Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 29 December 2012

Burl reviews Die Hard 2! (1990)

Yippie-ki-yay once again, and a robust holiday ha ha to you! Here I am with yet another review of a Christmastime action picture, Die Hard 2! Yes, it’s the sequel to Die Hard, and I guess it’s supposed to take place a year after the events at Nakatomi Plaza! The movie works pretty hard to make fun of its unlikely premise, namely that the same sort of thing would happen to the same fellow twice! But even though they have both John McClain and his wife, Mrs. McClane, ask aloud how this could be, the movie offers no realistic explanation for this strange repetition of history!
Clearly the wisest course of action is to just not worry about it! This time the story is laid in Washington D.C., where McClane is visiting for the holidays! He’s at Dulles airport to pick up his wife, but that night it will not be a Dulles place to be, as a team of right-wing superpatriots led by William Sadler are planning to liberate an arriving drug dealer for reasons left extremely vague! I guess they’re getting paid to do it, but there seems to be some ideological element to the scheme as well! Ha ha, I guess it’s the reverse of the previous picture, where it was thieves posing as terrorists! This time the mercenary aspect is meant to cloud over the political reasoning, and it certainly accomplishes that!
A few other things have been changed up for this picture! We don’t get the attempts at structural swellegance with which the inaugural entry in the series was littered, but we get more quips! Ha ha, there’s a pretty funny scene in which McClane is introduced to the modern technological marvel of faxing, and he makes a quip about it after a lady propositions him! Also he quips to the bad guys as he is about to dispatch them, which he frequently does in gory and violent ways! One fellow gets an icicle to the eyebone, and another is sent through a jet engine! Ha ha!
But strangely, though the movie manages to create some pretty hateful bad guys (ha ha, as we know from Malone, right-wing superpatriots always make thoroughly dislikable villains because they’re well over halfway there already!), the head heavy here merely gets blown up in his airplane, along with most of his subordinates and the nasty drug dealer, before they really know what’s happening! Not very satisfying, no! Sadler’s character should have been impaled on a big hook and sent through the roaster, like the villain in Cobra, and the drug dealer could maybe have fallen from a plane! In fact, the villains are so hateful – they deliberately crash an airplane full of people, among other heinous deeds – that the movie itself becomes a little hateful! No matter how many tears John McClane sheds over the crash, and he does weep, it all still feels a little bit cold blooded!
But there are some interesting faces in the cast! Art Evans, known for his work in Class Reunion and Fright Night, plays a quick-thinking airport guy! Django himself, Franco Nero, who was also of course Jesus from The Visitor, plays the drug dealer! Dennis Franz, from all those Brian De Palma movies, is the ill-tempered airport police chief; and there are small appearances from Sheila McCarthy, John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick, as well as from Die Hard veterans William Atherton and Reginald Vel Johnson!
There’s a bit more suspense here than in the first picture, and a little more spectacle, but there’s just as much cliché and a lot less logic! It’s got some fine action sequences and is well crafted from beginning to end, but it’s still really just a big noisy Hollywood action picture, so there are only so many accolades you can give it! I’m going to award Die Hard 2 two astonishing coincidences and leave it at that!

Special note: I’ve been reviewing lots of these Hollywood pictures lately! In the new year, I think I’ll get back into some fine 80s  horror and other such gems! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Paul! (2011)

Ha, oh, ha ha, hi! Yes, it’s me, Burl, here with a new review for you! I thought I’d take a look at a Hollywood picture called Paul, which is about a couple of nerd guys who meet an alien! Standard issue crumbcake, right? Ha ha, sure, but with one great twist: these two guys are driving around in an RV!
Yes, the fellows who made this picture must have known about one of ol’ Burl’s most shocking weaknesses: I simply can’t resist an RV picture! From The Long, Long Trailer through Race With the Devil and Alien Predators right to several episodes of Shazam, I’ve just about seen ‘em all! In fact, the only one I haven’t had a look at is RV, starring Robin Williams! That one just seems like a low-rent retread of Vacation to me; but still, the lure of the RV is strong, and I may yet seek it out!
Paul exhibits another of its strengths right at the start: some decent music! Yes, after a brief prologue set in 1947, the movie proper starts at Comic-Con, a thing I’ve never been to, but which is apparently crawling with nerds! However, laid over this is a cool song, “Another Girl, Another Planet,” by The Only Ones! Ha ha, great tune! The nerds are played by the guys from Shaun of the Dead, and they pile into their RV for a tour of the American Southwest, and in particular all its fine UFO-related tourist sites!
Of course they meet an alien, who becomes their buddy, and whom they help along in a Starman-like manner to the place his UFO buddies are going to pick him up! Of course that’s Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, a location I myself have actually visited, despite not being a UFO nerd! They’re chased by a bunch of federal agent types of varying levels of competence, and also by some rednecks and the Bible-thumping father of a pretty but naïve one-eye they pick up along the way! Ha ha, no, rest assured, it’s not the same one-eye Grandpa speaks of in Grumpy Old Men!
The movie starts out pretty well, and it has funny bits all the way along, and the alien is not the grating presence he could have been, and there’s a minor twist towards the end which I appreciated; but like so many of these new-century comedy pictures, it runs out of steam halfway through! It becomes mostly just a series of references to other alien movies, mostly E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Mac and Me! Strangely, I didn’t notice any specific references to Starman, unless they meant the reference to be the entire plot of the movie! Ha ha!
It’s a good-natured little confection, and reminded me a little bit of Super 8 in its energetic back-hearkening to the high Spielbergian days of the 1980s! But compared to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it’s a little underwhelming! However, for the funny bits, the fine trick effects used to bring the alien to life, the strong soundtrack and of course the RV, I’m going to give Paul two pairs of baggy shorts!

Friday 28 December 2012

Burl reviews Cobra! (1986)

It’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, it’s me, here to review another Christmas action movie for you, Cobra! Of course Cobra is not usually thought of as a Christmas movie, but indeed, if you look at the set dressing, you’ll notice lots of holiday decorations! Otherwise there’s not much Yuletide spirit in the picture, but it gives a bit of atmosphere, I suppose!
Most of the major action heroes have a scrappy, extra violent little genre picture somewhere in their filmography, it seems! Schwarzenegger has Commando, for instance, and Bruce Willis has Striking Distance, and this one is Stallone’s! It seems to be Sly’s attempt to make his own Dirty Harry movie – it not only tells the tale of a rules-flaunting, rights-trampling cop battling a psychotic killer who scoffs at the laws Stallone is supposed to follow, but features not one but two actors from the Eastwood picture, Andrew Robinson from The Puppet Masters and Reni Santoni from Summer Rental!
Stallone plays – ha ha! – Marion Cobretti, the most iron-nosed cop in old L.A.! He drives a 1950s showpiece and works for the “zombie squad,” which, sadly, turns out not to mean he actually battles zombies! No, he merely goes after crazy criminals, whom he subdues first with a quip (“Go ahead. I don’t shop here” being the best) and then a flick of his zip knife! He’s got the usual ethnic partner (Santoni!), grumpy superior (Robinson!), and taciturn manner, and he does admit at one point that he would prefer to have a tougher-sounding name than Marion – maybe Alice! Ha ha!
The story has Los Angeles plagued by psychomurders, which turn out to be the work of a crazy-club whose membership has meetings where they bang axes together and chant about the strong overcoming the weak! Ha ha, fun! The club is run by the most crazy one of them all, a guy played by Brian Thompson, one of those fellows with a natural bad-guy mug, who can be seen plying his trade in The Terminator and ¡Three Amigos! and films of that nature! There’s a scene in the middle of the movie, in which Thompson is stalking damsel-in-distress Brigitte Nielsen, that plays like a hospital slasher picture, like it suddenly turned into Hospital Massacre or Halloween II or some such!
There are some other familiar faces in the cast, like Nina Axelrod from Roller Boogie and Time Walker, Val Avery from Too Scared to Scream and Art LaFleur, Mittens himself from Zone Troopers! The cast, the lightning-fast pace (at least compared to Die Hard!), a few impressive stunts and the hilariously ham-handed attempts at visual style (random fish-eye lenses, red filters, etc.) are what give the picture its entertainment value! But the script is unbelievably terrible, and the movie is so ga-ga over pop-guns and ammo, and so resentful of the silly rules that prevent cops from blasting away at anyone they suspect might have committed a crime, that it seems more a parody of that kind of cop movie than anything else!
But knowing what I know of Sly Stallone, I’m forced to conclude that it probably isn’t intended as satire! It comes across as imbecilic and crude, and very much a product of the Reagan era! Its shoutouts to Dirty Harry certainly do it no favours! I have to give this hucklebuck of a copshow one and a half oversized hamburgers, and an extra ha for the bad guy’s rib-ticklingly overdone death scene!

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Burl reviews Die Hard! (1988)

Yippee-ki-yay motherhahaers, it’s Burl, here to review a Christmas classic! It’s Die Hard, an action picture which, when it was released two dozen years ago, was thought to be a new standard in express train-paced super-action! Today it seems stately and reserved, like Béla Tarr’s stab at an American shoot-‘em-up!
I don’t mind the slow burn, myself! It’s kind of nice that the movie doesn’t bother with some kind of opening action scene just because, like so many other pictures ever since James Bond made it mandatory! Instead it follows the arrival of the main character, New York cop John McClane, into LAX, and on his limo ride to Nakatomi Plaza, where the rest of the movie will take place! After twenty-five minutes of standard-issue set up and character development, helped a great deal by the younger Bruce Willis’s natural charms and thinning but still extant hair, the action elements of the movie finally begin, slowly, to reveal themselves!
An international gang of thieves shows up at the Nakatomi office building to steal some kind of paper negotiables, and it’s up to the barefoot Willis to save the day! His assets include a firearm, his incredibly patient limo driver, who is apparently content to spend Christmas Eve in a parking garage, a hefty cop played by none other than Reginald Vel Johnson from Wolfen, and the wife from whom he was recently separated for some contrived reason! There are long sequences of Willis sneaking around, and the thieves pretending to be terrorists, and head baddie Alan Rickman repeatedly demanding the return of his detonators! Ha ha, he really wants those detonators!
I can’t remember if the movie seemed as formula back then as it does today, but it sure feels machine-crafted when you watch it in the two thousand and teens! It came out at the tail end of the 1980s, so I’d say it was probably treading very well-trod territory! It does so with a fair amount of foursquare artisanship, I do have to admit!
But it’s got a real Screenwriting 101 whiff about it! There are lots of little callbacks, like the Rolex watch given to McClane’s wife by the corporate coke lizard played by Hart "The Wild Life" Bochner, and which is later unclasped so that the villain can fall to his doom! But the dumb watch takes three minutes to set up for a not very critical payoff – ha ha, screenwriter, not every accessory has to have its own backstory! It could have just been a watch!
And the character arcs can be pretty irritating! The movie stops dead for a few moments so the minor character Vel Johnson can tell his sob story about why he no longer likes to shoot people! Well, of course he gets over that disability by the end, which is unsavoury enough, but the movie forces him into it by having a character who is clearly dead – he’s been hanging by his neck from a chain for at least a half hour, ha ha – come back to life and roar a bit before Vel Johnson blasts him in a heartwarmingly redemptive manner! At least they made William Atherton into a genuine if pointless slimeball, unlike in Ghostbusters where he was an EPA man with an unctuous manner but perfectly valid complaints!
But remember, Die Hard is a Christmas movie, so it’s pretty fun to watch it around this time of the year despite its increasingly obvious flaws! And there are some fine bon mots, and of course some marvelous explosions and competent action thrills! I still haven’t seen the Die Hard picture they made recently, nor the one they made even more recently that’s about Russia, but the first three at least make a pretty solid troika of 80s-90s action spectaculars! I give the original Die Hard two fists with your toes!

Monday 24 December 2012

Burl reviews Get Crazy! (1983)

Burl talking on you! I thought today I’d review Get Crazy for you, an oddball picture that represents a microgenre I hold very dear: Low-Budget Excess! It’s part of a number of microgenres, actually: New Year’s Eve, Let’s Put On A Show, Fake Rock Songs, Movies With Unbelievable Casts, and so forth! And of course it resides in a very special genre that isn’t so micro: Movies Featuring The Great Dick "Moving Violation" Miller!
A simple plot description is pretty deceptive, because it makes the movie sound almost normal! It seems that there’s a rock palace called the Saturn, run by the irascible Allan Goorwitz-Garfield, which is about to welcome in 1983 with its annual big NYE rockshow! But there are flies in the ointment, because aside from the usual difficulties with rock star egos and technical mishaps, evil rock promoter/property developer Ed Begley Jr., in conjunction with Fabian and Bobby Sherman, is plotting to steal away the storied Saturn so he can construct a giant glass high-rise concert hall in its place!
Opposing this plan is the Saturn’s stage manager, Daniel Stern, and a young lady named Willy Loman! She’s no salesman, but is herself an experienced stage manager! Offering tacit support are the performers, which include a Muddy Waters-like bluesman; a proto Riot Grrrl band called Nada, which is sort of a cross between the Runaways and the Plasmatics; an unbelievable punk rock masochist named Piggy, played by Lee Ving, a Dylan-like folk-rocker essayed by none other than Lou Reed; and a Mick Jag*ger parody called Reggie Wanker, played by Malcolm McDowell! Phew! And on top of that there’s a host of supporting characters, including but not limited to Robert Explorers” Picardo as an overzealous fire marshal; Halloween III’s Stacy Nelkin as the stage manager’s underage sister; Clint Howard as an usher; Jackie Joseph playing Dick Miller’s wife, just like she does in Gremlins; Paul "Piranha" Bartel as a doctor; Mary Woronov as a lighting tech; plus a space alien who dispenses mind dr*gs from a silver briefcase, and a giant ambulatory mariju*na j*int!
The movie’s rough-hewn and nonsensical, and frequently not all that funny, empirically speaking! But it’s also gosh-darn likeable, because it’s a love letter picture (yet another of it’s microgenres!), which is to say a movie made in tribute to some unheralded subset of society! In this case it’s a freewheeling paean to rock venues and their backstage personnel! And of course, like director Allan Arkush's other fine rock movie Rock 'n' Roll High School, it’s also a celebration of the power of song, ha ha!
It’ll apparently never make it to DVD or any other format because of that old cod, licensing issues! So if you ever get a chance to see this good-natured oddity, you should take it – and you may want to make friends with a giant, ambulatory marij*ana jo*nt beforehand, if you catch my drift, ha ha! Where else are you going to see Lou Reed do a comedy impersonation of Bob Dylan? I give Get Crazy three blind mourners!

Friday 21 December 2012

Burl reviews Not Of This Earth! (1957)

Hello, it’s Burl reporting from the planet Earth! I’m here to review another movie for you, and this time it’s an old Roger Corman classic that I’d never even seen before! Of course I’m talking about that famous picture featuring a portly, Ray-Ban-sporting alien vampire, Not Of This Earth!
It’s a strange and quite affecting little movie! Paul Birch plays the interstellar hemogobbler, whose planet-fellows are dying off of a blood disease! He’s here on Earth to test humans for plasma compatibility in advance of a full-on blood invasion! He sets up house in a Beverly Hills mansion, enlists small-time thug Jonathan “Gunslinger” Haze as his assistant, then hires the great Beverly Garland as his live-in nurse! Slowly she comes to realize the threat this grumpy interloper poses!
For it seems that the alien, Mr. Johnson, can kill you with a glance! All he has to do is take off his sunglasses, peer at you for a moment with his eggy-whites, and he’ll frizzle-fry your brain! Ha ha! He zaps a young lady right at the beginning of the picture, and among his other victims is none other than the great Dick “Carnival Rock” Miller, playing a hep-cat vacuum cleaner salesman who gives Mr. Johnson the hard sell and gets a one-way trip into the furnace for his trouble! Mr. Johnson also invites three hobos over for dinner, but he’s no compassionate Viridiana – he wants those hobos for dinner, ha ha!
Mr. Johnson’s alien accoutrements, all of them built by the late monstersman Paul Blaisdell, include a space radio, a transportation portal by which he sends a wandering Chinaman back for experimentation purposes (although we hear later that the unfortunate Chinaman was crushed to a jelly by the teleportation process), and a flying umbrella that glides in through a window and sucks out a doctor’s brain! Eventually a goofy cop gets in on the action, there’s a car chase, and the vanquished Mr. Johnson ends up getting his very own gravestone in the middle of Griffith Park – just as, in the background, another sunglasses-sporting individual strides towards the camera, presumably to continue Johnson’s important work!
Ha ha, this is a little gem! It has a nice noir-ish look to it, thanks to cinematographer John Mescall, who shot such classics as Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat and James Whale’s great Bride of Frankenstein! But they say he harboured a taste for the grape, so Mescall never really got the chance to live up to the talent he so manifestly possessed!
The performances are good too, particularly Beverly Garland’s, and Corman seems to have put a little more effort into this one than he sometimes did in his pictures! Apparently he got into a fistfight with Paul Birch at some point, and Birch walked off, and this is why there are numerous scenes with Ed Wood’s chiropodist doubling for the actor even though the two looked nothing alike! But the real selling point to this picture is of course the great Dick Miller, and his presence alone, brief as it is, makes Not Of This Earth an absolute must see! I give it three compacted Chinamen!

Thursday 20 December 2012

Burl reviews Remote Control! (1987)

Beep boop beep, it’s Burl, here to imitate a giant video store display for the movie Remote Control! This is an odd little picture that came out when I was working at a video store clerk, and since the main character is an heroic video store clerk who saves the world, it held a certain appeal to me! I’m afraid I probably overrated it at the time, sort of the same way I believed movies like Vamp and Three O’ Clock High were better than they actually were! Though that’s not to say they’re bad, ha ha!
Anyway, Remote Control tells the tale of a movie released into video stores (which, in the world of this picture, are the hot places to hang out in the evenings) called Remote Control! It purports to be a science-fiction movie from the 1950s, but I must say that the filmmakers didn’t take a lot of trouble to make their fake 50s movie, as entertaining as it is, very in keeping with the actual style of those pictures! Even Joe Dante couldn’t pull it off perfectly in Matinee, but he came a lot closer than Remote Control does!
But that could be the point, because the movie-within-the-movie turns out to be a fake, crafted by aliens! It makes those who watch it turn maniacal and attack anyone in the vicinity; and the aliens’ ultimate goal is, I guess, a very slow planetary depopulation! Ha ha, it would have taken a lot longer than it turned out the lifespan of VHS would end up being, if you take any meaning from my tortured syntax!
Kevin Dillon, the young man who fought the Blob, is the courageous cassette jockey who discovers this nefarious plot and works to head it off, tangling frequently with an especially murderous pretty-boy who seems to be some sort of alien representative! His allies include his manager/buddy and a comely lady customer who likes Truffaut movies!
At the beginning, the movie seems a spirited effort, replete with pep, and I still really enjoy the video store-centric world in which it operates! But the plot doesn’t really go anywhere, and the alien invasion always seems to be taking place at a discrete and unthreatening distance! They Live was a pretty low budget movie too, but they really made an effort with their alien stuff! Here the aliens are operating strictly by, you guessed it, Remote Control!
There’s a bit of action and a tiny bit of the red stuff, but even though there are plenty of murders, the movie staunchly refuses to turn really zesty! It’s a shame, because it might just possibly have been a tiny quasi-classic had it kept the courage of what initially seem to be its convictions! It looks pretty good and there are some great props in the movie-within-the-movie, but that’s still just window dressing! I’d have liked a little more meat to the alien plot, and a few more third-act twists! Not surprise twists necessarily, just a few pings and pangs in the story’s direction rather than the surprise-free straight line we get! Well, it’s a disappointment, even if an faintly interesting one, and I’m going to give Remote Control one and a half diabolical knitting machines!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Burl reviews Viridiana! (1961)

¡Hoy! It’s Burl! I’m here to review a picture for you, a Luis Buñuel picture in fact! I’m a big Buñuel fan, but I’d never seen this one! Ha ha, it reminded me an awful lot of another one of his movies that I’ve already reviewed, Simon of the Desert! That one was made in Mexico, though, and this one was made in fascist Spain! At this distance I suppose it doesn’t make much of a difference, but it certainly must have to Buñuel!
As a confirmed anticlerical, not to mention a well-known anti-fascist, you might think he’d have been under the microscope after his return to his Francofied homeland! And I guess he was, but he still just did his thing and made exactly the movie he wanted to make, which bolsters my opinion that old Luis might have been the Coolest Director In Cinema! Ha ha, if you haven’t read his fantastic autobiography My Last Sigh, get to it! It’s absolutely marvelous, ha ha!
Viridiana tells the tale of the title character, a young and pious nun! The Mother Superior, who seems to have been rented from the same outlet which provides all movie Mother Superiors, orders her to go spend some time with her uncle, whom she barely knows and would rather not visit! But she goes, and soon her reluctance proves well-founded, for the uncle harbors a maniacal love for Viridiana! He drugs and nearly rapes her, and then proposes! Ha ha, after her refusal and rejection of him, the poor tormented beardo heads to the nearest tree to string himself up with a skipping rope! (The skipping rope reappears throughout the film, always used for different purposes, but I must confess that its significance eluded me!)
After that, the uncle’s illegitimate son takes over the estate, and a shaken Viridiana gives up the nunnery, but gathers up a parade of hoboes as a new and more Christlike way of expressing her devotion! It works out okay for a little while, but the hoboes eventually go wild with a little hoboparty of their own! Then there’s a great ending which, like Simon of the Desert, involves a fantastic pop song! Somebody should put together a compilation of the pop songs in Buñuel movies! Ha ha, I’d buy it in a hot second!
It’s a terrific picture! It looks sharp, is frequently funny, and confirms my belief that Buñuel was a real cameramaster! It’s not as plainly enjoyable as some of his other pictures, like Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie I suppose, but it has a power and simplicity all its own! I give it three and a half dogs leashed to cart axles!

Burl reviews Skyfall! (2012)

Hi, it’s Burl here, just plain Burl, to review a new James Bond picture! Ha ha, they’ve been making these things since 1962, and they’re finally coming close to getting them right! No, I’m joking you, friends – some of my very favourite Bond pictures come from those early days, back when they were making pictures like Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service! Those ones are all pretty good, and then of course we can’t go and forget Mr. Wynt and Mr. Kydd!
The spirit of Misters Wynt and Kydd actually resurfaces in this new effort, in the person of bad guy Javier Bardem! It’s the third go round for the blond Bond, and he’s more crinkle-eyed here than ever! His great nemesis, Bardem, is a fey ex-agent with a deflatable face who seems to have the tools at his disposal for some grand world-beating scheme - namely, a bunch of computers and his own island - but uses them more for personal reasons! (This tends to undercut the hugeness of the stakes involved, frankly, but the movie is more personally than professionally inclined across the board, so I guess it’s to be expected!)
The real story is between Bond and his boss, the lady M! There’s so much going on with her in fact, and so many scenes of her staring mournfully out a window, that the end of the picture comes as no real surprise! And Judi Dench is getting on, after all – but of course we’re talking about a series of films which allowed Roger Moore to play the part until at least 1985! Superannuation means nothing to them, ha ha! But here, with the lady M, they decided to nip it in the bud! After all, by the time the next picture gets made, Dame Judi will be in her mid-nineties!
Of course we get some spectacular exotic locations, and there are some lovely ladies with whom Bond has sexual intercourse, and there’s even a scene with a monster, sort of! There are a couple of marvelous action scenes, though not as many as in most Bond pictures, and a little touch of kung-fu as well! And then, at the end, at the Scottish climax, we get Albert Finney as Groundskeeper Willie, who repeatedly calls Dame Judi’s character “Emma!” Ha ha!
Altogether it’s no more than a solid spy action picture, but it’s a top-flight example of same! Quite a few things don’t make sense, and other things are just dumb, but when you compare this picture to, say, Moonraker, you realize how bad it could have been! It’s also beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins, especially the Scottish scenes, and that helps the movie out a lot! I’m going to give Skyfall three Komodo dragons!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Burl reviews Christmas Vacation! (1989)

Merry ha ha, it’s Burl here! Yes, I’m here to review a movie that I’d never seen before just the other day: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation! Except I think they just call this one Christmas Vacation – maybe National Lampoon didn’t want their name on such a PG-13 movie! It’s the second best Vacation movie I’ve ever seen – but I do have to admit I’ve never seen Vegas Vacation! Ha ha, I hear it st*nks, though!
Naturally Chevy Chase from Fletch stars once again as Clark W. Griswold, a family man with a tolerant wife and two ever-mutating but never-aging children! Christmas time is coming, and Clark is nervous because he’s spent all his money on the down payment for a swimming pool, and if he doesn’t get his holiday bonus, he’ll be in terrible financial trouble! Well, mild financial trouble anyway! This is very much a First World Problem type of picture for the most part, and every now and again you have to take a step back and think “Ha ha! These stakes aren’t actually too critical, are they! Does it really merit a hangdog expression from Chevy Chase and mournful strings from the pen of unlikely composer Angelo Badalamenti?”
Well, no biggie I guess! The main plot is that Clark has always wanted a big family Christmas, and so both his parents and his in-laws (a gang played by John Randolph from Seconds, Diane Ladd from Black Widow, E.G. Marshall from Creepshow, and Doris Roberts from Number One With a Bullet) crowd their way into the house! This leads to a situation exactly like that in Sixteen Candles, also written by John Hughes, ha ha! Then, of course, Special Guest Star Randy Quaid, well known from The Wild Life and The Paper, shows up to fulfill the role of Cousin Eddie, and redneck hilarity ensues!
Most of the movie is made up of episodic episodes that start and then a little while later end to make way for the next one! Eventually matters come to a head when it seems Chevy won’t get his bonus, and so Cousin Eddie kidnaps Chevy’s mean boss, played by Bill Murray’s other brother, the one who wasn’t in Moving Violations, but was in the first Vacation! An unlikely resolution presents itself!
There were some pretty good bits in there! I liked Randy Quaid’s gag about his hair not looking right if his dome gets dented! Ha ha, some of Chevy Chase’s isms were pretty good, though nothing matches the crazy gargle from Fletch! There were some funny bits that were funny because they were bizarre, which is the kind of stuff I like! And I was kind of relieved the kids had virtually nothing to do in this one, ha ha!
I still prefer the first one over them all! That one had John Candy, after all! This one has a pretty impressive cast even so - all the persons already named, plus William Hickey, Juliette Lewis, Julia-Louis Dreyfuss and Mae Questel! I wish it tried harder to be uproarious, but it’s as good a Christmas Vacation as we can reasonably expect it to be! I give it two desiccated turkeys!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Burl reviews Holy Motors! (2012)

Hé hé, Burl ici to review a new, and long awaited, picture from the great Léos Carax! I’ve always enjoyed his pictures, right from Boy Meets Girl and through the time I saw Carax himself introduce Les Amants du Pont-Neuf! And what a fine picture that was! Still haven’t seen Pola X though, ha ha!
Well, I just caught up with his new one, Holy Motors! I’ll tell you right off the top, I was simply enchanted! It’s a movie about movies if there ever was one, an encomium and elegy not to cinema itself, but to its mechanical parts: the film camera and projector – the holy motors of the title!
Of course Denis Levant is the star, as he has been of all, or just about all, of Carax’s past works! He’s always been one of the most talented physical performers since Keaton if you ask me, but here he outdoes himself and turns in a performance that really ought to collect quite a few awards at the end of the year, though I’m sure Daniel Day-Lewis or someone like that will take the salmon once again!
What’s the plot, you might wonder? Ha ha, don’t even ask! Do you remember when I said that in The Visitor it seemed anything could happen at any time? Same deal here! Denis Levant plays a number of roles, as he is enacting “appointments” all over Paris which dramatize situations from the fantastical to the cliché to the dramatic but banal! He travels by a limousine driven by none other than Édith Scob from Eyes Without A Face, a film which gets heavily namechecked by more even than Scob’s presence! She’s pretty gorgeous, by the way!
The appointments are frequently bizarre or violent, and a prosthetic penis figures in at least one of them! The penis is oddly shaped, looking something like Lowly Worm from the Richard Scarry books! Ha ha, he’s the worm who wears a bowtie and a Tyrolean hat, but in Holy Motors, the penis is wearing nothing at all! Nothing at all! Nothing at all!
It feels a bit like a dumping ground, and apparently that’s what it is – a bunch of story ideas Carax had amassed over his last dozen years of relative inactivity, all thrown into a stewpot and simmered at low heat! But it’s the tastiest stew to come along in some time! It feels a lot like a David Cronenberg picture at times (he too has just made a picture which takes place largely in a limousine, ha ha!), and the music reminded me at least once of one of those chilly Howard Shore scores from the early 1980s!
The movie can be a bit on the nose at times, as when Levant complains about the dwindling size of cameras, or when Scob dons her mask, and a bit crotchety-old-man in its attempts at humour, as with the url-sporting headstones (Egoyan rather than Cronenberg here!); but these moments are few and their impact minimal!
I always mark it as a great moment in cinema when I walk out of a movie wondering how in hockeysticks it ever got made! Enter the Void was a bit like that, and so were Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! There are others too, and I love ‘em! Holy Motors fits into that group like a crouton in a duck, and I’m proud to give it four homemade Spider-Man masks!

Burl reviews Robocop! (1987)

Ha ha, please don’t leave, it’s just me, Burl, here to review an action picture from the 1980s! It’s called Robocop, and of course we’ve all seen the picture and have a healthy appreciation of it, no doubt! I recall seeing this one in the movie theatre, though I had to sneak in! Ha ha, I once tried to sneak into the same theatre to see Cobra, but didn’t make it that time! I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that was bad luck operating for me then, or good!
I was certainly pleased to get in to Robocop! As we’re all aware, it takes place in some near but unspecified future year (my guess: 1997, just like Predator 2!), and in Detroit, and in this particular time and place, crime is rampant! Police services have been privatized, and robot forces are called in to deal with the malfeasants! There are two schools of thought on this point, however: should they be huge, machine-gun laden stop-motion robots, or cyborgs puzzled together from hydraulics, computer chips and the corpses of dead policemen? Ronny “The Beast Within” Cox encourages the former, Miguel “Leviathan” Ferrer the latter, and it’s up to Dan “Halloween III” O’Herlihy to make the final call!
A small workplace accident ensures that Ferrer’s idea, a robocop made out of shiny purple-blue plastic and otherwise unusable Peter Weller parts, will be the one put into development! Ha ha, we all know the rest of the plot: Robocop slowly recovers his humanity as he battles the thugs who killed him (or at least his likeable family man Peter Weller persona), and ultimately takes down the corrupt and murderous Cox!
Ha ha, lots has been written about the picture’s sharp satirical digs at corporatism! There are indeed a few fake ads for violent board games and for electric hearts on the layaway plan, and some snippets from a moronic sit-com called I’d Buy That For A Dollar, but the film treads curiously lightly on the whole privatization of the police force thing! It’s certainly an issue in the picture, but the real dangers of privatization, namely the profit motive getting in the way of the services, doesn’t really come up!
It’s certainly a violent picture! There’s lots of shooting, and every bullet takes big chunks out of the person it hits! There’s stabbing too, and also a scene in which a man is rendered into oatmeal by a little mishap involving toxic waste! It’s entertaining all the way through, and fast-paced, and it has a great cast! It’s not action packed, at least not by 21st century standards, but that’s okay! I’ve still never seen the third installment of the Robocop series, despite owning a DVD set containing all three entries, much in the same way I have yet to bother watching my DVD of Poltergeist III! Both of them seem like they’ll be watered down and lame!
In closing, I would like to say that the upcoming remake of this picture looks terrible, and as with the recent remake of another Paul Verhoeven film, Total Recall, I’m not going to make any particular effort to see it! In the meantime, I give the original Robocop three “nee-nee-nee-nee-nees!”  

Thursday 22 November 2012

Burl reviews Gunslinger! (1956)

Hi, kapow, kapow, Burl here, tzing tzing tzing! Ha ha, sounds like I’m in a gunfight, doesn’t it! No, I’m just here to review a movie for you: Gunslinger, the Roger Corman western! It’s not the only Roger Corman western, of course: there’s also Apache Woman and Five Guns West, and probably others! But this was his last one, or so they say!
It’s a lot like Nicholas Ray’s great picture Johnny Guitar, which had come out two years before! But this wasn’t a case of Corman recreating someone else’s massive hit on a micro-budget, I don’t think, because I’m pretty sure Johnny Guitar was no barnburner at the box office! This was just a movie Corman wanted to make because he liked the idea of two ladies wrestling and shooting at one another, maybe!
Beverly Garland, who I think was Roger’s girlfriend at that time, plays the sheriff’s wife, and the sheriff is played by Joe Dante regular William "Innerspace" Schallert, back when he was younger but looked the same! Ha ha! Anyway, he gets bumped off by a curtain rifle pretty quickly, and Beverly must pin on the silver star and take vengeance! Her main antagonist is Alison Hayes, the fifty foot woman herself, who keeps sycophantic ponyboy-cum-moron Jonathan "Carnival Rock" Haze as her assistant and literal bottle washer as she attempts to buy up all the local real estate she can get in advance of the railroad coming through town!
Haze is sent to Tombstone (where else, ha ha!) to hire a gunslinger that can take care of the formidable new ladysheriff, and he comes back with John Ireland, well known for his work in The House of Seven Corpses and Satan’s Cheerleaders! Well, even though Bill Schallert is not yet cold up in Boot Hill (yes, their graveyard is really called that), Sheriff Bev likes what she sees, and the feeling is mutual! Of course, Ireland starts to feel a bit conflicted about his assignment, but on the other hand, the fifty foot woman is offering all manner of persuasion, and in all sorts of coin!
Just about everyone in town ends up getting shot, ha ha! There’s not much of a town left by the time Sheriff Bev canters her way out past the bodies of Corman stock players that are stacked like cordwood along the roadside! Even the great Dick "Sorority Girl" Miller, playing a cheery Pony Express rider, is shot in the back by the evil fifty foot woman! Bruno "Attack of the Giant Leeches" Ve Sota is plugged too, and so is Jonathan Haze!
The movie’s very similar to Apache Woman in its circular pacing and the way it seems to be the same scene playing over and over again for great stretches! It's also really similar in plot to Blazing Saddles, ha ha! But it has a certain conviction, and then there’s that great cast! All the players are pretty good, and Beverly Garland especially so, I thought! Fred West’s colour photography is a bit dim – no Floyd Crosby, he! – but that’s probably because it rained for the entire shoot, so they say!
Altogether, I enjoyed the picture, but not as much as some other Corman joints I’ve seen! I give it two of Dick Miller’s shoulderbags! (He rode for two weeks and that’s all he was carrying? Ha ha!)

Friday 9 November 2012

Burl reviews The Visitor! (1979)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here to tell you about a really rather unusual movie! It’s called The Visitor, and whatever other genres you might place this one in, and there are many, it fits very nicely in a personal genre of my own, Movies With Weird, Amazing Casts! This picture’s got John Huston, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer, Lance Henrikson (who played a similar role in the superficially similar Damien: Omen II around the same time), and featuring the director of The Killer Elite, Sam Peckinpah (!), as a casual doctor, plus Franco Nero from Die Hard 2 as Jesus Christ, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Fletch as himself, and with a special appearance by right-wing jibber-jabberer Neal Boortz, who plays an ill-fated ice skater and has his name misspelled as “Bortz” in the credits! Ha ha!
It also fits nicely into the genre of Movies I’m Sort Of Glad I Saw The Shorter, More Incoherent Version Of! Ha ha, I just watched my VHS copy, but there is a DVD out there with the full meal deal on it, apparently! It’s ten minutes longer and letterboxed, but somehow VHS was good enough for me on this one - it was a cover I looked at with intrigue many a time in the video store, but never rented! And, naturally, it’s a Multiple Genre Movie; aside from the ones already listed, this is a horror picture, a religious fable and a sci-fi head trip!  
It’s crazy clown time for sure! Huston plays an elderly space hobo who planet-hops about in colourful Bruno Bozzetto animations! He’s concerned in a sort of beatific way about a mean little girl in Texas, who is some sort of diabolical telepath in addition to being naturally unpleasant! Meanwhile, the girl’s mother is under pressure to marry Lance Henrikson, and is paralyzed in a terrible freak accident involving a mysterious loaded gun! Soon Inspector Glenn Ford is on the case, and Shelley Winters appears as a housekeeper who strolls about singing the most menacing rendition of “Short’nin’ Bread” possible! The little girl tells Glenn Ford to go fuck himself, and calls Huston a bastard multiple times!
Then we get some Omen deaths! Glenn Ford is attacked by a bird in his car, has his eyes gorily pecked out, crashes through a chain link fence and rolls down an incline, and is trapped by the chain link as the car burns and explodes! Yowch, ha ha! There are some other strange incidents, a few odd dream sequences or something, a growing conspiracy plot involving Mel Ferrer, his butler, and a roomful of grim-faced Satanists in suits; and a counter-plot co-orchestrated by Huston and Jesus, and staffed by a horde of bald-headed children who live on a rooftop! Huston shows up at Lance Henrikson’s house in the guise of the world’s oldest babysitter, and he and the girl have a confrontation that plays like Obi Wan Kenobi facing down Regan from The Exorcist!
There’s more, but you get the idea! I realized part of the way through that the movie was actually scaring me a little, and I realized that was because it had created a world in which absolutely anything could happen! By the time John Huston gurns insanely at a series of coloured, flashing shapes, Mel Ferrer is found dead with slime on his face and the house fills with killer birds, you really know you’ve seen something!
There are all sorts of little treats on offer! The Winters/Huston pairing is one of them, and was cleverly imported straight from Tentacles! As well, there’s some lovely cinematography courtesy of Ennio Guarnieri, who shot movies for Fellini, Wertmüller and De Sica! There’s a shot of a truck on a highway that might be the most beautiful I’ve seen! It’s not a good picture, but it’s weird, and sometimes weird is enough! I give The Visitor two and a half exploding basketballs!
PS: I saw the movie again recently, this time in a theatre! I was better able to appreciate the fine cinematography of Guarnieri, who, don't forget, also shot Pasolini's Medea, De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Wertmüller's Swept Away and Fellini's Ginger and Fred! Ha ha!

Monday 5 November 2012

Burl reviews Halloween II! (1981)

Hi, it’s me, Ben Tramer! Ha ha, no, actually it’s Burl, here again with a review for you! The other night, which was actually Halloween night, I watched Halloween 2 once again! I’m talking about the original sequel, not the sequel to the remake that didn’t itself actually seem to be a remake of the sequel! Ha ha, are you following me? Doesn’t matter! The point is that Rob Zombie had nothing to do with this one, as he was a mere cradle baby when it was made!
As you know from my review of the original Halloween, I consider it a superior picture in almost every respect! And I also harbour a great fondness for Halloween III, even as I recognize the great lost opportunity it represents! So where does a fellow like ol’ Burl stand on Halloween II, the sequel that doesn’t simply take up the story exactly as it ended in the first picture, but shows us the last five or six minutes of that John Carpenter masterwork, just in case we’d forgotten them!
After a few pokings and jumpabouts, Michael Myers makes his way to the hospital where Jamie Lee Curtis is being treated by Doctor “I’ve Just Been To A” Mixer! Ha ha, he’s pretty soused, is old Doc Mixer! Some kind of terrible statewide health care budget cuts have evidently taken effect, as the hospital is severely underpopulated! Perhaps it’s simply that the Haddonfield General administration recognize what an important holiday Halloween is in movies like this, and have let as many staff as possible have the night off! (They must have learned the trick from the administrators of the hospital in Hospital Massacre!)
Michael sets about reducing the staff roster to zero! The only patients we see in the place are babies, but he lets them alone as far as we can tell! But everybody else is fair game, and Michael gives the old kitchen knife a rest and tries a few creative variations, like exsanguination, needles, a boiling hot tub, and a claw hammer! Ha ha, I guess this sort of thing was hinted at by his use of a curly phone cord in the first picture – an example, I guess, of movie murder using a weapon that no longer exists in our day and age!
At any rate, it’s all very unlikely, and though there are some efforts at stylization, as well as the usual attractive, pumpkiny camerawork from the portly cinematographer Dean Cundey, the picture has a slightly wheezy air! I used to think it was a crackerjack entertainment, bold and gleaming, but as each year passes the gap in quality between this sequel and the original becomes more apparent! To a certain segment of the population this one might come out on top, as there are more victims and even a few Special Makeup Effects! Dr. Loomis is a bit crazier, as one might be after shooting someone six times! Ha ha!
Altogether for an early-80s slasher picture it’s pretty good! The technical quality is marvelous, and The Shape will always be an iconic fellow, and a pleasure to watch on screen as he walks purposefully down a corridor or melts slowly out of the darkness! It's a typical 80s slasher movie, but as such things go, a superior one, though as a sequel to such a grand original, is inevitably a disapointment! I give Halloween II two razor blade apples!  

Thursday 1 November 2012

Burl reviews The Shining! (1980)

He-e-e-e-ere’s Burl! Ha ha, it’s me, back finally with another review of a horror classic! I have a long history with the story of The Shining, since before the movie was made even! My schoolteacher in some very early grade, perhaps four, perhaps five, read the book to us in short installments over the year! I remember really enjoying it, though I’m not sure about the rest of the class!
Famously, of course, Stephen King was mighty disappointed in the movie, calling it “a big beautiful Cadillac of a movie with nothing under the hood,” or words to that effect! I can understand his chagrin, to a degree anyway, but I think he was too close to his own novel to be able to distinguish the book from the movie as clearly as might be required to fully appreciate Stanley Kubrick’s effort! Ha ha, I’ll bet he started to appreciate it a little more after Firestarter and Children of the Corn and The Lawnmower Man came out, though!
But Kubrick, famous for movies like Killer’s Kiss and Full Metal Jacket, undeniably took some liberties with King’s novel! I can only imagine how crushed the poor bearded author was when he saw Jack Torrance leap out with that axe and nail poor Dick Hallorann right in the parka! Or when he realized that the hotel’s frondescent threat would be a simple hedge maze and not ambulatory topiary animals! Or when Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, appeared well on his way to crazy right from day dot!
The maze, I think, was an improvement over the book, and the living hedge creatures would likely have been too much for the trick effects teams of the day, even the team Kubrick would have assembled! Ha ha, it was certainly too much for the makers of the TV movie remake, and they even had CGI capabilities! But I was very sad to see old Dick Hallorann buy the biscuit! I wanted Kubrick to show them all relaxing at the pool in Florida at the very end, just like in the book!
I’ve seen this picture a few times now, ha ha! What really struck me this go round was how impressive the sets were! Boy oh boy, those must have cost a pretty penny to make! I can’t blame Kubrick for wanting to shoot fifty or sixty takes of each shot, although I have heard that he wore out poor Scatman Crothers at one point, and that I can’t condone! He was getting on in years at that point, but at least he hadn’t made that rat picture Deadly Eyes yet! That was still in his future!
I’ll just say that I think this is a really fine adaptation of a book I also like, and I for one am content to have two very different takes on this story! The movie has great photography, a really brilliant use of music, great performances all around, even from young Danny, and many creepy scenes! Those two girls sure were eerie, ha ha! Come play with us, Danny! I give The Shining three and a half crash zooms into Redrum!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Burl reviews Psycho! (1960)

Ree-ree-ree-ree, from behind the shower curtain, it’s Mother! Ha ha, no, it’s actually just me, Burl! I’ll let you get a robe or a towel on, and then I’ll continue with my review of the fine Alfred Hitchcock picture Psycho! It’s a movie I first saw on that fateful evening many years ago when my friend Scott and I tried walking up the beach to a nearby town where Blood Beach was playing in the theatre! We didn’t make it – it was much too far, as it turned out – so we ended up watching Psycho on TV!
Ha ha, there’s not much point in reviewing such a picture in the traditional manner! We all know the plot, and we all know how gosh-darn good the movie is! I wouldn’t be the first one to suggest that possibly the coda, in which a glib psychiatrist played by Simon Oakland tries to explain Norman’s illness, was an ill-advised addition, and that the movie should have ended a little more suddenly to maintain its shocking mood in the post-viewing moments!
Nor will I be the first, ha ha, to express admiration for Anthony Perkins’ magnificent performance in the role of the looneyman Norman Bates! All the other performances are good too, from Janet Leigh to Martin Balsam to everyone else! Even that cop and the used car salesman are pretty solid! But Perkins is the movie’s legitimate great performance, and one of the best Hitchcock ever got out of an actor! And I certainly wouldn’t be the first to mention that before Psycho, the movies (Hollywood ones, anyway) had never before shown a toilet flushing on screen!
It occurred to me for the first time when I watched the movie most recently (I’ve seen it many times, ha ha!) how downright scary Janet Leigh’s situation is! She’s there in that motel, all by herself, with a raging madman stalking around outside in a stringy wig and an ugly dress! And you’ll say, “Ha ha, but of course, Burl, that’s the movie, isn’t it?” Sure, but have you ever taken a step back and thought about it in a realistic sort of a way? It’s terrifying!
My goodness, I’d love to go back in time and sit in on a screening of the picture with a big audience! They must have freaked out, especially of course during the shower scene! And I wonder how many people screamed when Mrs. Bates spun around in her chair, or gasped in amazement when the killer’s wig came off, in that marvelous penultimate scene! And then of course I’d sit around with Hitch and chat with him for a while about his career, and about new suspense stories he could film!
The old cliché about some movies just getting better and better each time you see it certainly applies to Psycho! It has more re-watching value even than that other fine Hitchcock picture Rear Window! I award it four unbelievably deep impressions in the bed!

Saturday 13 October 2012

Burl reviews Rear Window! (1954)

Hel-lo, it is I, Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an Alfred Hitchcock picture for you today, an old favourite of mine called Rear Window! Ha ha, when I was fifteen or so, I remember making a list of my all-time favourite movies! That list has changed since then, but I remember that The Wild Bunch was on there (and might still be), and also Stand By Me, which is still a pretty good movie, but nowhere near that list now; and of course Rear Window!
Well, now, ha ha, I can think of almost a half-dozen Hitchcock pictures alone that I think are better, but it’s still a movie I think is really wonderful! Of course you all know the story: Jimmy "Thunder Bay" Stewart, an action-man photographer, has broken his leg and is recuperating in his Greenwich Village apartment during a summer heat wave; he comes to believe that his grumpy neighbour across the courtyard, Raymond Burr, well-known from his role in Gorilla At Large, has murdered his wife! As best he can from the confines of his wheelchair, and with the help of girlfriend Grace Kelly and nurse Thelma Ritter, Stewart attempts to find the proof he needs to send Burr where Burr, as Perry Mason, has sent, or will have sent, so many others: down the river!
The movie all takes place in Stewart’s apartment of course: we are trapped there as much as he! Through his binoculars and telephoto lenses, we get an amusing and enormous look at the rich pageant of life across the courtyard: not just bickering and murder, but newlywed romance, desperate loneliness, creative apotheosis, straight-up sexiness, sculpting, and sleeping on the fire escape!
There’s a subplot about whether or not action-man Stewart can settle down enough to marry his socialite gal-pal, but this is just to add a little human interest or something! I found those parts a bit tiresome, and Stewart’s character comes off as a bit of a jerk during them! (I guess making Jimmy Stewart seem like a jerk is just another example of Hitchcock’s uncanny directorial powers, ha ha!) But the movie is so great in just about every other aspect that it was easy to endure!
No, it’s not my favourite Alfred Hitchcock picture (but what is: Psycho? Vertigo? Shadow of a Doubt? Strangers on a Train? All contenders!), but it’s close, and when you put together the great acting, the marvelous suspense, the hothouse atmosphere, the huge and wonderful set, the gorgeous photography and the purely cine-psychological conceit of it all, Rear Window easily earns three and a half smashed cameras, and I’m not sure it doesn’t deserve more! It’s a great movie!