Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday, 6 October 2022

Burl reviews The Lair of the White Worm! (1988)


With a touch o’ wurms it’s Burl, here to ponder on a late-80s horror gem that I was fortunate enough to see in the movie theatre with a big responsive crowd! Well, it was a small movie theatre so the crowd was only so big, but the audience responded as though they were watching simply the most uproarious of comedies, and of course in this case that’s entirely apposite! The picture is none other than The Lair of the White Worm!


Ken Russell who brought us Billion Dollar Brain and many other strange and wonderful pictures, is the madman behind this one! Ha ha, it concerns the Trent sisters, Eve and Mary, played by Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis, who are doing their best to keep the family farm-cum-guest house operating in the wake of their parents’ sudden, mysterious, and total disappearance! Digging in their yard is a young Scottish archeologist called, naturally, Angus, and essayed by Peter Capaldi from Local Hero and Paddington! He finds a big skull that appears to be from some sort of giant reptile, which Russell shoots with a wide lens to make it appear all the more monstrous!


At a party held by the local laird, D’Ampton, played by a voice-cracking Hugh Grant, Angus learns of the local legend of the D’Ampton Worm, to which virgins were sacrificed back in the day! Ha ha, there’s even a song about it performed in the sweaty Celtic rock style! Meanwhile a rich lady called Lady Sylvia, played marvellously by Amanda Donohoe from Starship Troopers 3, returns to her mansion and begins putting the bite on people, starting with an unfortunate boy scout! Ha ha, it seems she’s nearly as reptilian as The Reptile herself! Angus, D’Ampton, and the Trent sisters form a team to try and solve all the mysteries, like what happened to Trent mère and père, is the worm legend for real, who stole the skull, and what’s up with this weirdo Lady Sylvia?


It all comes to a climax with the big worm, Lady Sylvia naked in blue body makeup, one Trent sister hanging over a pit in her underwear and another chained to a wall, and Angus sporting a kilt and producing first a mongoose from his sporran, and later a hand grenade! Ha ha, the theatrical audience I saw the picture with loved all this stuff, and laughed and hooted with great appreciation! (One of the biggest laughs came in the opening credits with the reveal of the cinematographer’s name, Dick Bush! Ha ha, talented guy – he shot Sorcerer, or at least part of it, and Phase IV too – but I guess he got some ribbing at school!)


But the simple fact is that I like this movie! Ha ha, I’m very fond of it indeed! I like the overemphatic musical cues and the frequent use of wide lenses and the touches of wacky gore and the sometimes very goofy acting! Donohoe’s performance in particular is of note – ha ha, she really goes for it, and does a fantastic job! Russell’s tongue is jammed so firmly in his cheek that there might have been bleeding, and there’s a playfulness that most of the cast were in on as well! He maybe tries a little too hard with the hallucination sequences, which have an unfortunate video-y look to them, but they’re a pretty essential part of this eccentric enterprise!


To some viewers, or maybe to most, I suppose it’s all just stupid and silly; and maybe the real worm creature doesn’t look much less fake than the pantomime one seen in the party sequence; and maybe it seems like a parody of a Hammer film, which were parodies of themselves before Hammer stopped making films anyway, and is therefore redundant! I reject all this because the movie is quite simply plenty of fun! Sure, maybe they spend a little too much time loitering in that big cave, but you have to admit, the cave is pretty picturesque! And you can reasonably accuse the movie of not making sense, of being deliberately goofy, of failing to satisfy! I understand most of these criticisms, but I nevertheless give The Lair of the White Worm three games of Snakes & Ladders!

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Burl reviews Police Academy! (1984)


Calling all cars, it’s Burl, here to update you on a popular rip-off comedy of the 1980s! Ha ha, I realize that could describe any number of movies – Up the Creek, for instance, or one of many, many others! But no, this one, which borrows liberally from Stripes and Animal House and both Privates Benjamin and Popsicle, is in fact a picture successful enough to be ripped off itself by movies like Moving Violations and Recruits and Night Patrol! And the picture around which all this rip-offery swirls is of course Police Academy!


Ha ha, as is so often the case, I have a little story about seeing this movie! I was thirteen, and went to a party at some friends of my parents, held at a house a street or two over from my own! There were other kids there and the party was sufficiently decadent that we were able to sneak glasses of white wine and eat all the oysters we could manage, and so we were in quite a state by the time we stumbled to the local movie theatre, just around the corner (the same one in which I’d seen movies like Xanadu and Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown), to take in Police Academy! No surprise that it turned out to be the perfect movie for a gang of just-barely teens snookered on pinot gris and seafood aphrodisiacs, ha ha!


Steve Guttenberg from Cocoon and The Bedroom Window portrays the hero of the piece, Carey Mahoney! Ha ha, who made Steve Guttenberg a star, you ask? This movie did! Mahoney is an allegedly charming parking lot attendant and amateur petty criminal who is forced to join the police academy lest his latest escapade - an aggressive parking job - land him in the pokey! His initial impulse is to get himself thrown out of the academy at the earliest opportunity, but after laying eyes upon the supercute Kim Cattrall, well known from Porky’s and Big Trouble in Little China, he decides to stay and become the best police cadet he can be! But the head instructor Harris, played by G.W. Bailey from Rustler’s Rhapsody and Short Circuit, takes a strong disliking for him, and herein lies the central conflict!


Such as it is, anyway, ha ha! Mahoney is only nominally the hero of the piece, because this is really more of an ensemble production featuring all manner of misfits who've joined the academy all at once! Bubba Smith from Black Moon Rising is the towering florist; Donovan Scott from The Best of Times is portly Leslie Barbara; David Graf from Suture is a frothing, dimwitted gun nut; Bruce Mahler from Friday the 13th part 4 is a clumsy briefcase oaf; and of course Michael Winslow from Grandview U.S.A. is The Man Who Can Make Machine Gun Noises With His Mouth And Often Does! George Gaynes from Altered States and Tootsie gives a terrific performance as dotty Commandant Lassard, in charge of the atheneum, while Leslie Easterbrook from Private Resort is Harris’s sexy sub-lieutenant!


When I was a wine-drunk thirteen year-old this movie seemed rollicking and uproarious, but in the cold and sober light of day I’m sorry to say it doesn’t provide quite the laffs it once did! But rather than listing its faults, it would take a lot less time to list the things I still like about it: Gaynes’s performance; the Kensington Market locations used in the climax; the random appearances from familiar Canadian character actors like Michael Reynolds and Don Lake; and maybe a few of the gags here and there, but not many! Otherwise it’s pretty dire, my fond memories of the original cinema screening notwithstanding! I’m going to give Police Academy one and a half podiums!

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Burl reviews The Abominable Dr. Phibes! (1971)


At the playing of the organ, it’s Burl, here to review a popular curiosity of the Seventies! It’s a little of Vincent Price’s wonderful egg magic, and he speaks here without moving his mouth just as when he narrated The Devil’s Triangle! Of course we also know Price from his later roles, such as we find in Dead Heat and Edward Scissorhands, and we know him from his work on the AIP Poe films, and from yet earlier works like Laura and The Baron of Arizona! But this is a taste of his early-70s stuff, and of course it could only be The Abominable Dr. Phibes!


I saw plenty of stills from this movie before ever seeing the movie itself, because it had come out not long before a rush of picture-book histories of horror movies were published, and they all used images from it and its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again! And why not? They’re well-shot movies with elaborate and unusual sets and plenty of crazy and bloody goings-on to depict, and if the truth be told, the visual delights with which the picture is well salted, along with of course the outré murders and limited but still delightful Price performance, count as the movie’s main virtues!


It’s a revenge story, even if the motive doesn’t make much sense! As the narrative commences the murders have already begun, and in fact we join a crime in progress as a man in bed is shredded by bats loosed into his bedroom! Ha ha, it seems that we’re located in London in the year 1925, and general purpose genius Dr. Anton Phibes, with the help of his beautiful but mute and mysterious assistant Vulnavia, is taking out the entire surgical team he holds responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table, one by one, with killings inspired by curses in the Old Testament!


On his trail are the dogsbodies of Scotland Yard, represented by a blockheaded policeman named Trout, played by Peter Jeffrey from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen! Ha ha, Trout makes a few leaps of logic that initially give him the appearance of someone with a decent investigative mind, but he’s soon revealed as an incompetent who seems smart only in comparison with his even dimmer superiors! Joseph Cotton from Shadow of a Doubt plays Dr. Vesalius, the leader of the rapidly dwindling surgical team and the obvious final victim, and even he fails to see certain highly evident aspects of the revenge plot coming! And their dimwittedness even reduces the purported genius of Phibes, because we think that after all it wouldn’t take much cleverness to trick this gang of muleheads!


Of course it’s the goofy and horrible murders which stand as the film’s main attractions! We get the bat attack, a headsqueeze from a trick frog mask, an exsanguination (neatly bottled as in Exorcist III), rats on a plane, a freezing by snow machine, a highly unlikely brass unicorn impalement, a munching by locusts, and an attempted acid facewash! This is not strictly speaking Old Testament stuff, but we won’t mind that, ha ha! And of course Price is always a treat, but I find his charms muted here since he doesn’t speak in the accepted oral manner, and when we do hear his voice, the Priciness of it is altered by his stilted and mechanical syntax!


There are plenty of baffling questions, like why Vulnavia, played by Virginia North from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is so devoted to Phibes and his plot! Is she even human, or is she one of the clockwork creations Phibes has playing music in his lair? (Vulnavia is always playing music too, so maybe that’s the giveaway!) And why does Phibes blame the surgeons so thoroughly for his wife’s death? Being so completely unaware of the risks of any surgery in the 1920s makes him come off as something of a reactive idiot! And why was a psychiatrist (the frog mask victim) part of the team at all? Just for the “headshrinker” joke I suppose, but that hardly seems worth it!


Anyway, the movie quite actively resists any attempt to take it seriously, and as mentioned, it has a number of pleasures you can concentrate on instead! It’s never scary, but it is comic-gruesome, and of course, ha ha, the Price is right! I’m going to give The Abominable Dr. Phibes two brussels sprouts!

Friday, 23 September 2022

Burl reviews Judge Dredd! (1995)


Ha ha, Burl here, and I AM THE LUAWRH! What does that mean? Well, you’ll simply have to read my review of this mid-90s futuristic action spectacular to find out! Well, I’ll clear it up for you now: the picture in question is Judge Dredd, and “luawrh” is the closest approximation I can make to the word “law” as pronounced by the picture’s star, the pebble-mouthed Sylvester Stallone!


Now this is the first filmed version of the story, not the 2012 version Dredd, which was grim and dark and 3D, and unfolded mostly, as I recall, in slow motion! Of course the Judge was a comic book character before he was anything, and I still remember the nerdrage that greeted the news that Stallone’s character would be – gasp! – removing his helmet in the course of the film! Ha ha, can you imagine! As someone who never read the comics, I didn’t care either way, but when I saw the picture (and reviewed it professionally, for that was back in my professional movie reviewing days), I realized that in fact it would have been better had he kept the thing on as much as possible!


There were quite a few wrong decisions made in the production of this movie, ha ha, and hiring Stallone to play the part might have been the Original Sin from which all subsequent malarkey sprang! We remember him as John Rambo in pictures like First Blood and Last Blood, and so having him play an emotionless dispenser of justice would seem logical; but like many stars at this level of celebrity, he evidently wanted to humanize himself as much as possible and demanded that extra comedy be inserted into the movie! Thus we get Rob Schneider from Wild Cherry playing a little hanger-onner called Fergie, and providing plenty of comedy annoyance all along the way! Fergie eventually has a small impact on the narrative, but mostly he seems to be there just to give Stallone the comedy foil he so desired!


The setting is the future society in which Judges roam the streets and serve as (naturally) judge, but also jury and frequently executioner! This fascistic situation has apparently come as a sudden surprise to some, particularly an investigative journalist played by Mitchell Ryan from Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, who is doing an exposé on the repressiveness of the system he and everybody else have lived in for decades and apparently never noticed before! When the journalist is murdered, Dredd is blamed, and he, along with his little sidekick, are stranded in the great wasteland outside of the giant Mega City, where they have to deal with blowing Fuller's earth, stacked tobacco filters, and cannibal mutants!


Former Judge Rico, played by Armand Assante from Prophecy, was the actual killer of course! He, in cahoots with Jurgen Prochnow from Dune and The Keep, playing Judge Griffin, are apparently trying to make this society even more repressive and fascistic, and there’s something about clones too! Dredd’s allies include Judge Hershey, played by Diane Lane from Streets of Fire and Indian Summer, and of course Chief Justice Fargo, whose noble brow could only be that of the great Max Von Sydow from Strange Brew and Dreamscape!


Some of the other performers include Johanna Miles from Bug as Judge MacGruder; Joan Chen from The Hunted as the evil clone-doctor Ilsa; with the warden of the prison Judge Rico escapes from played by Maurice Roëves, and, just as in Outland, he doesn’t last long before suffering a bloody demise, ha ha! There’s a solid cast here, but the most thrilling performer is a giant menacing robot that appears in the final act, and the trick effects that bring this automaton to life are impressive indeed! But he’s defeated too easily, and by Rob Schneider yet!


My final judgment is that Judge Dredd is a pretty terrible movie that doesn’t live up to the promise of the concept or the character! The script is bad, the politics uncommitted, the action scenes unexciting, the staging poor (why are those bursts of flame coming from that direction, anyway?), and there’s a real by-committee feel to the whole enterprise! The trick effects are good though, and it’s clear they spent some coin on this thing! Too bad it’s not very good, ha ha! I give Judge Dredd one and a half bursts of flame!

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Burl reviews Xanadu! (1980)


Wrapped in swirling ribbons of pastel neon, it’s Burl, here to review a curious quilici that was, and could only have been, released in the bizarre transitional year of 1980! I was among those few who saw this goofnugget on the big screen, for it played my local cinema in the days when I would walk down the block and see whatever happened to be playing on a given Saturday afternoon! Other such pictures included In Search of Noah’s Ark, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, On the Right Track, and Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot! However, the item I’m going to try describing for you now is called Xanadu!


Being from the temporal-cultural crossroads of summer 1980, this is naturally a disco picture, but equally naturally, not only a disco picture! Like Roller Boogie, it’s a roller skating movie too, but it looks forward into the coming decade by virtue of a certain sort of feather-haired weirdness! Ha ha, I think it was doing its best to predict what the fashions and fads of the 1980s would look like, and because it was trying so hard, its guesses were bizarre and strange and not very accurate! The timelessness it sought ended up dating it precisely, ha ha!


The late Olivia Newton-John, whom we recall from Grease and from Two of a Kind, is in the picture, but she’s not really the main character! In fact, she’s not much of a character at all, ha ha! In fact it’s the story of a blockheaded painterman played by Michael Beck from The Warriors and Megaforce who works in a strange factory environment in which he and other artists, including Friendly Fred McCarren from The Boogens and Class Reunion, reproduce album covers onto large canvases for some reason! They’re overseen by a nasty boss called Simpson, who does his best to crush any lingering artistic ambition his stable of industrial daubers might still possess!


Strolling the beach one day, Beck meets up with Gene Kelly, the legendary footstomper from Summer Stock, Singin’ in the Rain, and of course Viva Knievel! Then he’s knocked down by a rollerskating Newton-John and becomes instantly smitten, and thereafter he keeps alternately running into either Kelly or Newton-John and develops friendships with them both! Kelly turns out to be a retired musician who is also, conveniently enough, fabulously rich, and harbours dreams of opening the nightclub to end all nightclubs; and Newton-John, it turns out, is actually Terpsichore, one of the nine muses of Greek legend!


All of this comes together, sort of, when Kelly and Beck team up to create Xanadu, where disco and 50s-era rock are melded together into one goofball farrago that resembles not a whit what 80s culture would actually turn out to be! The last half hour is mostly dancing around, and there’s some impressive hoofstomping, but it’s mostly just a cavalcade of synthetic pageantry that adds up to nothing more than vaguely annoyed bafflement!


I know a lot of people like this movie, but I’m not entirely sure why! To me it fits right in with dire musical oddities like Can’t Stop the Music, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Apple, and, funny as they may be, we must admit that none of those are very good! Xanadu largely squanders the talents of its cast (though I believe it was Kelly’s own desire not to do much dancing) along with whatever fantasy-romantic promise its mythology-based concept had, and that’s tough to fully forgive whatever ancillary charms the movie may (or may not) possess! In the end I can only give Xanadu one single animated pastel-neon ribbon!

Monday, 29 August 2022

Burl reviews The Rosebud Beach Hotel! (1984)


Ha ha, it’s Burl – may I take your bags? Yes, today I have a review of a hotel picture for you, and this is a genre that can run from the trashily venerable, like Arthur Hailey’s Hotel, to the plain old trashy, like Mountaintop Motel Massacre! (A subset of the genre is the off-season hotel picture, and this would include Daughters of Darkness and of course The Shining!) This movie is none of those, however: instead, it’s an eighties comedy called The Rosebud Beach Hotel!


The plot is simple! A nervous nebbish called Elliot, played by bosom buddy Peter Scolari, whom we recall from Ticks, and who here stammers more than any three Hugh Grants, is invited to manage the failing beach hotel of the title! Colleen Camp from D.A.R.Y.L. and Track 29 is his foxy girlfriend Tracy, who at first appears to be the usual snooty, control-freak rich girl, but thankfully is something more! She takes it upon herself to co-manage the hotel with Elliot, unbeknownst to her swordsman father, King! King is played by none other than the magnificent Christopher Lee, whom we recall so well from Nothing But the Night and many other big roles!


Of course Elliot is being set up to fail by King, who has hired a professional arsonist called Matches to burn down the hotel! Ha ha, Matches, played by Hamilton Camp from No Small Affair and City Heat, takes his time getting things ready, so there’s plenty of time for Elliot and Tracy to meet and interact with the wacky employees and guests at the hotel, once the previous manager has gone; and this latter personage is a cameo appearance from Chuck McCann, whom we recall with pleasure from Herbie Rides Again and Cameron’s Closet!


The hotel features a pair of allegedly funny doormen, Leonard and Dennis, played by Jonathan Schmock from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and James Vallely from Some Kind of Wonderful, and two singing chambermaids played by the Currie sisters, Marie and Cherie! Ha ha, Cherie we remember from Parasite and other pictures, while Marie didn’t have much of a film career beyond this movie, I guess because she was too busy discovering radium, ha ha! Hank Garrett from The Sentinel and Johnny Dangerously plays Kramer, the basement-dwelling survivalist-custodian! Fran Drescher from UHF and The Big Picture and of course Spinal Tap is the local prostitute, who, along with her fellow working girls is recruited to the bellstaff, and Eddie Deezen from I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a freakout guest who claims to be a visiting alien! This claim is later proved correct, ha ha! Meanwhile, the torch man goes into paroxysms of orgasmic delight whenever he spies a flame, and becomes the unlikely object of Drescher’s lust!


The movie is a lighthearted frothcoction with a surprising amount of nudity and a professional cast apparently having fun! It’s a little disheartening to think that Christopher Lee did this and Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf in the same year, but from our twenty-first century perspective we know that Lee and his dignity are invulnerable, and that in any case his career rebounded in fine style! And I like Cherie Curie and all – ha ha, I’ve met her, been to her house, and even directed her in a movie, and I enjoy The Runaways (the band; I haven’t seen the movie) – but the songs she and her sister sing in this movie are all just terrible, and they seem to go on forever! Sometimes they go on forever in conjunction with other things that are also going on forever, like an interminable scene of drunken seductive dancing, ha ha, so that part of the movie gets you down! On the other hand, The Rosebud Beach Hotel might be your only chance to see Fran Drescher and Eddie Deezen exchange dialogue!


It’s got a little more going on than the usual 80s sex comedy, with some good physical comedy from Scolari, a stranger-than-usual Deezen, and Lee doing his thing in his typically committed manner! I can’t say this is a good picture – it sure could use some pep and some extra laffs, and maybe a little bit of style – but as these things go it’s fairly painless! Ha ha, I’m going to give The Rosebud Beach Hotel one and a half exploding palm trees!

Friday, 12 August 2022

Burl reviews Plan 9 from Outer Space! (1957)


Greetings, friends! I am Burl! We are all interested in movies - that is why you are here! And now, for the first time, based only on a recent VHS viewing experience and many previous viewings at home and at the cinema, I present to you a picture thought by many to be the worst film of all time! Ha ha, can your hearts stand the shocking facts about Plan 9 From Outer Space?


We’ve all seen it, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably attended a midnight screening or two of it, complete with the hooting and the howling and the sweet drifts of herbal smoke! But is this really the worst movie ever made? Of course not, and anyone who thinks it is simply hasn’t seen very many movies! It may have been made without skill or craft or art or resources, but it was made with heart and passion, and that alone puts it out in front of its deadly-dull compatriots like Manos: The Hands of Fate, or soulless and mercenary stinkers like, say, Jaws: The Revenge!


The heart and passion in the picture came from Writer-Producer-Director Edward D. Wood Jr., who, though it might be thought impossible, declined still further from pictures like this into worse ones – by the end, he was doing oddball pornoo of which The Young Marrieds is the ultimate example! But, if the biographical picture Ed Wood and the terrific book it’s based on, Nightmare of Ecstasy, are to be believed, Wood insisted Plan 9 was his masterpiece: his final statement on the human condition and the alien and zombie problems that occasionally beset it!


Bela Lugosi, of whom we all are very fond from his appearances in pictures like Island of Lost Souls and the wonderful The Black Cat, appears in a few scraps of near home-movie footage Wood shot a short while before the drug-addled boogey-actor’s death! The main story has a stolid pilot, Jeff Trent, who, based on the set dressing, is flying around in a shower stall! He’s played by Gregory Walcott from Jet Attack and The Sugarland Express, and he can hardly believe his eyes when a paper-plate saucer dips and bobs in the sky beside his shower stall!


Yes, ha ha, saucers, seen over Hollywood! Trent and his wife, who live beside a cemetery, are puzzling over the sighting when some new problems raise their heads – right out of their graves, ha ha! It seems the saucer aliens are using revivication guns to animate corpses, like the old man played unwittingly by Lugosi, and his buxom wife, essayed by the proto-Elvira known as Vampira! Soon enough these two attack and kill a giant policeman, Inspector Daniel Clay, who is of course played by the mighty Tor Johnson, and the next thing you know he’s been zombified too! A full-bird colonel played by Tom Keene from Dick Tracy’s Dilemma gets involved, and soon there are repeated visits to the old cemetery, where the alien spacecraft somehow hides in a spinney and looks like a round pie plate in long shots and like a concrete bunker when seen in close-up sitting on the ground!


It all comes down to a gang of fey extraterrestrials with a crazy plan that’s evidently supposed to save the Earth from the dastardly power of the solemenite bomb! Ha ha, you say solemenite, but just what is it? Well, it hardly matters! Nothing the aliens do or say makes any sense at all, and the human characters are all boneheads who use handguns to gesture with and to scratch their foreheads! The filmmaking incompetence is bone-deep in this picture – even routine accomplishments like framing an image properly are beyond Wood’s abilities!


But I guess that’s the fun of it! Some people no doubt watch the picture to feel superior, or to exercise their insecurity-based desire to snark and scoff, but there’s also a terrible fascination and a great deal of entertainment to be had from the experience! Wood, of course, gets kicked around a lot, but he made movies at least, and for that he’s got my admiration! Ha ha! While it really exists outside of any possible rating system, even one as abstract as my own, I’m going to give Plan 9 From Outer Space two battle-axe jerkins!

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Burl reviews Who Has Seen the Wind! (1977)


From out on the windy prairie, it’s Burl, here to review some coming-of-age Canadian cinema! Ha ha, this is the sort of movie Canada did really well in the 1970s, and the wintery, Francophone version of it would be the excellent Mon Oncle Antoine! But films like this were not considered very cool while I was growing up – they were the sorts of things occasionally shown in classroom situations, movies to be endured rather than enjoyed! Ha ha, I remember a class outing to the cinema to see one called Mario! But it turns out that some of them, perhaps even most of them, possibly even all of them, are really good! Case in point: Who Has Seen the Wind!


This is exactly the kind of movie that, done wrong, would instantly become what my pal Evan calls “Canadian with a K!” Fortunately it was done right, ha ha! It’s all set on the plains of Saskatchewan in dust bowl times, and of the massive cast of characters, the one hewn closest to is a ten year-old boy called Brian O’Connel, played by Brian Painchaud in one of the best kid performances I’ve ever seen! Sadly, young Painchaud died aged only twenty, so whether he would have been a good adult actor too will always be unknown!


All the kids in the movie are really good! A very Sammy Snyders-esque youth, Douglas Junor, plays The Young Ben, a mostly silent lad with a blonde bowl cut; a figure of pathos and mystery for much of the picture! His father, The Ben, is played by the movie’s requisite superstar American import: none other than José Ferrer from The Sentinel and Dune! Ha ha, it’s amusing and unusual to see the cultured, Puerto Rico-born Ferrer playing a rough-hewn slab of prairie hardtack: the local brewer of illegal moonshine whose still blows up in the church basement and who keeps a caged owl both as a hard-won pet and as the movie’s principal figure of obvious symbolism! Who knows why the caged owl hoots, ha ha!


As you’ve probably figured out, the picture is a tapestry of life in this small Saskatchewan town, as seen largely but not exclusively from the perspective of Brian! The large number of characters, played by a large number of familiar Canadian actors, include a kindly school principal played by Thomas Hauff from Millennium and Bells; a nasty schoolteacher played by Patricia Hamilton, who later was the ill-fated Mabel in My Bloody Valentine; pious jerk Reverend Powelly, a vaguely Norman Fell-ish presence played by David Gardner, the detective from Prom Night; old bitch Mrs. Abercrombie, essayed by Charmion King from Shadow Dancing and Last Night; Dr. Svarich, the town sawbones, played by Cedric Smith, whom we recall as Gary “The Blacksmith” Black in Fast Company; and others, like a philosophy-disdaining shoe salesman, an unctuous barber/mayor, a Chinese family, and a bible-crazed prairie hobo who dwells in a sturdy piano box! And Les Carlson from Black Christmas and A Christmas Story appears just long enough to drive a cart and sing a scatological horse song!


Brian’s dad, town pharmacist Gerald O’Connel, is a nice guy played by The Rowdyman himself, Canadian icon Gordon Pinsent, known internationally from pictures like Blacula and The Thomas Crown Affair; and from the first moment we see him, buttoning up his shirt after a doctor’s examination, we know he’s doomed! “Is it true your dad turned yellow?” Brian’s friends are soon asking him! Brian’s mom is Chappelle Jaffe from Terminal Choice and The Dead Zone, and her big moment comes in facing down the nasty schoolteacher who punished Brian by making him hold his arms up for hours, until he faints!


The replacement schoolteacher, Ruth Thompson, is played by Helen Shaver from Starship Invasions, and she’s much more pleasant than the sadistic one lately booted from the position! But in a pattern established early in the film, nothing good can happen for Brian without something bad following it up! After his dad – kind, beloved, but not much use in discussions about feelings – dies, Brian goes to live with his salty-tongued Uncle Sean, a role for Gerard Parkes, who also played an uncle in Isabel and was a cop in Spasms! Sean’s hired limpy-man, Ab, is essayed by Hugh Webster from Rip-Off and Between Friends!


The movie seems to be about life and death; imprisonment of various kinds and the necessity and the means of escape; culpability, blame, and forgiveness! It’s a lot to fit into 103 minutes, especially when you consider the very many characters, the general eventfulness of the film, and the need for a climactic, near-disastrous windstorm! The picture is impressively put together, nice-looking, well-acted, understated, and real! The musical score is not bad, but it’s too bombastic, and too often tries to comment on the action in a film that everywhere else resists melodrama! A warning, however: this movie is not for gopher lovers! I give Who Has Seen the Wind three one-way train rides to the Mayo Clinic!

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Burl reviews Sully! (2016)


Heading for runway two-niner, it’s Burl, reporting birdstrike from the sky! Ha ha, it’s a real-life disaster movie – or is it? Those of us who remember watching the news in early 2009 remember that it wasn’t a disaster at all, but a heartening story of competence! Yes, it’s a picture from the man who reinvented himself as a chronicler of ripped-from-recent-headline stories, and this, as far as I can tell, is the best-regarded of them: by garr, it’s the fabulous story of Sully!

Yes, it’s Sully Sullenberger, Airplane Pilot, and who better to essay him than Tom Hanks, the fellow we recall from Dragnet and Big and pictures like that! Why, Hanks already had the real-life-pilot-wrings-triumph-from-disaster angle covered in his portrayal of Jim Lovell of Apollo 13! Like Lovell, Sully keeps a calm head and is helped by his even-keeled co-workers, and from the oncoming rush of too-certain tragedy comes the joy of unexpected survival – a water landing from which the aviatrons emerge smiling!

You recall the story: in January of 2009, a flight takes off from La Guardia airport in New York, and instead of its intended destination, Charlotte, a capitol of one of the Carolinas I believe, the airplane is struck by passing birds and, bereft of thrust, is forced into the icy waters of the Hudson River! Injuries are minor and fatalities nil, and pilot Sully Sullenberger is hailed as a hero! But wait – the Red Cross blankets draped across the shoulders of the survivors are not the only wet ones in this story, because various authorities, especially those concerned about insurance costs and so forth with regards to the plane, ask whether Sully and his co-pilot could not have returned to the aerodrome even in their bird-crippled state! By the end of the picture it is revealed that the pilots did all the right things, and their reputations and hero status remain intact!

Aaron Eckhart from Olympus Has Fallen is the co-pilot of Mustache Air flight 1549, and he provides a stolid backup to Sully, a faithful wingman, someone for him to talk to! Laura Linney from Congo is the worried Mrs. Sully, whose scenes are all on the telephone and who doesn’t get to do anything but fret from a distance! Ha ha, it’s a bit of a nothing part, but Linney is a good actor and does what she can! And of course the picture is directed by Clint himself, who as a filmmaker has brought us many pictures: some of them very good, others more like Blood Work! And yes, as mentioned above, of his ripped-from-the-headlines pictures, which include one about the terrorists on the train to Paris and another about the security guard who was thought to have planted a bomb, Sully is the one people thought was pretty good!

Maybe that’s because Sully himself was such a readymade white middle-aged man hero, and therefore perfect to be played by Hanks! Hanks is good in the role, but there’s not all that much to the man aside from being a good and dedicated pilot who’s certain of the rightness of his actions aside from one or two moments of doubt! The picture is assembled in such a way as to break the actual crash and rescue into sections, one of them from the perspective of the La Guardia tower; and occasionally we are privy to the explosive visions with which Sully is occasionally assailed – snapshots of how the disaster might have unfolded if everything hadn’t gone exactly right in the aftermath of the birdstrike!

Like most Eastwood pictures, it’s a competent but unspectacular work! It certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome – at 93 minutes, including credits and explanatory titles, it qualifies as a miniature in the Eastwood oeuvre! It’s a fine piece of reportage, very basic in its themes and emotions, and carries nearly to a fault an abhorrence of nuance or complication! It’s no Unforgiven, ha ha! Still, I’m going to give Sully two and a half cries of “Heads down, stay down, brace, brace, brace!”

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!