Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Burl reviews Cheerleaders Beach Party! (1978)


Hi, it’s Burl here with a review of another cheerleader picture, 1978’s Cheerleaders Beach Party, which offered something altogether new in cheerleader pictures: a cheerleaders' beach party! In previous cheerleader pictures, like The Cheerleaders or Revenge of the Cheerleaders or The Pom Pom Girls, the young ladies had been relegated mostly to the campus or their bedrooms, but Cheerleaders Beach Party promised some exotic seaside cheering, with the trappings I – a landlocked prairie boy – had romanticized beyond all reason since first enjoying the beach party scene at the beginning of Jaws! But as the movie began, it quickly became apparent that this beach party was not taking place in sunny California – the traditional spawning ground and home precinct of the cheerleader –  but, like Jaws, somewhere on the northern east coast, in and around the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean! Ha ha!

The movie concerns the misadventures of four well-meaning cheerleaders, Monica, Toni, Sissy and Sheryl, the spiriteers of Rambling U., who discover that an overcoat-wearing stranger is attempting to poach their school’s three star football players! They conceive of a plan: follow the boys to their seaside recruitment camp and somehow prevent them from choosing generous but unscrupulous State U.! A beach appears almost straight away, though of a cold-looking Atlantic variety, and the scheme goes on to involve a night club, references to Billy Carter, several romantic conversations about Fleetwood Mac, and a scientific research boat investigating ways to control crab lice! The girls shift their strategy, deciding instead to poach State players back to Rambling by means of seductive entrapment techniques!

Later, there’s a pool party held by the stuffy State dean, for which the Rambling girls disguise themselves as waitresses to spike the punch and distribute hash brownies! It soon descends into chaos, ha ha! An elderly dowager dances wildly and the dean tumbles into the pool, ker-sploosh! The goal, to turn the Rambling homeboys off of State by sabotaging the shindig, is not met; instead, the moustachioed lads declare it “The greatest kick-ass motherfuckin’ party we’ve ever been to!”

Further adventures involve the girls posing as ghosts; finally and with little ceremony holding the titular beach party; and later infecting the Rambling players with pubic lice! This last improbable gambit proves the one that brings the players back to Rambling, setting the stage for a montage of the newly invigorated Rambling team beating State as the chagrined dean watches from the sidelines and the cheerleaders do what cheerleaders do!
Cheerleaders Beach Party is in many ways a grim little article: the photography is murky and dull, the cheerleaders themselves are dour and snaggletoothed, and their frumpy, maroon-coloured outfits might have been sewed by Betsy Ross in a particularly Puritanical mood! But the good-natured Plain Janes on view here – not adverse to taking off their clothes, but somehow not making a big deal of it – were kind of endearing! Cheerleaders Beach Party is disconcertingly plot-heavy at the beginning, but allows its narrative to dissolve into the roiling Eastern seaboard mist in which it is suffused by the end of the first couple of reels! I give it two marvelous boogie vans!

Burl reviews A Return to 'Salem's Lot! (1987)

Ha ha, bluh bluh! It’s Burl here with a review of a vampire picture! This one is A Return to ‘Salem’s Lot, Larry Cohen’s name-only sequel to the Tobe Hooper adaptation of the Stephen King book! You probably recall that TV movie – it was spooky, especially when the kid shows up at the window! So it’s pretty strange that Larry Cohen got the job of making the sequel, because his movies are a lot of things, but they’re not spooky!

He makes idea movies, I guess you might say! There’s always one or two ideas in there that make you go “Ha ha, that’s pretty cool!” But then he usually forgets about the meat and potatoes of making a genre movie, which is to say the actual writing and directing parts! He does those things, technically speaking, but he just doesn’t do them very well!

But perhaps I’m being unfair! A better way to say it is that he doesn’t make movies the way we’re all used to movies being made! That’s just his way, and it’s not intrinsically bad – it’s just that the decisions he makes usually don’t work as well as if he’d gone a more conventional route, or if, better yet, he’d chosen another, better iconoclastic direction!

All this is by way of saying that I’m a Larry Cohen fan, but am heavily prejudiced against his movies! I guess that’s why I never bothered seeing this particular movie until the other day! It’s strange – I’ve seen most of his pictures, and have even seen It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive more than once, but I always steered clear of this one! Turns out it’s a pretty enjoyable little snapparoo!

Michael Moriarty (of course!) plays some kind of anthropologist, or what Larry Cohen imagines an anthropologist to be, and through subterfuge he is lured to the vampire-ridden down of ‘Salem’s Lot and enlisted by the local hemogobblers to write the history of their race! Therein lies the notion that is the true heart of the picture: the idea that the vampires have their own history in parallel to that of humans, and that they see themselves as essentially harmless (they feed off cows, ha ha!) and unfairly maligned!

But Moriarty’s incredibly foul-mouthed son, who’s along for the ride, becomes enamored of bloodsucking ways, and he starts looking a little pale and swearing more than usual when the sun hits his eyes! Ha ha, he truly lays a salty tongue on everyone! In the meantime a gobblety-faced creature is lurking in the woods and munching on stray teenagers! Pretty soon none other than Sam Fuller shows up to help battle the fiends!

Sam Fuller turns out to be exactly what the picture needs, and he helps shore up Michael Moriarty’s typically fine performance! Andrew Duggan is really good as the lead vampire, Judge Axel, who is also, I believe, meant to be the gobblety-faced vampire who lurks in the woods; and there are a number of other veterans performers who do a fine job! But all the under-thirty thespians are just wretched, ha ha, and it really hurts the picture!

This is the sort of thing that gives Larry Cohen movies their amateurish, community-theater reputation! It’s too bad! I sure wish old Lar would take a little extra time casting his pictures and working with the actors! It’s like he said, okay, I’ve got Moriarty, no need to bother with actors any more! Well, I could go on, but there comes a point when, as a Larry Cohen fan, you just go okay, God Told Me To, okay, The Stuff, okay, It Lives Again, okay Q, okay fine! And you leave it at that! In the meantime, I give A Return to ‘Salem’s Lot two and a half vanloads of punk rock victims!

Friday 22 February 2013

Burl reviews The Thing! (1982)

It’s Burl here with a review of a movie I saw five times in the theater alone, and countless times on home video since! Ha ha, it’s John Carpenter’s The Thing, one of the all-time great examples of how a remake can better its predecessor, even if the predecessor is already pretty good!
There are a few other examples of this – Cronenberg’s The Fly, even Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob – but  The Thing is the king of them all! You already know the story of course: alien life-form invades Antarctic research camp, paranoia and gruesome special effects ensue! The great idea behind this production was to go back to the original John W. Campbell story in which the alien was a mutative beast who could hide within its victims, rather than a tall humanoid with rosethorn knuckles and vegetable flesh! Ha ha, if they’d tried that, they might have ended up with something like that legendary turkeybird The Dark!
This movie’s got it all, except ladies! You have a wonderful, chilly score from Ennio Morricone – I guess the suits wouldn’t let Carpenter do his own, ha ha, but I think I’m glad for that in this case! – and uniformly solid performances from all the gentlemen involved! Kurt Russell is marvelous as MacReady, A. Wilford Brimley (who is also the Wilford Brimley) makes an excellent Dr. Copper, and David “Matinee” Clennon is perfect as the stonerman Palmer! Of course Keith David gives his usual mackerel of a performance, and Charles Hallahan is good too! They’re all good, dagnabbit! And many of them wear beards!
The dog who brings the infection into camp is really fine too – one of the best dog actors I’ve ever seen, right up there with the one from The Boogens! I hope he got some extra kibble the day they shot his “wandering through the base” scene, ha ha! Other virtues to be found in this picture include the icy cinematography from the portly cinematographer, Dean Cundey, and the tightening sense of dread as we realize first how unlikely is a happy ending for these men, and what the stakes are if – or when, ha ha! – the alien reaches a populated area!
There isn’t a whole else left to say about the picture, except that it’s one of Burl’s all-time favourites and has been since June of 1982! Sure, it’s hardly a perfect movie, but it’s pretty close! It’s the best movie Carpenter has ever made, and he’s made some doozies! Halloween is great, and so is Dark Star, and so are The Fog and Big Trouble in Little China and They Live and Prince of Darkness (though Christine, the movie he made right after this one, is only sort of solid), but none of them touch this cool cucumber of a picture! He out-Hawksed Hawks with this one, ha ha! I give The Thing a solid four crabheads, my highest rating! If you haven’t seen it, ha ha, give it a chance!

Monday 18 February 2013

Burl reviews Marwencol! (2010)

Hi, Burl here with a movie review for you! It’s a documentary I’m reviewing for you today, ha ha, called Marwencol! It’s all about a fellow named Mark who lives in a small upstate New York town who, after a night out at the local p*b, is set upon by ruffians and bootstomped into practically another dimension! It’s pretty awful!
But Mark survives the attack, and pretty soon he has a new way of looking at the world! He creates a whole world of his own, a little town called Marwencol, made of miniature houses and populated by Ken and Barbie and GI Joe dolls that are named after people he knows, and who are enacting a perpetual Occupied Europe scenario! He, of course, is the hero!
But of course he still suffers in myriad ways from his attack! His mind seems to move a little more slowly, and he finds it hard to rom*nce ladies! But on the other hand, where he was a big drinker before, now he has no taste for alc*hol at all! The dramas of Marwencol have completely possessed him, and he takes picture after picture, dramatizing and documenting the goings-on there!
Of course, his project finally gets some notice when a photo-artist meets him and decides that Mark’s work must be seen! And he’s right, and Mark doesn’t disagree, even though his project was really only intended for himself! Eventually Mark, wearing his prettiest pair of shoes, is on the way to Greenwich Village, the very hub of the artistic world in America, for his first big show!
Marwencol is a grand documentary! The best kinds of course are those which continually surprise you with revelations, but never feel like they’re keeping revelations from you just so they can parse them out that way! This one is mostly – mostly! – like that! It’s best not to read too much about a movie like this before you watch it, and even in reading this review, you have probably read too much! It’s not a case of so-called “spoilers,” or anything, just that some movies – perhaps many movies – are more enjoyable when you can just let them unravel in their own way and on their own time!
I’ll leave you with that, I guess! Marwencol has a great central character and is entertaining, and while the stakes are relatively low it’s nevertheless engaging and compelling the whole way through, and has a few things to impart about the human condition in the bargain! It indulges in many of the same sort of quirky small-town clich├ęs as many fictional indie comedy-dramas, but that’s not its fault! I’m going to give Marwencol three bloodstained Barbies!

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Burl reviews Twentieth Century! (1934)

By jimbus and by goo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to look at a classic picture made long ago by one of cinema’s grand innovators, Howard Hawks! I’m tempted to say that Twentieth Century is an atypical Hawks picture, but the man was so incredibly versatile – he took successful stabs at action, screwball comedy, horror/sci-fi, war movies, films noir and westerns, after all – that I’m not so sure there is any such thing as an atypical Hawks picture!

This one is a comedy, though not particularly screwball! It’s a pretty good satire of showbiz personalities, though, and a train picture on top of that! Ha ha, I sure do love a good train picture! It starts with the great and gorgeous Carole Lombard playing Plotka, a would-be actress working on her first Broadway play! The director is the moody and tyrannical Oscar Jaffe, played by le grand jambon John Barrymore; Jaffe is in a Svengaliish frame of mind, and changes Plotka’s name to Lily Garland before first seducing her and then making her a big star!

Ha ha, cut to three years later when Jaffe and Lily are still an item, and have done three hit plays together, but are at each other’s throats! Jaffe is a terrible control freak and manipulator, and poor Lily is tired of it! So off she goes to Hollywood and becomes a big movie star there! We move forward in time again, and now Jaffe’s star has fallen, and he has to escape creditors in Chicago by donning whiskers and talking like Colonel Sanders! Ha ha, it’s great!

The rest of the movie takes place on the titular train, and I do admit that I’d assumed the whole picture took place on the train! So for a while there, through the first half, as much as I was enjoying it all, I was sort of wondering “Ha ha, where’s the train?” But don’t worry, because there’s plenty of train action! It’s packed with characters too, like the nutty evangelist, the goofy acting troupe and so forth! And of course there’s a Bellamy, which is to say a milquetoast pretender to the leading lady’s affections, who doesn’t stand a chance when set against the outrageous antics of the male star! Ha ha, he’s not actually played by Ralph Bellamy here, but close enough!

It’s a funny movie with that rip-roaring Hawksian verve and a hee-larious central performance from Barrymore! And it’s a train movie, like Human Desire, and you know how much I love those! There are some great supporting actors too, like Edgar Kennedy who was in Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher, George Reed, who was in Strange Illusion, and Charles Lane, who had a long career and was in everything! Ha ha!

It’s a terrific picture, and I recommend you have a look at it when you get a chance! I’m going to give Twentieth Century three and a half iron doors!