Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Burl reviews The Faculty! (1998)


 

Saved by the bell, it’s Burl, manfully attempting to review a very, very, very 1990s horror picture! It’s maybe not the most 90s horror movie – that might be Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, or one of those sorts of things – but the very, very and final italicized very still apply! After all, it was written by that meta-horror specialist Kevin Williamson, directed by 90s wunderkind Robert Rodriguez, and produced by that slab-lipped, pock-faced date-rapist Harvey Weinstein, so after all, it’s pretty 90s! It’s The Faculty!

Our setting: High School U.S.A.! As in Dazed and Confused, there are different groups: jocks, criminals, brainboxes, and a put-upon freshman (not played by Wiley Wiggins, but Wiley is in the movie, ha ha, lurking in the margins), and foot-ball is the local religion! In the opening sequence we see the iron-nosed foot-ball coach, played by Robert Patrick from Die Hard 2, being approached by… something; then the coach, now possessed by… something, stalks Bebe Neuwerth in the role of the school principal; and the principal seems to be saved when she runs into colleague Piper Laurie from that classic high school picture Carrie, but then Laurie turns into… something!

So, something’s clearly up at this high school, ha ha! The student body includes Elijah Wood as Casey, the oft-abused nerd; Clea DuVall from Ghosts of Mars as Stokely, the tough loner girl; Laura Harris from It putting on the mint julip as Marybeth, the new Georgian transplant; Josh Hartnett from Halloween H20 as Zeke, an insufferable jerk who sells homemade drugs to the younger kids; and a few others, including a quarterback who may not want to play foot-ball any more, just like, again, Dazed and Confused! It seems to take an age, but eventually these characters get together and face the threat, which is the same sort of parasitic takeover aliens we saw in The Puppet Masters!

Because this was written by the same fellow who wrote Scream, it’s packed with winking meta-humour and would-be cutting edginess! It’s trying its best to be a hip and with-it high school version of The Thing, but mostly it’s trying too hard! It wants to give the same sense of pod-people menace as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there’s rarely if ever any question about who’s who, and in any case, once the parasite leaves the host, the people come back to normal! So it’s not very scary or particularly disturbing, and it's packed with mediocre music, or mediocre covers of good music; but the picture stays afloat with a cheerful 90s-ness that makes it an artifact of its time, and a reasonably entertaining one at that!

And the cast is strong! The faculty itself includes Salma Hayek from Desperado as the school nurse; Famke Janssen from Goldeneye and Deep Rising as the shrinking violet teacher; and people like Jon Stewart and Daniel Von Bargen; and Christopher McDonald from Grumpy Old Men plays Casey’s dad! It’s a very derivative movie, but it’s frequently fun and occasionally gory! I hated the character of Zeke and was glad to see him suffer a terrible public humiliation, but mostly the picture is a good-natured romp in the classic 90s style, so I give The Faculty two collapsing bleachers!

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Burl reviews Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf! (1984)

 


Ha ha and hairballs, it’s Burl, suffering from a case of sequelitis! You know, most of the time there’s a drop-off in quality between the first movie in a series and the subsequent entries! Ha ha, look at Jaws, an excellent movie with a mediocre sequel and then, ultimately, Jaws: The Revenge! Pew! Nearly as steep is the plunge from the heights of Joe Dante’s wonderful The Howling directly to the sewage pipe known as Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf! Ha ha, can you feature it!

The story is thus: in the aftermath of the first movie, which ended with a newslady transforming into a werewolf while on a live telecast, then being killed with a silver bullet, the newslady’s lunkhead brother Ben, played by Reb Brown from Fastbreak and The Sword and the Sorcerer, and his girlfriend Jenny, essayed by Annie McEnroe from Snowbeast, are approached by none other than Scaramanga himself, Christopher Lee, known to us from such diverse fare as The Man With the Golden Gun, Desperate Moves, and The Gorgon! Lee’s character, Stefan, explains to them that the sister was a werewolf and that they must travel to Transylvania or somewhere so they can kill the queen werewolf, Stirba!

Of course this is a little hard to swallow for the lunkhead couple, but a visit to a punk club called the Slammer, with the names of top acts like GBH, Black Flag, and The Cramps scrawled all over the walls, and where the house band, Babel, sings a song of lycanthropy, soon sorts that out! Then it’s off to central Europe, just in time for a village festival featuring some of the gooniest dancing you’ll ever see! Here they meet an oddment of characters, including a helpful but ill-fated dwarf, and some nefarious fur-sprouters played by the likes of Marsha A. Hunt from Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Sender, Ferdinand Mayne from Frightmare, and Judd Omen from Seems Like Old Times! Ultimately the goal is to kill the werewolf queen Stirba, played in a series of brain-melting outfits by Sybil Danning from Talking Walls!

It’s no easy task to destroy all these monsters! Thanks to a mumbled curse, the poor dwarf has the worst day ever, one so bad that his eyeballs exploding is not the worst thing that happens to him! Stefan assembles a little anti-werewolf brigade and arms them with titanium weapons (the only thing that can kill a werewolf, according to this movie’s hastily extemporized mythology), and then werewolves start popping out of the bushes, spoiling for a fight! At the end of one typically incoherent action scene, in which werewolves are blasted, chopped, poked, and hacked, the lunkhead lets loose with a hysterically triumphant scream, “I told you we’d get these fuzzballs!”

But there’s still Stirba, werewolf bitch, to contend with, and since Stefan is her brother he’ll take care of that! And none too soon, because, ha ha, it’s a true croque-en-boeuf, this picture! Unbelievably poor editing and direction gives it a distinctly ESL feel, as though it was a three-hour foreign film cut down to ninety minutes for North American blockheads with no attention span! The script is monumentally dumb, and it all seems a concerted plot to make Christopher Lee look goofier than he has on screen since donning the reservoir-tipped hat in Starship Invasions! However, the man’s boundless reserves of dignity keep his honour intact, though the other performers are not so lucky, ha ha!

It’s a bad movie and the people who made it should feel bad! How could the director, Philippe Mora, have gone from the entertaining transformational antics of The Beast Within to this? It’s a puzzlement, as it always is when someone’s sense of craft completely deserts them! However, some of the trick effects are entertaining, and Christopher Lee is always a pleasure to watch, so it’s not completely without worth! I give Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf one pair of new wave fancy-glasses!

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Burl reviews Dazed and Confused! (1993)


 

A happy Bicentennial to you, from me, Burl! Yes, I’m here to review a picture not made in, but rather set in, the American bicentennial year of 1976! Unlike many another period picture I could name, this one sets itself in its chosen time with the utmost conviction and credibility! Yes, it’s none other than Richard Linklater’s sophomore exercise in filmmaking, in which he tells a tale of not just sophomores, but of seniors and freshmen too, in a picture called Dazed and Confused!

Linklater’s earlier film Slacker is a great favourite of mine, and it’ll probably come as no surprise that I dig this one too! Ha ha, I find it endlessly rewatchable, and a most groovy updating of the Crown International pictures of the 70s, principally The Pom Pom Girls! And of course he followed it up later with the “spiritual sequel” Everybody Wants Some!!, and that was enjoyable too!

Anyway, we know where we’re at here: High School U.S.A., somewhere in Texas, on the last day of school, 1976! It’s an ensemble piece with different groups of students: the soon-to-be seniors doing their end of year shenanigans, and the middle schoolers on their way to becoming freshmen! The big activity for the older kids is to find the freshmen and humiliate or beat them in some way, and this is where the picture seems to me a document from some alien culture, because where I grew up, we had nothing like this at all! Ha ha, nobody around here cared about foot-ball or paddling kids on the fandini, but in this Texas town it’s an overriding and all-consuming obsession!

Luckily there are other obsessions too, like drinking beer and smoking weed! Those I can relate to, ha ha! And of course there are the cars, which are fantastic – the opening shot is a real dream for casual lovers of the 70s muscle car - and the music, which is not necessarily what I might have listened to if I was in high school in ’76, but is entirely the right stuff for this picture! I don’t think Linklater got exactly the music he wanted, but he did pretty well!

Linklater did a lot of things right with this movie, but one of his greatest accomplishments was assembling this cast! And I’m not just talking about the guys who became really famous, like Matthew McConaughey (from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation) as the chickenhawk Wooderson, or Ben Affleck (from Gone Girl) in the role of the overall-clad bully O’Bannion! No, the whole cast is good, or at least ideal and effective, in their roles: Adam Goldberg from The Prophecy as one of the more intellectual students; Sasha Jenson from Halloween 4 as a playful jock; Milla Jovovich from Two Moon Junction in a near-silent role as a decorative girlfriend; Wiley Wiggins from Computer Chess as the main frosh on the run; Parker Posey from The Daytrippers as a bitchy, demanding senior; and Nicky Katt from Gremlins as a violent greaseball!

Ha ha, one of the few places where the movie falters is in trying to have a tiny scrap of a plot: something about a foot-ball player pressured to sign some kind of pledge form and deciding whether or not he even wants to play foot-ball at all! Otherwise the picture is mostly a series of highly entertaining vignettes which occur over the fifteen hours or so covered by the picture, giving equal weight to the concerns of the jocks, the stoners, the brainboxes, the proto-teens, the second-wave feminists, the ex-hippies, and more! (Ha ha, I’d have liked some art-punks in there, but you can’t have everything!) Even if you weren’t around or fully sentient in 1976, the odds are you’ll connect on some level with the goings-on: coming in so late from a night out that it’s early, for example; or fighting a bully; or scoring beer when you’re still under eighteen; or smoking your first joint! The picture never makes a big, After School Special-type deal out of any of this, but treats it with just the sort of nervous, pleasurable excitement I remember feeling myself!

It’s a tremendous sophomore feature: not perfect maybe, but nearly that! I enjoyed it in the theatre and have enjoyed it every time since, and plan to enjoy it further in the future! Yes, Dazed and Confused is one of the good ones, and I’m pleased to give it three and a half green things every day!

Monday, 25 July 2022

Burl reviews Millennium! (1989)


 

Prepare for cross check, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, the picture I’m reviewing for you today has to do with airplanes, though not quite so much as you may think, and at the same time quite a bit more! Does that sound confusing? If so it fits in well with the movie under discussion, which after all is a time travel piece, and those can get mighty head-scratchy! The picture in question is titled Millennium, which, ha ha, is also the name of my cat, who is also frequently head-scratchy!

That and the name are the only connections between this movie and my cat, however! It begins on an airplane captained by Lawrence Dane of Scanners fame, but it bumps into another plane and crashes! When crash investigator Bill, played by songsmith Kris Kristofferson from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, discovers some looney evidence among the wreckage, and repeatedly notices an attractive blonde lady and committed cigarette smoker called Louise Baltimore (none other than Cheryl Ladd, whom I remember from the 70s as being a brunette), he starts to think something’s gone bizarre! And indeed it has! We quickly learn that Ladd and her attractive co-workers are future people who beam onto crashing planes, zap the passengers into relative safety, and replace their bodies with lookalike husks! Ha ha, they don’t much explore the mechanics of all this, nor do we really learn where the passengers end up, but we get the sense that, while the future people are not evil, they’re also not completely altruistic in their motivations!

Anyway, most of the movie is Bill trying to figure things out, and accidentally zapping himself with one of the zappers the future people carry around; but occasionally we visit the future, where there’s a robot named Sherman, one of the fussy ones who affect an air of superiority while still remaining generally servile, played by Robert Joy from Amityville 3-D! There’s also an old guy called Coventry, in charge of time-travel theoretics and also responsible for warning people about paradoxes, who’s played by Brent Carver from Shadow Dancing, but who looks a little like Sting in community theatre-grade old age makeup!

In the present day of 1989, we have Daniel J. Travanti from St. Ives playing a glasses professor who’s got his suspicions about what’s going on! Ha ha, I quite liked Travanti’s performance here - he takes full advantage of those strings some people attach to their eyewear! There are also all sorts of Canadian actors in the margins of all the time periods: in addition to those already mentioned, we have Maury Chaykin from Curtains, Al Waxman from Spasms, Lloyd Bochner from Point Blank, Gary Reineke from Rituals, Eugene Clark from Land of the Dead, Michael J. Reynolds from Rolling Vengeance, Peter Dvorsky from Videodrome, and more of them besides! Ha ha, it must have been a big deal in the Toronto film acting community, this movie! And behind the megaphone we find the director of Bells and Logan’s Run, Michael Anderson!

The picture’s got some fine ideas in it (like the notion that the future people must continually smoke to maintain the air quality they’re used to in their benighted epoch), some decent time-travel stuff (I liked the scenes set in the early 1960s, especially the snazzy stewardess outfits), and a preoccupation with paradoxes you don’t find in every time travel picture! It also has an inordinate amount of blah-blah-blah, some mighty terrible trick effects, some off-putting confusions, and some moments in which the audience is well ahead of the hero in figuring things out, which is rarely a good idea in movies! Plus there’s a bit in the film in which there’s a jump forward in time (in the normal movie sense of eliding unnecessary scenes), when I thought to myself “Ha ha, thank goodness they jumped past those scenes which could only have been tiresome and obligatory-seeming despite not really being obligatory,” only to have the picture then flash back and show us all those scenes after all!

Every now and again a weird sci-fi co-production emerges from the Great Northern Dominion: The Neptune Factor, The Last Chase, and Johnny Mnemonic are all good examples, and certainly this is too! They’re usually not too successful, ha ha, and can never compete in the international market in the way they seem designed to! Millennium is in no sense a success, but it is weird and slightly compelling in its way, and it has a goofy robot in it, so I give it one and a half pillbox hats!

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Burl reviews Leviathan! (1989)


 

Speaking bubbly, it’s Burl, ducking my head beneath the waves to bring you a review of yet another of the underwater monster movies of 1989! You’ll remember it well, I’m sure: in January we got Deep Star Six, in August we plunged down The Abyss, and somewhere in between, in around March of that year I believe, came this picture, Leviathan!

As has likely been noted by every single other reviewer, if you took Alien and The Thing, mashed them together, plunged them to the bottom of the sea, and made them not very good, you’d get Leviathan! Ha ha, it’s amazing how precisely the picture tries to ape those two predecessors! It’s shameless, really; and then you add on the fact that it was only one of several underwater creature pictures that year, and it starts to seem pretty darn derivative!

Our characters are undersea miners nearly at the end of their ninety-day tour of duty! The boss man is Beck, played by Peter Weller from Buckaroo Banzai and Robocop, and his character note – his single character note – is that he’s not an administrator by trade or avocation, but a geologist, and struggles with the people-managing parts of his job! Richard Crenna from First Blood plays the Wilford Brimley part of the doctor who, on realizing that the problem won’t be cured simply by the application of a little Bon-Zoe, comes to believe the goings-on at the undersea mine must be kept at all costs from infecting the rest of the world!

But wait, just what are the goings-on? Well, the resident jackanapes, an unpleasant, bathrobe-wearing workplace harasser and all-around reprobate called Sixpack, mysteriously tolerated by the rest of the crew and played by Daniel Stern from C.H.U.D., discovers a sunken Russian vessel called Leviathan, and filches some vodka from it! He and a lady called Bo, essayed by Lisa Eilbacher from 10 to Midnight and Beverly Hills Cop, sip from the vodka flask and soon start growing scales and other assorted bodily unpleasantnesses! The rest of the crew, which includes Amanda Pays from The Kindred (in which, you’ll recall, she turns into a fish mutant, ha ha!), Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Hector Elizondo from Pocket Money and The Fat Black Pussycat, and Michael Carmine from Invasion U.S.A., realize, to their horror, that their former colleagues are blobbing together and becoming weird bloodthirsty monsters!

Meg Foster from They Live plays the evil company woman with whom Beck occasionally teleconferences; she’s always hanging up on him and is of no help anyway, so the miners arm themselves with an assortment of makeshift weapons, including a flamethrower, I suppose because Alien and The Thing had them too, a highly impractical-looking saw, a fire axe, and also a hedge trimmer for some reason! The biology of the monsters is pretty confusing: there’s the blobbing together, but also presumably some kind of cell-like division, which, if that happens, is kept off screen! Tentacles that are chopped off swim around and grow into new monsters, or expel toothy eel things that look like the monster from Parasite! In short, you never know how many monsters there are, what they might look like, or what needs to be done for the monster peril to be defeated!

All the monster scenes are terribly staged and incomprehensibly edited, and one gets the sense that thanks to this incompetence, a lot of the creature effects crew’s hard work was elided, obscured, and otherwise ignored! Behind the megaphone is George P. Cosmatos, who brought us Rambo and Cobra (or at least so the credits claim) and directed Weller in a rat picture called Of Unknown Origin, and he brings one or two moments of style to the movie but otherwise works in a very static, pep-free mode! The underwater stuff is done in the same dry-studio way they did that old Irwin Allen show about the bottom of the sea, but, with some fine camerawork and by sending the occasional big-jawed fish across the screen on a string, the effect is not too bad!

The cast, as you can see, is pretty great, and they certainly spent some money on the sets and trick effects! They might have spent more time on the body horror aspect before getting to the monsters, and would that they’d given the characters more than one single characteristic each (Sixpack is an unpleasant horndog; Pays loves money; Hudson hates waves; Eilbacher has nice breasts; Carmine, in the role of DeJesus, is obsessed with Alpine skiing; Elizondo, the shop steward, is a by-the-book union man; and Crenna’s doctor is never around when you need him), but I remember having fun with this in the theatre, as I had fun with all the underwater movies that year, so I’m going to give Leviathan one and a half tube worms!

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Burl reviews Donovan's Brain! (1953)


 

With a glowing and a pulsing and a ha ha ha, it’s Burl, sending out brainwaves to be received by anyone in the vicinity! Yes, it’s time for me to catch up with a sci-fi classic of the 1950s, a picture I’ve always heard is good but never had a chance to see before now, or never took the chance because after all there were, so far as I was aware, no giant insects or aliens in it: Donovan’s Brain!

It’s based on a novel by the fellow who brought us The Wolf Man, Curt Siodmak, and its status as an Old Chestnut comes both from the basic and nearly primal obviousness of the concept, and how many times it’s been adapted for the screen, which is several! Because this version shares the title with the novel it comes from, and hews most closely to its story, I guess it’s considered the definitive one! Lew Ayres, whom we recall fondly from ‘Salem’s Lot, plays our – well, not hero, but main character, Dr. Pat Cory, a scientist pursuing, with a dedication just shy of obsessive, a project of extracranial brain revivification! He’s assisted in this by his wife Janice, played by Nancy Davis (that is, Nancy Reagan, ha ha!), who seems to be a scientist in her own right, but of course is always the one who has to go off and make the coffee when the men get sleepy; and a doctor called Frank, played by Gene Evans from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, who serves as the moral barometer and is also a thoroughgoing inebriate!

One day there’s a plane crash in the vicinity, and the only survivor, a nasty, selfish, evidently libertarian millionaire called Donovan, is brought in to the ranch house laboratory! Well, he can’t be saved, but Dr. Pat, against the protests of Janice and Frank, pulls out his brain and puts it in a fishtank! Soon the brain is pulsing and glowing and increasing is size, and it begins sending out brainwaves and eventually takes over the mind of Dr. Pat! The doc begins walking with a limp and holding on to his kidneys, which were Donovan’s signature moves, and also starts treating people with incredible curtness: another Donovan characteristic! The wicked millionaire seems not the least fazed that he’s just a brain in a tank, and, through Dr. Pat, resumes what was evidently an ongoing curriculum of villainy!

Donovan’s evil plan revolves around boring financial moves and seems mostly to involve him writing a lot of cheques, or taking other people to task for cheques they’ve written in the past, or compelling these same people to write more cheques to some hazy purpose! After the third cheque-writing montage, it not only ceases to be compelling, but makes you realize it never was in the first place! Ha ha! Maybe this kind of thing works better in print, but it seems to me that in adapting the book the screenwriters might have come up with something a little more spectacular for the brain to be getting up to! Maybe he was cooking up a plan to put lead in gasoline or something like that!

Compared to most 50s sci-fi it’s a mature and adult work, but the closest it has to a special effect is the pulsing brain, and as I watched, in the company of a pair of bored-but-game ten year-olds, it should be noted, I came to realize that it was not merely a lowbrow impulse that had me avoiding the picture all these years! Ha ha, it really is a bit on the dry side, and by the second half of the picture – which seems a lot longer than its 84 minutes – I couldn’t help but notice and deplore its lack of monsters! On the other hand, as noted, there’s something appealing about a movie of this type that makes no concessions to the more juvenile viewer, and, too, the acting is unusually strong! Ayers in particular is good, rarely overplaying the Donovan takeover aspect, and maintaining an admirable consistency throughout!

There are solid craft credits too – the photography is by Joseph Biroc, who had a long and glorious career behind the camera, and gives the desert locations a nearly Jack Arnold-level starkness; and the production design is by Boris Levin, who was later designing movies like New York, New York and other Scorsese works! The script and direction is reasonably tight, but that doesn’t improve the movie’s main problems: its stubborn lack of eventfulness, and the hopelessly confounding scheme of the baneful cerebellum! Yes, it’s as intelligent as you would hope a brain movie would be, but cinematically speaking it could be so much more clever! I give Donovan’s Brain two inflating medulla oblongatas!


Burl reviews Haunted Honeymoon! (1986)


 

Oh boo, it’s Burl, here with a goofnugget tale of shrieking terror! Well, ha ha, not really – in fact there’s no terror to be had here, because it’s meant to be a comedy! The trouble is, there are no laffs either! There’s a lot of confusion, quite a bit of yelling and screaming, plenty of hambone acting and no little mugging, but laffs, as the Cockney shopgirl said, we ‘ave none! The picture, which you may vaguely recall from the mists of the past, is called Haunted Honeymoon!

Now, the summer of 1986 stands out in my mind as a particularly enjoyable one at the old movie palace, as I tell you every time the year comes up! Gems of varying luster came rolling down the plankway at regular intervals, and I took in as many of them as I could manage! Aliens, The Fly, Stand By Me, Manhunter, Big Trouble in Little China, Friday the 13th part 6, Maximum Overdrive, Night of the Creeps – all of these I went to see, and all of them I enjoyed! Mixed in there was Haunted Honeymoon, which I did not go to see, but the ads and posters for which I always saw in the company of the pictures I was more interested in! I had a suspicion it was bad, but still, there was always a nagging feeling that I should check it out, just in case it had been dusted with a little of that summer-of-’86 pixie dust if only by proximity to the rest!

Well, I finally did see it, and it turns out my initial feeling was the correct one, though the picture starts out with some promise! It’s set in 1939, and our heroes are a pair of radio actors, Larry Abbot and his fiancée Vickie Pearle, who are played of course by real-life marrieds Gene Wilder from Silver Streak and Gilda Radner from Hanky Panky, and in the story here are very soon to be wed! But Larry has a fright problem and suddenly from out of nowhere Paul L. Smith, the large man from Dune and Pieces, pops up in the role of Larry’s uncle, planning a shady-sounding scare cure for him, to be enacted over the upcoming nuptial weekend!

Larry and Vickie return to the ancestral manse and are soon mixed up with a gang of weirdos all in on the plan to scare Larry – we think! Actually, we don’t know, because some peculiar opacity of the narrative prevented me from ever being exactly sure what was going on! Ha ha, that’s some real good storytelling for you! Of course it’s possible that the plot threads were just too nimbly woven for my poor oaf’s brain to discern all the subtleties at play, but somehow, in a movie that chooses to cast Dom DeLuise from The Last Married Couple in America as Great Aunt Kate, the Abbot family matriarch, I doubt it! Ha ha!

Easily my favourite thing in here are the radio show scenes we see at the beginning, which look to have been well researched, and are certainly well designed and played! But then we get to the big old mansion, and things more or less begin a-swirling the drain! There are a couple of amusements, but even these tend to be ruined by overstretching, and the rest of it is dead unfunny! They spent a few bucks on the sets, you can tell, but to no especial purpose! It often doesn’t make sense, and people act in ways that are not always identifiable as genuine human behaviour!

It’s cast well – Wilder, who directed it too, took every advantage of shooting this in England, I’d say! At least three guys from Brazil show up, including Jonathan Pryce (whom we also recall from Tomorrow Never Dies), Bryan Pringle, and Peter Vaughan! Jim Carter from Top Secret also appears, providing the basso profundo in the great chorus of voices Wilder has assembled! And Wilder himself is a fine performer, and does some okay stuff here, but again it all seems such a waste, being as it is in the service of a cold plum pie! The plot has more cracks than a gang of humpties, and despite Wilder’s warmth as an actor, and presumably as a director, in toto this picture has all the charm of a three-bean salad! I give Haunted Honeymoon one sturdy moosehead!

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Burl reviews La piscine! (1969)


 

Hé-ho, c’est Burl, here to review a film about the very French! Yes, I’m languorously languishing on a chaise longue on the Côte d'Azur, most of the buttons on my white cotton shirt undone, Ray-Bans in place, Gauloise between my fingers, thinking inscrutably existential thoughts! Ha ha, the scenario I’ve just described applies with some frequency to the movie I’m discussing: La piscine! 

Our setting is an estate just up the hill from the seaside, equipped with a lovely swimming pool and some spectacular views! Living here, though not themselves the owners, are a couple, Jean-Paul, played with typical handsomeness by Alain Delon from Un Flic, and Marianne, essayed in a more relatable performance by Romy Schneider from Purple Noon! They’re on vacation and have borrowed the house from acquaintances, and seem to be having a pretty romantic time of it, ha ha!

But things change when their pal Harry roars up in his peppy sports car! Harry, played by Maurice Ronet from Elevator to the Gallows, is an old friend of Jean-Paul’s, but also an ex-lover of Marianne’s, a history to which he constantly, winkingly refers! And he’s brought along his shrinking violet daughter Pénélope, played with extreme gorgeosity by Jane Birkin from the similarly sunny Evil Under the Sun! For a while this arrangement trundles along, with the quartet eating dinners, sitting around the pool, and so forth, and there’s even a brief party!

With its Mediterranean locations, beautiful people, and virtually the same cast, it strongly recalls Purple Noon, the more so when, eventually, there’s a murder! I won’t give things away, because part of the fun is the slow burn, during which you’re watching tensions and awkwardnesses ramp up slowly at first, and then quickly, and you wonder how exactly the tension is going to release! It’s not a suspense picture, nor a mystery, but both of those qualities are present, even if not in a form familiar to the fan of the detective genre!  

There is a detective, though! Paul Crauchet from Un Cercle Rouge turns up late in the picture as L'inspecteur Lévêque of Marseille, and he conducts his investigation with apparently all the craftiness of, say, Alastair Sim in Green For Danger, but with none of the results! Ha ha! There was something very realistic but also strangely laissez-faire about his police work, and I liked what that brought to the picture!

And I liked the relaxed continental pace of the movie, the wonderful décors, the contrast between its sunny look and its dim outlook, and, if I didn’t care much for the characters themselves, I appreciated what the actors brought to them! Everyone was good in their roles! When we learn that Jean-Paul has had some emotional problems in the past, and even tried his hand at suicide, Delon’s performance makes a little more sense; and the character of Harry is someone that we’ve all met in the past! And, ha ha, Birkin’s character is the most hilariously disaffected of all, despite not herself being French! Yes, as a slice of late-60s French Riviera life, the picture is nonpareil, though for some I suppose it will be too slow and uneventful! Me, I give La piscine three bottles of Johnny Walker Red!

Friday, 1 July 2022

Burl reviews Talking Walls! (1987)


 

Ha ha, it’s Burl - sheep room activated! Unfortunately, to know what that means you have to have seen Talking Walls, and you probably haven’t! That may be for the best, but I’ll be happy to tell you all you need to know about this curious picture so that you can decide for yourself!

Why is it curious? Well, first of all, it comes from a director whose previous picture, released almost a decade earlier, was a sort of gritty, downmarket On Golden Pond/Death Wish mash-up featuring Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon as an elderly couple trying to survive in a rapidly de-gentrifying Bronx! It was called Boardwalk, and in no way by watching it could you have predicted the coming, only nine years later, of Talking Walls!

Our alleged hero in this newer picture, Paul, is played as a real weirdo by Stephen Shellen from Gimme an ‘F’; and no wonder, because the character is indeed a big old motel-living, emotionally adolescent weirdo! He’s a sociology student trying to complete a PhD on “personal relationships” or some such bumblefuzz, and proposes to his professor, played by Barry Primus from Boxcar Bertha, that he gather his data by peeping on the various guests populating (on an hourly basis) the motel he lives at!

To this end he cuts through the motel walls and floors with a demented pervert’s energy, waving a skilsaw around and laughing maniacally as he installs his two-way mirrors and cameras! He records a parade of yolk-faced fartmongers as they play bohankie with ladies (some professionals, others not) in the various theme rooms! Yes, there’s a sheep room, and the theme in there appears to be sheep, but not erotic garter-wearing sheep as we saw in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask)! There’s also a car room, a shoe room, and some others I can’t rightly remember!

So he observes, but is such a poor scholar and abjectly stupid person that he learns absolutely nothing, for which his professor regularly upbraids him! “But I have all the latest equipment!” whines Paul! “It’s got to tell me somethin’ about how people are feelin’!” Meanwhile, the motel guests keep up their performative erotica for the benefit of Paul’s cameras and thermographs, and the picture turns into a series of sexual skits, like If You Don't Stop It... You'll Go Blind!!! or one of those kinds of movies!

There are some familiar faces in the theme bedrooms! Sybil Danning from Howling II, Karen Leigh Hopkins from The Running Man, June Wilkinson from The Bellboy and the Playgirls, and Sally Kirkland from Hometown U.S.A. are just some of the ladies; and the fellows include Don Calfa from Return of the Living Dead, Hunter Von Leer from Halloween II, Peter Liapis from Ghoulies, Mickey Jones from Starman, and Richard Partlow from Alligator! Ha ha, it’s quite a gang!

Finally Paul tries dating a real woman, who turns out to be a Pac-Man playing French lady he finds attractive! Her name is Jeanne, and she’s played by Marie Laurin from Creature, and there’s a long montage of them kissing in picturesque places to the sounds of the worst softrock song of all time! Ha ha, bleargh! Of course the relationship goes south when he won’t let her see his place, because then she’ll know what a desperate pervert he is! The old man who owns the motel – my favourite character by a long chalk, ha ha! – counsels flowers, so Paul steals the ones the old man had just bought his wife, and books the cloud room for his anticipated bohankie! But there’s a twist ending, and it drives Paul mad and has him huffing from a big glass pipe and hallucinating a sort of music video that declares him to be on “The Losing Side of Love!”

It’s a weird movie when you get down to it! The protagonist seems so daft and damaged, and his oddball nature infects the entire picture! He videotapes everything, so much of the movie is literally from his perspective, and it's not a perspective any sensible person wants! There are unexpected intrusions of actual craft now and then, but these only make the whole thing weirder, and in any case nothing could possibly overcome the intolerable character of Paul, a petulant, whiny sociopath who wears leather pants for a scene of dramatic climax, then ends up driving the streets yelling “FIND HER! FIND HER! WHERE IS SHE!” There's more after this - ha ha, it seems to go on and on - but it all eventually wraps up in what I suppose was meant to be a happy ending!

The picture feels about eight times longer than it really is! It’s an extremely curious and off-putting thing, with only the charming old man and the weirdness to make it even worth a mention! I can’t say for sure that it was worth watching, but, as with other bizzarities like Mid-Knight Rider or The Worm Eaters, once it's over you know you’ve seen something most other people never will! I give Talking Walls one recalcitrant Coke machine!

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Burl reviews Land of the Dead! (2005)


 

Urrgh, groww, gnarr, it’s Burl shuffling at you with a zombie movie to review! And not just any old zombie movie, but one from the acknowledged grandmaster, George A. Romero, who of course brought us Creepshow and many other horror entertainments! And Creepshow had zombies – three of them, to be precise – but it’s the …of the Dead series for which this beardsman is most thoroughly celebrated! The one under review today is the biggest-budgeted of them all: Land of the Dead!

I’m a very big fan of Night of the Living Dead and especially Dawn of the Dead – ha ha, a great favourite, that one! Then, when Day of the Dead came out, and played at the grandest movie theatre in town when I was but fourteen years old, I managed to sneak in to see it opening night, and even got myself one of the promotional badges they were handing out! It was a night of great triumph: the first time I successfully sneaked in to an R rated movie; and so Day of the Dead stands as a sentimental favourite and always will! And so, as you can imagine, when Land of the Dead came along twenty years later I was pretty excited to see it too!

So I rushed out to the movie theatre, and what I beheld there was this: a slick, enjoyably meaty zombie picture with a nicely Romeroesque political dimension to it – ha ha, in other words, almost exactly what I was hoping for! Still, it’s never ascended to the pantheon occupied by the first two in the series! It’s a lot more lighthearted than Day of the Dead, though, which, with all its yelling, is a movie that can really harsh your mellow! On the other hand, I quite enjoy the picture! But we’re here to talk about Land of the Dead, aren’t we! Yes, ha ha!

Our story once again begins some unspecified amount of time after the zombie apocalypse, and society in Pittsburgh is bifurcated between the regular folk, who live in dirty slums where they indulge in every vice and yet keep it together enough to provide the children with puppet shows, and the rich, who dwell in comfort, as though nothing had ever changed, in a big tower called Fiddler’s Green! This edifice is run by Kaufman, who’s played by an unusually reserved Dennis Hopper, an actor we recall from My Science Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2!

Pittsburgh gets its supplies by means of night raids on nearby towns that have been overrun by zombies but still have shops full of canned goods and booze! Simon Baker from Red Planet plays Riley, the good guy who designed and is in charge of the main raiding vehicle, which they call Dead Reckoning! This conveyance, an armored truck thing reminiscent of the Landmaster from Damnation Alley, can shoot fireworks, machine guns, and mortars, and becomes the central item of interest as the movie progresses!

John Leguizamo from Die Hard 2 and Collateral Damage plays Cholo, the second-in-command who first works for Kaufman, then is snubbed by him, and so in his resentment becomes compelled to steal Dead Reckoning and threaten to shell the city with it! Riley, in the company of his old buddy Charlie, a puttyface played by Robert Joy from Amityville 3-D (and looking very much like he did in the final moments of that film), and his new friend Slack, a lady played by Asia Argento from The Church, form a repo gang who intend to get it back: not for Kaufman, whom they all dislike, but to save innocent lives in the slum zone! Meanwhile the zombies are being organized, after a fashion, by zombie liberation activist Big Daddy, a gaspumping zombie played by Eugene Clark from Trial & Error! As Riley and his bunch close in on Chulo, the zombies cross the river simply by walking across it under water, and the final battle for life, freedom, and Fiddler’s Green is under way!

The movie was released in the heart of the Bush years, in the midst of the war in Iraq, and serves pretty well as a political parable in the old Romero style! Hopper’s character is the Bush analogue of course, with Fiddler’s Green and Pittsburgh in general standing in for North America; while the zombies are the foreign hordes supposedly clamoring to destroy it or at least take it over! As political parables go it’s not subtle, and it lacks the lively cleverness of Dawn, but it’s still nice to see horror movies with subtext, even if that subtext isn’t very sub! Ha ha! And is it gory? Ha ha, you bet it is, especially in the unrated edition I just watched! You get face pullings, head stompings, all manner of grue!

The picture was shot in Toronto, not Pittsburgh, so the margins are filled with familiar Canadian actors like Earl Pastko from Roadkill, Robin Ward from Flick (supplying a mellifluous voiceover extolling the bourgeois virtues of Fiddler’s Green), Heidi von Palleske from Dead Ringers, and Boyd Banks from Crash! Of course Tom Savini, whose moustache-acting we’ll recall from movies like Creepshow 2 (where his moustache is prosthetically obscured, ha ha) and Innocent Blood, turns up in zombie form as the same biker, Mr. Machete, that he played in Dawn of the Dead!

It’s an entertaining and slick picture that suffers from thin characterizations (the hero’s defining personality trait is that he’s the hero, ha ha, and a pretty bland one at that) and is narratively underbaked! It doesn’t offer all the satisfactions I might have hoped for, but it still ticks plenty of boxes, and in spite of occasional moments of profound dumnitude, I think of the picture with fondness! I give Land of the Dead two and a half skyflowers!