Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Burl reviews Up the Creek! (1984)


 

With a whitewater smile it’s Burl, reviewing another sophomoric rip-off comedy for you! Ha ha, can you imagine an 80s raucous beer ‘n’ boobs cacklefest so devoted to the form that it features not one or two but three actors from two entirely different previous raucous campus comedy hits in the cast? Well it exists! The picture I’m telling you about is called, quite simply, Up the Creek!

Yes it’s a river rafting picture, but naturally, given the previous experience of its cast, it is in a larger sense a collegiate shenanigan film! Two of the actors are familiar to those many millions who saw Animal House: we’ve got Tim Matheson from Fletch and Impulse in the lead role of smarmy Bob McGraw; and in the Belushi role of Gonzer is Stephen Furst from Silent Rage and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion! And they join forces with Dan Monahan from Porky’s as Max, the loveable horndog! The principal foursome is rounded out by Irwin, who’s played by Sandy Helberg from Spinal Tap, and who evidently represents an attempt to come up with a new collegiate comedy archetype: the nerd with a terrible drinking problem!

These four, the bottom four students at LePetomane University and therefore in the country, are press-ganged by their angry dean, played by the Royal Emperor of Snob himself, John Hillerman from Chinatown and Blazing Saddles, into taking part in some kind of annual inter-school raft race that supposedly has gone on for fifteen years! Of course the competition is a gallery of stock 80s characters: toffee-nosed bad guy Rex played by Jeff East from Deadly Blessing and Pumpkinhead, along with his three bleach-blond fascist pals; plus a random rich man called Tozer who wants the all-blondes to win for some reason and is played by James B. Sikking from Outland; and, for extra value, a quintet of crazed military nutcases led by a lunatic with a serious case of Resting Ernest Face called Lt. Braverman! There’s also a boatload of co-eds, non-snobby variety, of whom the most important is Heather Merriweather and is played by Jennifer Runyon from Ghostbusters; and then there are some cowboys who don’t really factor in at all!

Of course the rivalry between Bob and Rex sharpens when Heather turns her affections to the insouciant hero Bob rather than the perpetually incredulous-looking Rex; this leads to a long exchange of dangerous pranks back and forth, but then, wouldn’t you know it, Irwin is kidnapped by the army guys and staked out naked on the ground! “We’ll find him even if it takes a hundred years,” McGraw vows! And all through this there is a long series of raft explosions – ha ha, truly, there are a lot more exploding rafts in this picture than you might ever guess – and ultimately it comes down to the final confrontation at the finish line, where Tozer conveniently keeps a riverbank summer house which may or may not be destroyed by raging waters!

Thinking of that summer house makes me remember that Up the Creek tries a lot of large-scale physical gags which it can’t always pull off – ha ha, this leads to plenty of reaction shots and astonished people getting covered with dust instead of the allegedly spectacular moments of destruction they’re looking at, which often happen off screen! Still, I give it points for trying that stuff with a mixture of miniatures and full-scale effects, insofar as they could manage it! It’s certainly one of the more ambitious of the collegiate sex comedies of that era!

As douchey as the frat guys are, our heroes, as is so often the case in these pictures, are no better! Bob is as smarmy as Matheson can make him, which is to say considerably; Furst’s character is a grotesque eating machine; the nerd drinks way too much and is kind of obnoxious about it; and Monahan especially looks too old to be involved in things like this, and in any case isn’t given much to do! Anyway, they’re all handily upstaged by a marvelous but oversensitive dog whose top-flight acting abilities are just this side of the furball charmer in The Boogens, ha ha!

In many ways the Platonic ideal of the R-rated 80s comedy, Up the Creek is lamely determined to hit all the bases but not exceed expectations, especially in, say, the screenwriting or acting departments! Still, the showmanship it musters now and then gives it a bit of personality! Of course it all seems to be occurring in a world in which the only authorities are university deans and rich guys who put on raft races, whose rule is so absolute that even army guys can only fume and fulminate uselessly against it; but if it’s plausibility you’re looking for, you’d better try Teen Lust or Goin’ All the Way or one of those! I give Up the Creek one and a half flume rides!

Monday, 29 May 2023

Burl reviews Pinball Summer! (1979)


Bing-bang thunk thunk tilt, it’s Burl, here to review a movie featuring pinball as a theme! It’s the sort of movie that would have featured video arcade games as a theme if it had come out a few years later, but in 1979 it was still pinball times, if only just! Don’t be fooled – a year or two later the movie was re-titled Pick-Up Summer so it could fit more easily into the by-then-popular Porky’s genre, and so it would not be hobbled by its by-then-superannuated pinball theme, but the opening (and closing) song, “Pinball Summer,” gives the game away! So of course I’m going to review it under its original title, which, you won’t be surprised to hear, was Pinball Summer!

 

It’s the story of a pair of assholes and the unpleasantness they sow up and down the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, or at least the Ottawa River and the Lake of Two Mountains! Ha ha, I’m sure sorry to be so crudely blunt in my choice of language here, but it’s hard to overstate just what incredible pricks these two characters are! Their names are Greg and Steve – Greg is played by Michael Zelniker from Hog Wild and Naked Lunch; Steve by Carl Marotte from My Bloody Valentine and Breaking All the Rules – and they drive around in their (admittedly sweet) boogie van all day insulting people and making life especially hard for a pair of sisters, Donna and Suzy! Donna is played by Karen Stephen from Happy Birthday To Me, and Suzy by Helene Udy from Incubus!

They also torment a biker gang leader called Bert, played by Tom Kovacs from Scanners! He’s sort of the Erich Von Zipper figure and serves as the putative antagonist, but the friction between the jerk duo and Bert (who’s a bit of a knob himself, but not as bad as Greg and Steve because nobody's as bad as Greg and Steve) is entirely the fault of the former, as is all the other trouble they get into! Why the ladies put up with these immature canker sores for even a moment is a true mystery! 

Their frequent sexual harassment of women extends to Sally, played by Joy Boushel from Humongous, Terror Train and The Fly, who is a waitress at the hamburger joint they patronize and is also the semi-steady girlfriend of Bert! The pals bounce between the burger place and a proto-arcade run by a fellow called Pete, who, for reasons of his own, decides to stage a pinball contest that will determine exactly who is the best player around! What masquerades as a plot in this picture simply involves one group trying to steal the trophy from the other group, back and forth; and never for one moment do you care who has the treasured item at any given moment or who will keep it in the end!

Pete happens to employ a doughy dimwit called Whimpy, who also has a thing for Sally, so Whimpy and Bert work out some kind of creepy deal for Bert to win the pinball trophy through manifest dishonesty! But that goes nowhere, petering out like everything else in the movie; and meanwhile a local flasher played by Wally Martin from Wild Thing opens his raincoat to any and all in the vicinity! While all this is occurring, a hideous talking pinball machine called Arthur grins and blinks its teeth like a lunatic; there’s an underwhelming bout of strip pinball; the bikers engage in some Peeping Tom-ism that so arouses one of them he begins crazily humping his gangmate; and Greg and Steve continue to act like absolute dickwads to everyone they meet!

It’s amusing how many of the actors were in the Canadian horror pictures of the time! Ha ha, I recognized plenty of these mugs – several of the performers here also showed up in My Bloody Valentine, which makes sense because it was directed by the same fellow who helmed this pinball caper, George Mihalka; and then there’s horror veteran Boushel, who goes for an underwear-clad ride down the road astride the aforementioned hideous pinball machine Arthur; and there’s also a local city counsellor played by Roland Nincheri from Evil Judgment and Visiting Hours; and Riva Spier from Rabid and Ghostkeeper; and of course the flasher, who was in Shivers and The Pyx!

In a more generous mood I might award this plotless, brainless concoction the distinction of being Canada’s sincere attempt to copy such wonderful Crown Internationals as Malibu Beach or The Van; but no one in those movies, not even Dugan, is so thoroughly unpleasant as Greg and Steve, the alleged heroes of this picture, so that honour is off the table! Nothing that happens makes much sense, there’s no follow-through to any action or event; the number of funny jokes adds up to something near zero; and Greg and Steve, need I repeat myself yet again, are so off-putting as to ruin the viewing experience even if anything else about the movie was good! Ha ha, I sure did hate those dorks, Greg and Steve! Because of them, and because very little else in the movie even comes close to making up for their terribly fuckery, except possibly their boogie van, I give Pinball Summer one comment from Arthur, which isn’t worth very much I’m afraid!

 


 

Friday, 26 May 2023

Burl reviews Aftersun! (2022)



Merhaba my friends, it’s Burl here to review fun in the sun! Well, sort of fun, anyway, ha ha! It’s one of the newer movies out there, and while it takes place in a sunny Mediterranean resort locale, if a rather downmarket one, and while nothing overly traumatic happens, and while the word “sun” is even in the title, it would be a stretch to call this a fun-in-the-sun picture now that I think about it! But, ha ha, you can decide! The movie in question is a Scottish picture called Aftersun!

It’s all set in a period with which I’m quite familiar: the late 1990s! It’s a reminiscence story, mostly though not entirely from the perspective of 11 year-old Sophie, who has come to a Turkish resort on holiday with her father, Calum! (And yes, his name is Calum, but unlike the fine film A Lawless Street, with its protagonist Calem Ware, they don’t feel the need to repeat the name over and over again!) Calum is a loving father and a reasonably friendly guy; but still, there’s something a little off with him, and this impression is visually represented in the first half of the picture by the unexplained, and completely unsigned, plaster cast he wears on his right arm!

We get more and more clues that something is off with Calum, mostly from little scenes for which Sophie is not present, or events of which she is unaware! Calum expectorates unexpectedly on a mirror, or sobs naked in the room, or walks into the sea, or just sometimes has a funny look in his eye! Occasionally the musical score will play some worrying strings just to underline the problem, whatever it is! And when he peevishly refuses to karaoke an R.E.M. song with Sophie, you really start to wonder!

The problem, it seems, is that Calum is depressive, and that he’s not able or willing to medicate himself! Through clever filmmaking and right proper acting we get the notion that for Sophie this vacation is an opportunity to have fun with her dad and with some of the other guests, and even to kiss a boy; while for Calum it's a last hurrah, a solemn goodbye dressed in jolly holiday clothes! He worries for his daughter; exhorts her, as parents of pre-adolescents will, to talk to him about anything that may trouble her as she goes through puberty and teendom; but we don’t get the sense that he plans to be there for it himself!

All of this is interspersed with quick shots of strobing club action and little flashes of the adult Sophie! Ha ha, in the present day she has become a parent herself, and perhaps this is why she’s looking back over this Greek father-daughter holiday: scanning it for clues not just to her father’s inner life, but her own, and perhaps her child’s! She’s watching all the video she took during that time, possibly wincing at her childishness, maybe lamenting her lost innocence! It’s hard to tell, but, as with Calum, a lot of room is left for the viewer to fill in the blanks!

The movie features one of those moments I cherish in cinema: where you don’t know the end is coming, but then there’s a shot in which you realize this would be the perfect note on which to end the film, and then indeed the film does end in that instant! I remember having that feeling at the end of Irma Vep, and there are other examples too I’m sure! Ha ha, The Conversation comes to mind also, and there’s a movie I should watch again! But Aftersun, well, it was a fine film too, and its subtle emotional ratcheting worked on me in just the way I imagine it’s supposed to, and thus the ending did too! If you think you might relate to anything in here – father-child relationships; the mysteries of adults from a child’s perspective; loss of innocence; the lapping tide of depression; budget Mediterranean resort life – then by all means seek it out! I give Aftersun three motorcycle video games and a sound tubthumping!

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Burl reviews Thank God It's Friday! (1978)


 

Boogie down, boll weevils, it’s Burl, here to review the latest disco dancetravaganza for all you funky herky-jerky fly-folk! Yes, in honour of its 45th birthday on May 18th, I recently watched an all-singing, all-dancing, Donna Summer-starring artifact of the late 70s, which, for those of us who missed it, really gives a taste of what that time and place must have been like! (I was technically alive and breathing then, I suppose, but, ha ha, I was just a little kid!) The picture I'm talking about goes by the simple and declarative title of Thank God It’s Friday!

It’s a plotless ensemble affair along the line of American Graffiti (it was no doubt sold as an American Graffiti for the disco age), or Drive-In, or Nashville, or any number of other such pictures! Everything revolves around a giant discotheque called The Zoo, owned and operated by Tony, who's played by none other than Jeff Goldblum, and whom we’ve all become familiar with from movies like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and Into the Night!

Our characters include an excitable DJ called Bobby Speed, broadcasting from his aerie not just to the club, but apparently to millions of listeners out in radioland! This night represents his big break, so if he doesn’t come across with a live performance from The Commodores, a voice on a speakerbox, which constantly berates him all night long, is going to see to it that he never DJs again! (And guess what – that voice belongs to none other than Al Fann from Parasite and Return to Horror High!) We also have a pair of high school girls who want to win the big dance contest so they can get enough money for tickets to a Kiss concert; a dancing leather-maniac called Marv played by Chick Vennera from Last Rites and McBain; and a chick duo that includes a fresh-faced Debra Winger, who might have come straight from Slumber Party ’57 to do this role!

And then there’s a couple called Sue and Dave, out celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary; and that’s funny, because I know a couple named Sue and Dave, and actually was at their wedding, and they in fact met at my wedding! Unlike the people I know, however, the Sue and Dave in the movie are real squares, man, real flat tires! Especially Dave, essayed by Mark Lonow from The Last Married Couple in America, who’s an accountant and gets dragged to the disco by his timidly adventure-seeking wife, played by Andrea Howard from Summer School! There she and her blonde feather-do nearly fall under Goldblum’s lecherous disco spell, while elsewhere in the labyrinthine club Dave is fed mind drugs by a pink-haired anachronism who ties Dave's tie around his head and renames him Bozunkis!

And there’s a banty fireplug called Gus, who is at the club to meet a blind date and behaves like an absolute jerk; a bewildered van driver hauling all of The Commodores’ gear, played by DeWayne Jesse, aka Otis Day from Animal House; and of course young Donna Summer, looking to prove herself as a singer at the club! And all of these stories alternate and entangle, and it’s not done badly either! The pacing is fine, the music absolutely constant, and there are regular interludes of seizure-inducing strobe effects! People sneak in the windows and get locked in the stairwell, and there are gags involving gay men and a trans woman, and thankfully these gags are not quite as phobic or mean-spirited as I would have expected – they mostly jibe with the general air of amiable acceptance found at The Zoo itself! Ha ha!

None of it is brilliant, but there’s decent pep, a few funny gags (and a lot of clangers too), and performances with energy and verve! I’m not myself a big disco fan, but I can certainly appreciate The Commodores, and it would have been a blast to see them play live in an environment like this! By the time the janitor is sweeping up confettis around the last lingering couple on the dance floor, you’ll feel like you yourself spent a night beneath the disco ball! And, ha ha, that’s not such a bad thing! I’m going to give Thank God It’s Friday two leather jackets and a handful of ‘ludes!

Friday, 19 May 2023

Burl reviews Wes Craven's New Nightmare! (1994)

 


Ha ha and high concepts, it’s Burl, here to review the most po-mo of the Freddy pictures! Freddy became self-aware sometime around February of 1987, at about the time A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 came out, but it wasn’t until this picture appeared seven years later that the circle fully closed! That was when Mr. Wes Craven returned to the director’s chair in old Krugerville and made Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which is the picture under discussion today!

It was clearly intended as a final hoop-de-doo, with the grand return of not just Wes Craven but also Heather Langenkamp, whom we well recall from Star Trek Into Darkness and other photoplays; and John Saxon from Black Christmas and Blood Beach; and background appearances made by a few other people from the first instalment! Robert Englund, of course, never went away, ha ha! And all of these folks play themselves, at least at first; or in Englund’s case, part of the time!

Langenkamp is herself, married to a special effects man (as she is in real, real life), and has a little son, Dylan, played by little Miko Hughes from Pet Sematary and Apollo 13! She’s plagued by dreams and discovers, to her disquiet, that Craven is planning to make another chapter in the Freddy saga in which she, Langenkamp, will play herself! And the ouroboros continues with the introduction of Robert Shaye and other New Line Cinema executives, all playing themselves too!

Langenkamp’s dreams persist, and soon she’s spooked by every little thing; her son is going kwazoo; her husband dies in an accident involving a mechanical Freddy arm, a speeding van, a croscharea, and a concrete wall; and ha ha, won’t anybody do something about all these darn earthquakes! Her pal Saxon provides what comfort he can, but pretty soon he’s calling her “Nancy” and treating her like the daughter she was in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street! And Englund is no help – we see him in his palatial home sans putty, where he looks nearly as fresh-faced as he did in Galaxy of Terror, but he’s too wrapped up in his goofy paintings to offer more than token comfort! (I’m not sure if Robert Englund in real, real life is a painter, but if so, as a painter he makes a fine actor! Ha ha!)

The explanation for Freddy’s presence in the “real” world is quite goofball, but acceptably so – it’s clear Craven gave it some thought so it wouldn’t just come off merely as stupid! Some work is required on the part of the viewer: they must accept the premise as quickly and completely as possible in order to wring maximum enjoyment from the movie! Once they do, they’ll find a picture not replete so much with affrights, but one that functions nevertheless an unexpectedly rich thought-piece! Ha ha, it’s still pretty goofy, but overcoming that is the price of admission!

For a Nightmare on Elm Street picture it’s a real longuebönes (112 minutes!), and this running time excess comes from an inflated opening act and then too many scenes of Dylan acting weird! It’s as though he’s possessed by Freddy, but when it turns out that isn’t actually the case, the moments where he screams or talks in a duck voice come off retroactively as filler! He’s mostly a charming little guy though, especially when he talks about his dinosaur friend Rex!

The second half of the movie has more action and standard-issue genre interest, but by then we’ve accepted Heather Langenkamp not as Heather Langenkamp, but as a fictional character who happens to be named Heather Langenkamp – in other words, ha ha, the meta effect has worn off, to the picture’s detriment! Langenkamp’s acting is a lot better in this one than it was in Nightmare 3 however, and even a step up from the first picture, in which she was mostly just fine but no better!

This picture doesn’t turn bad in the second half though, just less interesting! There’s a well-done scene of young Dylan trying to cross a busy freeway, and his mom trying to save him – ha ha, it gets a little silly when a giant Freddy appears in the sky, but this at least has precedent in Nightmare 3! A frowny doctor becomes the main human antagonist without ever becoming bad or evil, and she’s forgotten about once the standard-issue ANOES climax – meaning a lot of scampering around in downtown Freddytown with its hot pipes and steaming boilers and flaming furnaces – asserts itself!

This came before Craven’s Scream or any of the other meta-horror of the 90s, so it had the exciting flavour of the new at the time, and a lot of that residual goodwill persists for me to this day! I enjoyed it in the theatre back then and enjoyed it again more recently, if a little bit less and without the novelty! It could stand to be gorier and scarier and to have better follow-through, but I still had a fine time watching it! I give Wes Craven’s New Nightmare two and a half sloshing pools!

Thursday, 18 May 2023

Burl reviews Greedy! (1994)


 

By the call of the ragman’s son it’s Burl, here to review yet another poor 90s comedy! Ha ha, I know I’ve been reviewing quite a few of these lately, and for that I apologize! I’d rather be reviewing the good 90s comedies, but there just aren’t very many of them! Let’s think of a few, just to put off talking about this one for a minute or two, ha ha: Groundhog Day was pretty good; Wayne’s World had its moments, as did Dumb and Dumber; the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest have merit; and there are marvelous items like Living in Oblivion and Office Space and Dazed and Confused and The Big Lebowski and Flirting With Disaster and Rushmore! And there are more good'ns I haven’t named, of course, but for a whole decade that’s not too many, is it! And you may be certain that the picture under review today, Greedy, is not one of them!

I’d never seen this movie before but had the DVD lying around, and, because the cast looked pretty impressive, thought I’d give it a look! And it starts out a little blandly, but not badly: we’re introduced to a bunch of different family members as they visit their old Uncle Joe, who is very, very rich, and to whom they act with nausea-inducing obsequity, while trying to sabotage each other to get in good with their elderly ballcapped relation! There are some fine black-comedy moments with a dead doctor confusion, and with the desperate ruthlessness of the nephews and nieces and cousins or whatever they are, but by the end of the first act most of this wears off and is forgotten!

It’s worth pausing a moment and examining the actors who play these family members! Of course old Uncle Joe is essayed by Kirk Douglas from Eddie Macon’s Run and The Fury and Two Weeks in Another Town, and he’s the major reason I watched this thing at all! Then we have talented folks like Phil Hartman from ¡ThreeAmigos!, Ed Begley Jr. from Get Crazy, Colleen Camp from Smile, Bob Balaban from Moonrise Kingdom, Joyce Hyser from Just One of the Guys and Mary Ellen Trainor from The Monster Squad; and Olivia d’Abo from Bullies plays Molly, the pizza delivery gal who has become Uncle Joe’s live-in companion for him to leer at, and whose presence at the mansion sends all the aforementioned relatives into a tizzy!

Into this roiling stewpot of venality comes Michael J. Fox from Teen Wolf in the role of Danny, the nice-guy bowler (a chronic bedposter, though) who used to be Uncle Joe’s favourite when he was a little kid performing Jimmy Durante routines, but who has become estranged from the money-grubbing branch of the family thanks to the high-minded activism of his father! Danny has a ladyfriend called Robin played by Nancy Travis from Eight Men Out, but she doesn’t serve much purpose here except to frown at questionable behaviour!

It’s a scheme movie, meaning everyone has schemes, sometimes schemes within schemes, and Uncle Joe is the biggest schemer of them all! The cousins bring in Danny as a way to divert Joe’s attentions from Molly to someone who's at least in the family, and whom they figure can be browbeaten into sharing the inheritance! But several things happen to Danny: he becomes aware of the grotesqueness of his extended family; he becomes a puppet/plaything of crafty Uncle Joe; he begins to exhibit some proprietary feelings for the fortune himself; and the previously latent scheme-gene within him reveals itself, erupting from him like crab legs from a Norwegian husky!

I think the movie is trying to grapple with the situation in a realistic way rather than a comedy-movie way – ha ha, you can sense that the screenwriters, one of whom is called “Babaloo,” were trying to keep each other in check in this regard! And yet in doing so, they created a bunch of manifestly synthetic characters who behave not as humans, but as figures who act only as they must to serve the moral the writers had clearly settled on before writing word one; and therefore end up seeming not human or realistic at all, but just crudely-conceived figures, and meanwhile there’s no jokes! Ha ha, taking out the gags is not a way to achieve insightful profundity, fellows; but perhaps I should have expected no more from the authors of the laffless anti-union comedy Gung Ho!

So instead of a jolly and pointed black comedy we end up with a scattershot bunch of scenes driven by whatever artificial behaviour is necessary to get to the next scattershot scene, and all of it as watered down as an airport cocktail! As an exposĂ© of the darker chambers of the human heart it strives for the heights of Von Stroheim, but doesn’t even hit the level of Birkinshaw; while the presence of accomplished and compelling actors doesn’t provide pleasure so much as underline how meagre the pleasures are! Like Black Sheep and Toys and Junior and so many other 90s comedies, it seems to have been shot before they got to a satisfactory final draft of the script, and regularly confuses hysteria for humor and finger-wagging for profundity! Still and all the actors are fun to watch, the very occasional gag hits home, and I liked Kirk’s old ballcap, so I suppose if I grit my teeth I can muster a rating greater than nought for this anodyne piece of work! I’ll give Greedy one grip like a bear!

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Burl reviews Black Sheep! (1996)


 

Hoch now friends, it’s Burl here to review non-classic comedy from the 90s! As I’ve hinted elsewhere, in my review of Men at Work for example, there are an awful lot of bad and unfunny 90s comedy films, and it’s my sad duty to report that today’s picture is one of them! Why sad? Well, because the star of the picture never got to realize his full potential, and because the formula on view here had been used almost precisely in a previous picture, where it resulted in a movie that still wasn’t good but was at least watchable! That movie was Tommy Boy, and this follow-up stinker is known as Black Sheep!

Because Tommy Boy did reasonably well and attracted some goodwill, the Paramount/SNL moviemaking conspiracy decided to replicate it as closely as possible, but without spending extra money on heart, wit, and relevance! Once again we have a good-hearted bozo played by Chris Farley, whose presence we may recall from Dirty Work, paired with a banty and sarcastic foil essayed by David Spade, well-known from his role as the hot dog man in Reality Bites!

Farley is Mike Donnelly, who puts all his portly energy into helping his slickster, nice-guy politician brother Al, played by Tim Matheson – whom we know from Impulse and from Fletch, and who, on a busy movie set, once shoved me out of his way – become the governor of Washington! Wishing him out of the way, the campaign assigns staffer Steve (Spade’s part to play of course) to keep the oaf out of trouble by whatever means necessary! But because both Mike and Steve, but especially Mike, are stupid people, trouble keeps happening to them anyway!

The rival campaign led by Governor Tracy, played by Christine Ebersole from True Crime and Licorice Pizza, decides to make the most of Mike’s oafishness in order to derail Al’s candidacy, but they do so in a haphazard and unfocussed manner, which is how everyone does anything in this movie! Plenty of characters are introduced and not much is done with any of them: from a lunatic veteran who lives in a school bus, played, of course, by Gary Busey from Silver Bullet and Lethal Weapon; to Grant Heslov of Congo playing Mike’s cop friend; or Timothy Carhart from The Manhattan Project as Al’s unctuous political aide; or Bruce McGill from Into the Night as his opposite number on the Governor’s side; or, in the role of a sleazy photographer, Boyd Banks of Crash and Jason X!

Nothing is done with these people because nothing is done with anything! The overwhelming feeling is of a movie being made on the fly with an unfinished script by people who would rather be doing something else! There are very few jokes and none of them are funny, so far as I can recall! I’m fairly sure I saw this in the theatre back when I was a semi-professional reviewer of films, but until I re-watched it more recently, I couldn’t remember a thing about it except that it was bad! It turns out that’s the only thing to remember about it, ha ha!

I’m sorry to be so negative here, but, though I can’t say I’m a big Chris Farley fan, I do think he had some comedy chops and a central core of appealing sweetness, and he had the potential to become something greater! But he was ill-used like so many of the tubby comedians were, and Black Sheep is a shining example of a near-criminal waste of talent! Its summery atmosphere, Pacific Northwest locales and essential good-naturedness are about all it has going for it, so I give this forgettable puctulation one half an appearance by Mudhoney!

Sunday, 30 April 2023

Burl reviews Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would! (1994)


 

Bumpkins rejoice: it’s Burl, here to review the animal show! Ha ha, cast your mind back to the year 1994, when a garrulous young pig took the culture by storm, capturing hearts and spraying bacon world-wide! That young pig’s name was Babe, and he has nothing to do with the movie under review today, except that he utterly crushed it and left it flattened and forgotten on the pop culture highway like an old piece of jerky! The name of that misbegotten pig picture? Well it’s Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would!

Ha ha, and you won’t believe it, but I actually saw this porkshow in a movie theatre! I was a semi-professional reviewer back then, and I guess I attended the free preview screening – certainly, ha ha, I didn’t pay for the privilege! I didn’t care for the movie then, but when chance and galactic happenstance recently put a VHS copy in my hands, I thought I’d give it another oink!

To the picture’s credit, it gets off and trotting from the get-go, quite literally! Gordy is a pig who lives in the barnyard of a foreclosed farm with his mother, father, and five piggy siblings! Rough men arrive from the meat packers’ and haul away the dad, and as Gordy is galloping behind the truck carrying his porcine pater, back at the farm the rest of the family is scooped up too, and all of them are taken Up North, the terrifying direction from which no oinkers return! Gordy is left on his own, trotting up the highway in a desperate search for his family!

He soon meets a family country music band who travel the highways and byways in an attractive RV, and briefly, and hearteningly, the movie turns into an RV picture, which you know is something ol’ Burl likes! Ha ha, from Race with the Devil to Paul, the genre is filled with gems, though the movie RV is an exception to the rule! The dad in the band is played by Doug Stone, evidently an established country music star, but I didn’t know him from Joe Bopkins; the tween daughter, meanwhile, a junior-league Lee Ann Rimes, sings about pulling hangnails and checking out your own butt while people line dance before her! Ha ha, line dancing! There seems no terpsichorean form more determined to bleed the fun and spontaneity out of dancing!

But soon Gordy is on his own again, and he hooks up with Hanky, the young scion of a junk food company whom Gordy saves from drowning! This somehow makes him famous, and the next thing you know there’s tedious corporate intrigues, and the daughter of the old man who runs the company – mother to Gordy’s new young friend Hanky – has a boring stuffed shirt for a boyfriend, who works at the junk food company and is trying to win the old man’s heart! But of course when the old man dances off his mortal coil, it’s Hanky who owns the company, along with Gordy! They turn it from a junk food company into a health food company, and inexplicably this causes the company to skyrocket in value! From there– well, let’s just say that none of the subsequent plotting will surprise you very much, but I was glad when the RV and the family band reappeared!

It’s not a movie overburdened by movie star power, ha ha, but there are a few familiar faces and/or voices! The family band’s manager, Cousin Jake, is played by Tom Lester from many a hayseed comedy, and one of the antagonist boyfriend's hired thugs is essayed by Afemo Omilami from Trading Places and The Money Pit! The picture also employs the voice talents of Hamilton Camp from No Small Affair and Earl Boen from The Man With Two Brains, and of course those of the everywhereman Frank Welker, whose golden throat adorns Gremlins and Explorers and so many, many more! And of course there’s a cameo appearance by the young people’s favourite, Louis Rukeyser!

The climax takes place in Branson Missoura, and involves the country-fried talents of Roy Clark from Matilda (the kangaroo one, naturally, not the Roald Dahl one); Jim Stafford of Bloodsuckers From Outer Space fame, and also for singing “Spiders and Snakes;” Mickey Gilley from Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws; and of course Boxcar Willie, decked out in full railriding hobo-face, but with a gee-tar in hand instead of a bindle! Then there’s some fisticuffs between the family band dad and the weasel-faced boyfriend, lots of face-pulling from Cousin Jake, and then the final race to save Gordy’s family, intercut with nightmarish shots of butchers sharpening their knives!

Don’t worry, it all ends up fine, with the last moments of the movie making it seem like the origin story of one of those rural sitcoms of the 60s, most particularly Green Acres! As for the movie itself, everybody in it seems just a little bit off-brand! The grandpa seems like he should be played by Will Geer from Moving Violation or Richard Farnsworth from Into the Night, although the old boy they got is perfectly adequate in the part! Cousin Jake is the sort you can see Jim Varney from Ernest Goes to Camp or Lou Perryman from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 playing, though again, the varmint they cast instead is quite serviceable! And then there’s Gordy himself! He’s cute enough and all, but, as in Francis, a voice is overdubbed as the animal opens and closes its mouth rapidly, as though someone has shoved peanut butter in there, or maybe iron filings!

I haven’t said much about the quality of the movie, but I guess I have to admit that the script and dialogue are a little hamfisted, and the filmmaking itself is of pork wality! Scenes sometimes go on a little bit when there should be cold cuts instead, though I will say that the pacing in general is not bad, and I never sausage a thing as that climactic country music concert! Ha ha, I guess they couldn’t afford Johnny or Waylon or Willie or Kris! And then there’s the star of the show: well, Gordy is not as annoying a character as he might be, but I’m here to tell you he’s not charming either! I give Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would one congratulatory phone call from President Bill Clinton!

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

Burl reviews Killer Party! (1986)


Feeling somewhat the April fool, it’s Burl, here to review a horror picture that initially was called April Fool’s Day, but when that other April Fool’s Day came out, the non-slasher slasher picture which I remember the Three Dog Night version of Mama Told Me Not to Come was used prominently in the TV ads for, the title was changed to Killer Party!

The sentence above is a bit tangled and convoluted and difficult to decipher, I realize, but those are entirely apposite qualities for a review of this particular picture! It opens with a funeral scene, an EC comic story in miniature with a hateful relative and a vengeful corpse! But no, this proves to be a movie-within-the-movie being watched by a young couple at a drive-in, and when the young woman goes for popcorn, supernatural shenanigans occur and then a hair-metal band begins to play! We see now, thanks to a chyron, that this is a music video by a band called White Sister, and it’s being watched on TV by a loafing co-ed!

Finally the story proper can start, for the co-ed is one of three who serve more or less as our main characters! There’s Phoebe, played by Elaine Wilkes from Sixteen Candles, and Vivia, essayed by Sherry Willis-Burch from Final Exam, and there’s another one too, and of course they are for some incomprehensible reason trying to join a sorority house run by your basic bitchy sorority queen type! There is a lot of talk about goats, and a lot of goat noises, and everyone has to eat goat eyeballs of course! Pranks are pulled, including one involving a jar of bees and some ladies in a hot tub, and that seems to have no connection with anything except to continue the general atmosphere of prankishness!

In fact nothing seems to have anything to do with anything else, or not much at least! This disjunctive story was written by Barney Cohen, from whose quill also flowed Friday the 13th part 4, and I think the established backstory and structure of the Jason pictures is what this particular scenarist requires in order to turn in a shootable story! The picture was directed by William Fruet, who brought us Spasms and Funeral Home, and usually (Spasms excepted of course), his movies are a lot tighter and more sensical than this!

Lots of other characters show up, but it’s often difficult to discern their narrative function! There’s a smoothtone called Blake played by Martin Hewitt from Alien Predators; a goony weirdo called Martin, played by Ralph Seymour from Ghoulies and Fletch; and an uptight English instructor named Professor Zito, played by the always-welcome Paul Bartel of Piranha and Chopping Mall and Rock n’ Roll High School! All these performances are perfectly adequate, but I for one missed the gallery of 80s Canadian actors who usually show up in these things – still, ha ha, we do easily recognize it as a Canadian film by the snowflakes that are often swirling past the camera lens!

The collegiate shenanigans take up more than an hour of screen time, and I think the beginning of the movie is meant to take place in the fall while the last part tries to justify the original title by occurring in the spring! This time jump, which many will miss, only adds to the dislocated feeling of the movie! But it seems there’s an old frat house where a frat brother was killed in, I want to say, a hazing incident? The sisters wish to hold a spring prank party in the manse, but the ghost of the frat boy, unable to abide anyone associated with the Greek letter clubs, possesses one of the ladies and there follows a series of bloodless slasher-style killings!

The picture was shot by John Lindley, a cinematographer who would go on to lens bigger-budget items like The Serpent and the Rainbow, Field of Dreams, Sneakers, Pleasantville and The Core, so Killer Party looks a little better than many such movies do! That only means that we get a better-lit look at impenetrable goings-on, however, so it’s not a great help! Also, whatever gore the movie had in its first condition – I remember shots in Fangoria of a trident-poked lady and a fellow with a chopped-off hand – has been ruthlessly excised as though by the killer frat boy ghost himself!

I’ll give it this, though: for a movie shot in 1984, it looks awfully 1986! Is that a compliment? I mean it as such – being a year or two ahead of your time counts as an accomplishment, I think! And though almost all of the scare scenes in the last act are poorly staged and free of affrights, there is one good shock moment in the last bit of it, concerning the surprise appearance of the possessed girl on a roof! The very end has some impact too, though it borrows that from Twilight Zone: The Movie! Otherwise it’s all pretty dire: poorly done, scattered, incoherent, sometimes boring, often stupid!

Some folk like it though, and I want to acknowledge them! Me, I can’t find much in it to love, ha ha, and with its pathetic shenanigan-to-carnage ratio it reminded me of Cheerleader Camp: an unforgivable crime! There’s also a theme song that will tend to make your ears bleed! But I liked Vivia, or was it Phoebe, and how she was half sexy goodtime girl, half glasses nerd! I guess I’ll give Killer Party one and a half guillotines, which I’d say is a pretty generous rating, but hey, it’s spring!

Monday, 10 April 2023

Burl reviews Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves! (2023)

 


With a rousing jig and a hoy-te-toy and a merry, merry click of the heels, it’s Burl, here with a review of the latest in theatre hits! At least I assume it’s a hit – ha ha, I don’t keep track of the box office figures, so for all I know it might be a big old flopparoo! But the people in the theatre seemed to like it, so I’m going to guess it’s doing well! Incredibly enough it’s not a sequel, but it is an adaptation of a recognized intellectual property and I guess that’s what counts for daring originality in today’s marketplace! Of course I’m talking about Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves!

Chris Pine from Star Trek Into Darkness plays the role of the roguish, not too bright, charming-scamp hero, Edgin or Ederin or something; but like the other characters do, we’ll just call him Ed! He’s in a jail with his barbarian-lady chum, and they live in a land more fantastical than, say, the world of Ladyhawke, but maybe not quite so much as The Lord of the Rings! Michelle Rodriguez from Machete is the tough gal-pal, who pines not for Pine, but for a three-footer who dwells in a glen in the forest! They escape their prison by means of a birdman even though they were about to get paroled, and immediately begin a series of enfiladed quests with their buddies!

And who are these buddies? Well, there’s a young wizard without, yet, the self-confidence required to master his trade, and a druid lady played by Beverly from It! They also meet a supernaturally benevolent paladin who joins them for a couple of the interior sub-quests and is a big help when it comes time to battle a porky dragon! The antagonist is none other than Hugh Grant from The Lair of the White Worm, a scoundrel of a rapscallion of a nogoodnik, formerly a chum himself, who betrays our heroes and becomes a rich mayor or something, claiming Ed’s daughter as his own, dwelling in a castle, and employing an evil witch to help with his schemes!

I didn’t expect much from this one, I have to say! I was never a D&D player, though I sat in on a game once! My son is playing it every Sunday with some pals though, and I took him and one of the chums to see it at the theatre, where the exhibitors occasionally busted out some old-style showmanship by projecting extra edges to the frame along the side walls! The effect was surprisingly un-annoying and even a little bit immersive! Anyway, I thought I was just being a decent dad by taking some kids to a movie, but darned if I didn’t enjoy myself thoroughly!

It’s no Conan the Barbarian, but it’s got some laffs along with the usual not-quite-Peter-Jackson level fantasy action scenes! Hugh Grant, whose stammery smarm was always ready and able to be put in the service of evil, gives good value here, and Pine, playing a hero halfway between Han Solo and Jack Burton, does exactly what the picture needs him to do with unshaven aplomb! It’s all nonsense of course, and nonsense with an airy, arbitrary feeling to it; and the story and structure sure could have been a lot stronger; and I for one would have liked more of the grotesque creatures - sucking worms and so forth - that I remember from the monster manuals; but it hits some emotional beats with surprising solidity and integrates the comedy with the fantasy in fine fashion!

Even though it’s machine-tooled to be the first of a series (which they’d better hurry up on before Pine ages out of his scalawag years), it’s nevertheless still at this moment a standalone film and not a sequel, remake, reboot, or requindle; and although it’s derived from an age-old and highly recognizable IP, it’s not one with which I was overly familiar; and the effect of all this on me, and of attending with a pair of 11 year-olds, was the feeling of an old-fashioned 80s-era outing to the movies, which feeling probably brought me more pleasure than the movie itself! But the film is amusing too, and so in spite of its cumbersome title, I’m going to give Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves two and a half gelatinous cubes!