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You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Burl reviews The Quick and the Dead! (1995)

Hi, it’s Burl here, reviewing a Sam Raimi oater from the mid-1990s! Yes, the picture is The Quick and the Dead, and I remember enjoying this one most heartily at the movie palace when it was originally released! Ha ha, that crazy Raimi style fit unexpectedly well with the western genre, I thought at the time!
Well, I watched it again recently to see if I still felt that way! I guess I feel a little differently – the nutty camera angles and general hyperstylization seem a little grafted on, truth be told! But that certainly doesn’t mean I disliked the movie! No sir, it was still an amusing and energetic charleston, even if they did steal the excellent title from Louis L’Amour! Ha ha!
The story is a basic one: wronged lady returns to a Olde Western town looking for vengeance, ha ha, and gets caught up in a shootin’ match held by the burg’s nefarious godfather! She proves to be a solid challenger, and eventually, as the roster of gunfighters is whittled down, final justice is served! Ha ha, pretty rote stuff, on paper at least!
But first of all, what a cast! Ha ha, Sharon Stone plays the lady, and that’s fine or whatever, but you also get Gene Hackman, who plays a very nice baddie – they say he’s grumpy in real life, so I guess that helps, ha ha – and you have your future superstars like Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio; a cameo from Gary Sinise of Apollo 13 in the role of Dad; fine genre players like Lance Henrikson from Pumpkinhead, Keith David from The Thing and Tobin Bell from In the Line of Fire; awesome old-guy performers like Pat Hingle from Maximum Overdrive, Roberts Blossom from Christine, and Woody Strode from Kingdom of the Spiders in his very last role; and then just a bunch of ringers like Kevin Conway, Mark Boone Junior and Sven-Ole Thorson! Ha ha, it’s a thespian buffet with something for everyone!
Behind the camera there’s plenty of talent too! Dante Spinotti is the cinematographer, and he shot Manhunter and Heat after all! Too bad he hooked up with that guy Brett Ratner! Maybe he and Michael Mann look alike and old Dante just got confused, I don’t know! Ha ha, but he sure did a fine, heat-hazed, sunbaked job on his one Raimi outing!
The script has a strangely mechanical feel to it, but maybe that’s just a natural outgrowth of the single-elimination tournament structure in which it trades! I do recall feeling some suspense about who was going to shoot against who, and who would win; looking back, it all seems very prescribed! I can’t be sure if that’s endemic to the movie or just me – probably just me! Ha ha!
It’s an fun movie, that’s for sure, and as noted, a feast for character actor fans! And I’m certainly glad Sam Raimi got a chance to do a western! Altogether, even though it’s not quite as great as I remember it being, I’m going to give The Quick and the Dead three clunky ticks of the clock!

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Burl reviews Van Nuys Blvd.! (1979)

Hi, ha ha, it’s Burl! Would you like a taste of determined and consequence-free grooviness? Simply pop Van Nuys Blvd. into the old VCR machine, and you will be confronted with the very welcome sight of the Crown International logo, immediately followed by the even more welcome sight of a vintage Chevy boogie van booting down the road with Bill "The Pom Pom Girls" Adler at the wheel! Adler here turns out not to be playing the sullen loser or half-hearted bully he essays in the other C. I. releases that feature his high-pated greaser’s mug, no! Instead he sits proudly atop the cast list and serves as our representative naïf on a journey into the anachronistic fleshpot of Van Nuys Boulevard itself!
Adler plays Bobby (of course!), a car mechanic living in a small town somewhere in the American southwest! He’s got the fastest van in town, a good job, and a naked girlfriend waiting for him in his trailer; but he yearns for something bigger, flashier and more exciting, though as yet obscure in his dim imagination! A television news broadcast about the San Fernando Valley’s famed cruise strip, Van Nuys Boulevard, brings his dream into sharp relief! Here is what he has been waiting for: a community full of people as aimless as he, and moreover devoted to externalizing their aimlessness every Wednesday night by driving pointlessly up and down the same stretch of road, hooting, hollering, and revving their engines at random! The appearance of a ball-busting, cruise-hating cop in the broadcast does nothing to stifle Bobby’s enchantment: he takes off for Van Nuys there and then, leaving his gorgeous girlfriend, his trailer, and most of a beer behind! The disco theme song carries us through Bobby’s journey: “I got my wheels in motion… my love machine… Van Nuys!” As this gruelling number finally ebbs, Bobby stops his van, apparently to observe a beautiful sunset; but no, he’s reached the rim of the Valley already and is staring downward at the glittering, blithesome crosshatches, eyes wide, grooving on the pulsebeat of humanity that is spread out before him like an invitation card from God Himself! Ha ha, Van Nuys!

This being an updated, smaller-scale and less ambitious reworking of American Graffiti, as so many of these films are, there are more characters to meet, seemingly chosen at random! The film’s Fonz figure is “The Chooch,” the ponkiest guy ever, who drives a souped-up old hot rod and shares both the Fonz’s mercurial personality and tendency to refer to himself in the third person! Meanwhile, elsewhere down the strip, helping put the Van in Van Nuys Boulevard, Moon and Camille are driving around in their mean blue boogie machine, looking for action; and Greg, a ginger-haired suburban jerk with a maniacal laugh (a close cousin to grinning Bobby from The Van), is cruising around with his disposable buddy, looking for a beautiful girl he’d dreamed about three nights running! Hanging above them all, just as in Malibu Beach, is a big neon sign reading “Pleasure!”
Eventually, after being tossed into the same jail cell by Officer Al Zass, all of these characters form a kind of fun-gang! They ride roller coasters, disco dance, pair up, argue, kiss and make up, and they laze on the beach as a pig breaks loose and charges frantically up and down the sand! There are plenty of shenanigans, and then, after a surprising character shift by The Chooch – he scraps his denim vest, sells his hot rod, dons a pink flowered shirt and re-christens himself Leon – matters come to a head in the form of a drag race between Bobby and Moon! They’ve fallen in love, but also have fostered a fierce van rivalry that only a race can settle; and preferably a race that ends with a van rolling in slow motion down a steep, rocky hill!
Van Nuys Blvd. is a strange animal, predicated as it is on the notion that a person can be drawn to Los Angeles without any grand ambitions of movie stardom, but simply from a need to drive up and down a particular one of its streets! It’s a movie about the need for community, as are so many of these pictures; but this one is more up front about it than most! The ensemble cast hearkens back to its 1974 Lucasfilm template, and, like that picture, Van Nuys Blvd. doesn’t forget that “ensemble” is French for “together!” There’s great comfort in watching disparate strangers drifting together into an unit, opposing, as it does, the expansive, outward drift of just about everything else in nature, from the continents to the universe itself! Even if the alliance is as shaky as the one in Van Nuys Blvd., the natural impulse is to hope it holds together, and to feel gratified when it does!
The sport of cruising, too, is given more play here than I’d seen in any film since the George Lucas hit, and some of the reasoning behind this gas-wasting activity presented itself! At the tail end of a fuel crisis, with the emergence of such fearsome overseas bogeymen as OPEC into the public consciousness, the practice of expending fuel to go nowhere must have felt like a joyful booting of sand into the face of these obscure threats to the SoCal lifestyle! It was natural, if reflexive, to make movies celebrating this, and to drive your car to the drive-in to watch them: fuel consumption and exhaust fumes be darned! They didn’t know then what we know now, of course, and these days, even in Los Angeles, cruising is probably frowned upon as a filthy, needless and destructive activity! So documents like Van Nuys Blvd. have greater archival value as every year goes by, and, if they’re as aggressively inconsequential as that film is, they’ll always be fun to watch! I give this marvelous peccadillo three cases of lockjaw!

Monday 29 July 2013

Burl reviews Stick! (1985)

Ha ha, hi there all you pals, it’s me, Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another motion picture for you: one of the Great Burt Trilogy of 1985! Ha ha, as you probably recall, that was the era in which Burt Reynolds, as his predecessor Andy Warhol had done a decade earlier with Flesh, Trash and Heat, released three single-word-title movies, Stick, Malone and, again, Heat!
Of course I’ve already reviewed Malone for you, and today’s review is for Stick! This picture is based on an Elmore Leonard novel about an ex-con named Stick Stickley who returns to Florida and gets mixed up with a bunch of crazy criminals, while trying to stay as straight as he can and reconnect with the teenage daughter whose childhood he mostly missed due to being in the pokey! Most of this was retained for the movie, except they turned it into more of an action thriller, with some chase scenes and gunplay and so forth!
Apparently these more action-packed scenes were added in after Leonard had done his bit for the picture! It’s funny, for most of the movie you see Stick put a punching or a kicking on the bad guys, then taking away their guns and tossing the firearms away! He appeared to be one of that special brand of action hero, The Guy Who Doesn’t Like Guns! As one of those myself, I always applaud this approach! But then, for the climax of the picture, Stick finds himself a machine gun and rat-a-tat-tats many a henchman into an early grave, ha ha! And after the movie stiffed theatrically, Universal Pictures clearly wanted to emphasize the popgun action, as you can see from their video box cover!
The movie’s not such a good one, though! It’s not just the eleventh-hour tampering; pretty much the whole movie seems like something Michael Mann might have made after accidentally swallowing a bottle of barbiturates! There are a few high points, and one of them is the creepy albino henchman played by stunt maestro Dar Robinson! He’s a nasty piece of work, but actually he takes a lot more punishment in the picture than he doles out! Burt puts a pretty sound punching on him, and then, in an amazing stunt that I wish had been filmed better (though it’s still pretty good), he falls off a high-rise balcony, firing his gun all the way down! Ha ha, thud!
There’s a pretty weird cast! Charles Durning dons a clown wig to play some sort of drugs ganglord, who in the book is an entirely different sort of character! Then there’s a supposedly scarier drugs ganglord who must have been found at Central Casting, Hispanic Division! George Segal appears as The World’s Most Obnoxious Man! And then we see Candace Bergen, the boringest actress in Hollywood, as Stick’s new girlfriend!
Burt directed this one himself, and he pulls off a decidedly workmanlike job! “Workmanlike” might have been coined specifically to describe his work here, in fact! His hairline changes from shot to shot and scene to scene, and he obviously had a pretty good time instructing actresses to ogle him as though he were the greatest thing they’d ever seen! In the end, the picture is so thouroughly 1980s that it’s hard to truly dislike it, and I’m going to give Stick two angry stinging scorpions!