, tout court! Less than half of the picture takes place on the titular conveyance, and so the movie might just as well have been called Island, but never mind that for now! The title helps it fit into its paradigm: the ideal January goofnugget! It takes place on New Year’s Eve after all, with many instances of characters wishing a happy same to other characters (almost as frequently as characters exhort one another to “Get down!!!!”), yet it all happens in a tropical locale in which everybody gets hot and sweaty! So on a wintry January day in Canada, you can go off to the theatre with your son and take in a brainless lark and imagine you too are hanging out among the palms!

Unshaven gumdrop Gerard Butler from Olympus Has Fallen plays Torrance, the pilot with a mildly scandalous past thanks to an event in which he used his brawn against a rage-demented passenger! He and a friendly co-pilot played by Yoson An from The Meg are flying from Singapore to Hawaii with a comically small load of passengers when they run up against a storm that knocks their aircraft all a-frizzle! This drawn-out crash scene is maybe the best part of the picture, and once they’re safely down on a Philippines-adjacent island there’s a bit of time to kill before they realize there are violent separatists lurking nearby – the kind who enjoy kidnapping people, holding them for ransom, then shooting them anyway!

The passengers are mostly a bunch of nonentities, but among them is a Canadian criminal called Gaspare being transported by the RCMP back to Toronto for trial! Gaspare is played by Mike Colter from Men In Black 3, and of course once his handcuffs are off he proves to be a resourceful type and handy at pounding separatists with a sledgehammer! It pretty quickly comes down to Torrance and Gaspare trying to make contact with authorities and rescuing the passengers from the clutches of the separatists!

While all this is going on, back in a glossy black chamber somewhere in Manhattan, the head of the airline, Paul Ben-Victor from Metro, calls in a dealing-with-it specialist named Scarsdale, essayed by Tony Goldwyn from Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives, and he in turn calls in a gang of mercenaries to try to find and rescue the castaway passengers! Once these mercenaries have arrived, we get some group shootouts and, eventually, a return to the plane, which proves surprisingly bulletproof while under extended machine gun attack!

Ha ha, like Butler’s _________ Has Fallen movies, this is a sort of throwback to 80s and 90s action! It’s not quite as fun, cheesy, or action-packed as that description might imply, however – aside from the crash, a fair punch-up mid-picture, and the machine gun / plane take-off climax, the movie is largely made up of people sitting around looking glum! The main bad guy glowers but doesn’t make much of an impression, and we never even get a chance to find out what his specific political issues are! Ha ha, aside from his penchant for shooting tourists and missionaries, for all we know maybe he’s not such a bad guy!

Like its 80s and 90s forbears the picture is pretty simple-minded: as simple-minded as its title in fact, but it’s also perfectly amiable – too dumb to offend, too eager-to-please to embrace the mean spiritedness some action pictures have! (Usually a moment in which the likeable co-pilot shows off a photo of his lovely family is a sure harbinger of his death, but not here!) Being a good candidate for dumping-ground release is not a stellar achievement for a movie, but it’s still an achievement, and I didn’t mind paying a few bucks to see this particular achiever! Still, I hope the next movie I take in on the big screen is better! Ha ha, I’ll give Plane two passenger lists and try to book a better flight next time!

Friday, 13 January 2023

Burl reviews 12 Monkeys! (1995)


 

Chee-chee-chee, it’s Burl here with sweet monkey madness! Ha ha, when you think of Terry Gilliam, you think of big fantasy films that were made under circumstances so impossible it’s a miracle they were ever finished! The Adventures of Baron Munchausen fits into this category of course, and we all know Gilliam has faced an uncommon number of hurdles in his filmmaking: from studio heads who didn’t get or like what he was doing, to catastrophes like the death of his lead actor! Though they’re usually the bigger hits on first release, I think these days we tend to forget his relatively smaller, scandal-free, and less fantastical films – The Fisher King, for instance, or the picture under review today, 12 Monkeys!

Of course, seeing as it involves time travel, 12 Monkeys is hardly free of fantastical elements, and there certainly is imagery that evokes fantasy, like the marvelous shots of zoo animals loose in the city! But the picture mostly aspires to ground-level (or below) grittiness, especially in its future segments, which take place after a terrible airborne plague has killed most of Earth’s human population and forced the survivors to take up a subterranean lifestyle! Our hero is a prisoner in this benighted time, meaning his lifestyle is worse yet; but he is volunteered by a very Gilliam-esque panel of scientist-grotesques to travel back in time, find out how the plague started, and hopefully help find a cure!

This grim slaphead, Cole, is played by Bruce Willis from Die Hard and Last Man Standing, and on his first time-travel attempt he overshoots his mark and lands in 1990! There he’s immediately arrested and confined as a looney in a local hospital for the mentally insane! Here he meets two crucial characters: Jeffrey, a hyper-verbal jumpabout played by Brad Pitt from Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, and sympathetic Dr. Kathryn Railly, essayed by Madeline Stowe from Stakeout and Short Cuts! Ha ha, he also meets The Riddler himself, Frank Gorshin from Hot Resort and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, a mean doctor who wants to keep Cole locked up! But with the help of future people the time traveller escapes his solitary cell, and the next thing you know he’s been bumped forward to 1996, the first year of the plague!

His adventures in that year comprise the bulk of the picture and provide clarification on his mission! Believing that Jeffrey, whose father is a world-renowned specialist in infectious viruses played by Christopher Plummer from The Silent Partner and Murder By Decree, and who is involved with an animal rights group called 12 Monkeys, will be responsible for loosing the virus upon the world, Cole tracks him to a dinner party; but only later does he realize that a marble-eyed lab assistant played by David Morse from Max Dugan Returns may also have something to do with the terrible events to come!

 


Cole is not a very talkative person, having had his mind scrambled by catastrophe, incarceration, and time travel, and it seems no matter what period he’s in, people want to give him Silkwood showers! In other words he’s a tough character to enjoy, even if he’s easy to understand, and he sure isn’t a lot of laughs! But he loosens up as the picture progresses, and after he kidnaps Dr. Railly becomes a slightly more conventional hero, and the movie threatens to become commensurately less interesting!  Ha ha! But it rallies with some marvelous plotting in the last act, though there’s also a crude bit of misdirection involving Dr. Railly that the movie doesn’t need! It’s all based on Chris Marker’s La Jetée, a movie I enjoy, and which is most evoked in the airport scene that concludes Gilliam’s version!

It's a good, intelligent bit of speculative fiction, and I remember it really stood out in the mid-90s as something thrillingly different! Yes, it’s a bit of a downer in our pandemic-ridden times, but it has plenty to make up for it! Pitt’s performance is highly entertaining, and it’s nice to see Gilliam’s excesses presented in such a controlled manner! It’s no Brazil (a movie I love, ha ha), but it has plenty of its own charms! I give 12 Monkeys three ropes of saliva!

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Burl reviews Party Party! (1983)


 

Ha ha and hello, it’s Burl here to wish you a belated Happy New Year! And I’m doing that because I finally caught up to a New Year’s Eve-set youth movie that enjoys a near-legendary status among those who were in the right place and time, and at the right age, when it came along! And the name given to this formative production is not just a title, not merely a description, but serves also, even primarily, as a clear-throated, full-chested, arms-extended and head-tilted-back statement of intent: Party Party!

In the early 80s the horny teens were getting their due on screen: there was Porky’s, Spring Break, Hot Bubblegum, and oh so many more! It was all about music, sexy times, shenanigans, and consequence-free fun, and these pictures were being made all around the world! North London wanted in on the glory, so they all got together and created this picture, which takes place largely at a New Year’s Eve house party party! The host is a weedy nonentity called Larry, who organizes the party party unbeknownst to his parents and I suppose is meant to be the film’s Everyman figure! He’s played by Perry Fenwick, whom we may recall as a different sort of a party party host in Mona Lisa, ha ha!

Larry’s pals include an unbelievably awkward idiot called Toby, played by Daniel Peacock, who co-wrote the movie and later appeared in The Jewel of the Nile! His other buddy is Johnny, a grifter, a player and an inveterate advice-giver essayed by fiveheaded Karl Howman from The Long Good Friday! We meet this crew, or two of them anyway, as they race around Hendon in an alleged “fast, flash motor,” dodging angry motorcyclists, and then picking up Larry at a church! We concurrently meet a bunch of other characters who will be attending the party party also, including two gal pals, one a schlubby girl called Shirley, played by Caroline Quentin from Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, and the other a more comely sort named Brenda, essayed by Kim Thomson from Screamtime and The Tall Guy!

Over at the station house we find a lady cop called Rebecca, played by Phoebe Nicholls, who was John Merrick’s mother in The Elephant Man; another cop played by skinless Frank from Hellraiser himself, Sean Chapman; and a third bobby called Terry, played by Gary Olsen from Outland, who announces his intention to get right pissed and follows that pledge up in spectacular fashion! And separate from all these folk is the movie’s main antagonist, Bobby, an enormous bearded bully boy played by Clive Mantle from Alien 3!

Just how old are these people, I wondered as I watched the movie! Ha ha, Larry seems like a teenager, more or less, but his good pal Johnny, with his Phil Collins-style receding hairline, seems a decade or more older! Toby, the gurning half-wit, has the ageless quality many intellectually impaired people possess; the coppers are at least in their late twenties or older; and the big bully Bobby might be forty or more! Ha ha! How did they all happen to be at this very same party party, anyway? It’s a true New Year’s mystery!

Another New Year’s mystery is the soundtrack! Ha ha, how on earth did they afford all these tunes? Somehow they convinced Elvis Costello to write and warble a theme song, and while it’s the most terrible song he ever did, it’s still amazing that it exists! There are songs by The Clash, David Bowie, Sting, Madness, The Stranglers, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and lots more! It makes sense that the movie’s not widely available to see these days, because ha ha, how could you begin to license all that? It’s an impressive feat for a clearly low-budget picture!

But aside from that, is the movie itself any good? Well, it’s an odd thing: I really strongly disliked almost every single character in this photoplay, and didn’t give, as they say over there, a toss about any of them! Toby in particular is almost supernaturally lacking in social graces, and many’s the time he gets called a berk or a prat! And he most certainly is those things! But somehow, by the end of the movie, when the parents return to find their house near-trashed and must be fed the outrageous lie that the party party was all the time in their honour, I found myself smiling slightly and hoping it all worked out, as stupid as the situation was!

My own first visit to Blighty wasn’t until 1985 or so, but I still remember the sort of dingy chill with which Thatcher’s England was permeated at that time, and this movie captures that miasma in absolute spades! There’s no art to the picture at all, no dimension to the characters (even to the suicidally lonely dowdy-girl), and not nearly the pep such a movie should have; but it has occasional bursts of energy, shows evidence of talent in the cast, and gets the feeling of a big drunken house party mostly right! It’s not a good movie by any stretch, but I can just about see why it would be so cherished by people who caught it at the right instant in their lives! But, ha ha, where did all those pies for the big pie fight come from, anyway? I give Party Party one and a half fast flash cars!

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Burl reviews The Banshees of Inisherin! (2022)

 


With a touch o’ the shamrock, it’s Burl, here to tell of a tale from the Emerald Isle, or at least with one of the associated islets! Much like The Secret of Roan Inish, the action in today’s picture takes place exclusively on a small island off the coast of Ireland at some time in the earlier part of the 20th century, although in this case, while the title promises some Irish myth, ha ha, there’s nothing supernatural to be found in the picture itself! The movie is called The Banshees of Inisherin!

In fact it takes place at a very specific time: the spring of 1923; so, now that we’re in a new year we can say it takes place a hundred years ago, back when life was different! Although not that different, because on this picturesque fisherfolks’ paradise there is no shortage of anachronistic lines of dialogue and behaviours! Ha ha! Anyway, the story is so: Pádraic Súilleabháin, an amiable want-wit played by Colin Farrell, whom we recall from his role as the vampire in the newer Fright Night, has a routine: call ‘pon his pal Colm Doherty at two o’ the clock of an afternoon, then proceed to the public house for ales and inane conversation! Except on this day, Colm doesn’t answer his door, and reveals later that he’s simply decided not to like Pádraic any more!

Brendan Gleeson, familiar from Cruise-capades like Edge of Tomorrow and Mission Impossible II, plays Colm, and he’s a much sharper tack than his ex-pal Pádraic, and as cultured as a person can get on a provincial island in the 1920s! So when he explains that he’s given up the friendship because he feels his creative life being stolen from him an hour of pointless chit-chat at a time, one can sympathize and understand! But the extremity of the edict, not to mention the later consequences, make Colm seem a bit crazy! Couldn’t he have simply laid down some ground rules that limit the time he spends with Pádraic rather than cutting it off entirely? The all-or-nothing gambit is in keeping with the Irish character, I suppose, and I guess that’s the point!

Other characters are as confused about it as poor dopey Pádraic! The latter lives with his sister Siobhán, played by Kerry Condon, and she’s a no-nonsense type who advocates to Colm on her brother’s behalf, but can’t really contradict his assertion that Pádraic is a time-wasting nonsense-talker! A twitchy village idiot called Dominic, played in a showy performance by Barry Keoghan from Dunkirk, wonders sarcastically at Colm’s maturity! (“What is he, twelve?” is one of the many lines that seem more 21st century than of the Joycean era they’re meant to evoke!) And an old witchy lady played by Shelia Flitton, who I believe played a similar role in The Northman, watches the goings on with a knowing cackle!

 

Things start to get a little gruesome once a fed-up Colm, a devoted fiddler, threatens to cut off his fingers if Padráic keeps up with his botheration! Ha ha, I guess he settles on his fingers because cutting off his nose would be too obvious! And not to spoil anything, but yes, in the parlance of Joe Bob Briggs, fingers do roll! A lovable mini-donkey ambles through the margins of the story, and it’s this creature who precipitates the film’s final act! Things get pretty dark, but the finale may leave you pondering!

There’s lots to recommend this picture: the acting and the photography, for instance, are both top-notch, and the script is often very funny! The themes, while somewhat obvious (the Irish Civil War, a battle between former friends, is going on in the background over on the mainland), are interesting – it’s as an exploration of friendship and its liminalities that the picture is most compelling, rather than as a political allegory! And it’s always worthwhile to see what’s happening on these crazy Anglo-Saxon islets – ha ha, think about The Wicker Man, or Doomwatch, or I Know Where I’m Going, or Island of Terror, or Nothing But the Night! Kooky places, those islands, and Inishiren fits right in with them! I give The Banshees of Inisherin two and a half finger splotches!

Thursday, 29 December 2022

Burl reviews Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers! (1980)


 

By the whiff of the stinking rose, it’s Burl, here to review a picture by the marvelous documentarian Les Blank! Ha ha, I once attended a screening of his great Leon Russell movie A Poem is a Naked Person, and that was back in the days when Blank had to be in attendance for it to be screened legally, so he was there, and afterward I and some others went out to a nearby bar with him for a few beers! He was a nice fellow and awfully good company, and those qualities can be seen in the movie under review today, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers!

Now, whether or not that specific equivalence is accurate, the movie makes a strong case for garlic as a curative and as a flavourer of food! No scientists are trotted out to make the case; neither Julia Child nor Edna Lewis nor any other celebrity chef of the day appear; instead, Blank visits a parade of bohemian food lovers who proselytize about the aliment and its many uses and benefits! Ha ha, I’ve always used garlic in my own cooking, so I was naturally sympathetic to these arguments!

The impression left is that there must be a thriving subculture of garlic-mad neo-hippies out there, cooking like maniacs and shoveling in the allium sativum as quickly as they can! Blank talks to chefs and enthusiasts, and spends time at a California garlic festival, and all of this is arranged in a wonderfully haphazard and aptly organic manner! There are some unexpected ingredients in this concoction: for instance, a bewildered Werner Herzog, whose mug we recall from the bad-guy role in Jack Reacher appears in order to give his two cents on garlic’s efficacy on vampires, and why he didn’t include that aspect in Nosferatu!

  

The heart of the picture are its many scenes of meal preparation, which make you want to rush to your kitchen and start cooking up a feast yourself! Vegetarians will not take to the movie, though – there are plenty of dead animals here, and meat being ground up in close shots; but cuisineries both committed and, like myself, casual, will find themselves transfixed by the lovely 16mm colour images!

There’s not a propulsive or coherent story being told here, but nor should there be! It’s a grincingly effective love-chaunt to an oft-maligned foodstuff, and at 51 minutes it’s just about exactly the right length! There’s some good music being played and some wonderful eccentrics appear, and if you like the way Les Blank organizes his movies, you’ll like this one as much as Burden of Dreams or In Heaven There Is No Beer? or any of his other fine works! Ha ha, I recommend it heartily! I give Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers three staring animal eyeballs!