Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 30 August 2013

Burl reviews Fandango! (1984)

Good day son, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an old favourite of mine, the bittersweet good-time road trip Fandango! This was an inspirational picture for my friends and I back in junior high or whenever we watched it! It seemed like it dealt with a whole set of concerns we would soon be wrestling with ourselves – except for the being drafted to serve in Vietnam part, ha ha! Otherwise it seemed to hit all the right notes, and it was a stylish and funny movie in the bargain – one of those 80s film school brat pictures like Three O’ Clock High and Vamp!
The story begins in Austin, Texas, in 1971! A group of college pals called The Groovers set out on a multi-day, sunbaked odyssey to recreate a legendary trip from their earlier days! Kevin Costner, famed from his role in Malibu Hot Summer, is the leader of the gang, and its other members include none other than hotshot Judd “Blue City” Nelson, playing against type so effectively that I thought for a while this was his type; a fellow played by the appealing where-did-this-guy-disappear-to Sam Robards (among other places, ha ha, he disappeared to Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle); a massive giant of sedate temper and supernatural strength played by Chuck Bush from Terror in the Swamp; and a perpetually passed-out fellow who spends most of his time unconscious on the back deck of the gang’s Caddy!
Ha ha, the gang has a robust series of adventures, including the time they run out of gas, the time they shower in a car wash, the time they meet a couple of small town ladies with a taste for fireworks, and the time Judd Nelson goes skydiving! Ha ha, that particular adventure was the short film this picture grew out of, and the pilot of the plane in both the short and feature versions is a memorable eccentric played by Marvin J. McIntyre from The Running Man! Eventually, after a lot of shouting, the young fellows achieve their goal: the disinterment of their old pal Dom!
The movie still pushes those buttons of melancholy for me, particularly at the very end where the friends variously do and don’t say goodbye to one another! The little exchange between Judd Nelson and big Chuck Bush (“Goodbye, friend.” “Have a nice life”), and the music that goes with it, really hits me right there!
It’s not a perfect picture or anything! It can get a little sappy here and there, the arguing is a bit repetitive, the emotional arcs are simplistic, and the story is episodic in the extreme! The final wedding scene, involving a pretty lady played by Suzy Amis from Firestorm, is unlikely, but it still kind of works, especially with the anachronistic participation of Pat Metheny! There’s a soundtrack of songs that are for the most part too obvious (ha ha, "Born to be Wild" again?), or else tonally unlikely given the characters (Carole King? Ha ha!)! I will admit that good use is made of Elton John, of all people, and the end credits song, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” is a perfect choice in every respect!
There’s a nice group of performers decorating the edges of the picture too! Pee Wee’s girlfriend Elizabeth Daily, known from Streets of Fire and No Small Affair, is in there, as is Pepe Serna from Out of Bounds and of course Buckaroo Banzai! Glenne “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” Headly plays a hippie chick! And whoever the guy is who plays the rancher ordering food at the Dairy Queen, that guy is great! Too bad this was his only picture!
I’ll certainly cop to being a bit of a soft touch where this movie is concerned, but I’m sure many others who caught it at the right time feel just the same way! Any way you slice it, it’s an enjoyable if minor picture! I’m going to give Fandango three chili dogs and a malt!

Burl reviews Grandview U.S.A.! (1984)

Burl reviewing at you again! Yes, I have a review of a heartland picture for you, one of those movies which make a big deal of being set not in some fancy coastal city full of espresso-swilling elites, but in the cornfed plains of flyover country where the real people live! Where, specifically, is this movie set, you might ask? Ha ha, it’s in Grandview U.S.A., just down the road from Hometown U.S.A. I guess!
The people in Grandview U.S.A. are just normal folks, ha ha! Apple cheeks are always in fashion here! Corn stalks wave in the wind, and in the meanwhile, C. Thomas Howell, straight from Secret Admirer, dreams of swimming in the sea like his idol Jacques Cousteau! Around the corner you might find Jamie Lee Curtis, no longer the donkey girlscout of Halloween, running a smash-up derby she inherited from her late and little-loved father! Why, here comes the best driver in the whole smashdrome, Patrick “Red Dawn” Swayze, who is married to a sweetpotato played by Jennifer Jason Leigh! Lurking around the fringes, as he so often did during this period, is none other than John “Stand By Me” Cusack! Michael Winslow, famed for his vocal sound effects in movies like Lovelines, plays the derby track announcer! And, as a special bonus for lovers of fine character acting, M. Emmet “Blade Runner” Walsh plays the small part of C. Thomas’s girlfriend’s father, who puts a well-deserved punching on C. Thomas early in the picture!
There’s no plot really! C. Thomas develops a crush on Jamie Lee, who still kind of likes Patrick Swayze from way back in the day, but Swayze is having domestic troubles, seeing as how Jennifer Jason has succumbed to the reptilian charms of a deeply tanned Troy “Deadly Prey” Donahue! Ha ha! But Jamie Lee is flattered by C. Thomas’s attentions, and there’s a subplot about how his real estate developer dad is trying to wrest away the smash-up derby from Jamie Lee! But you know what? This movie is set in the heartland where the real people dwell, so it all works out in the end!
It’s a movie that looks nice, thanks to the folksy photography of Reynaldo “Yes, I Also Shot Lucas” Villealobos, ha ha, and it’s functionally directed by Randall Kleiser, the man who brought us a bucketful of Grease, and also of course Flight of the Navigator! But there’s just not much here here, if you know what I mean, ha ha, and things work out so tidily for almost everyone that, as the end credits roll over a heartwarming small-town parade, you wonder just what the heck!
It’s a tiny little minuscule fluttering flap of a movie that’s hard to remember almost as soon as it’s over! It looks nice, the cast is fine, Jamie Lee pulls off her shirt (as was her wont in the years 1983-85) and there are some bizarre rock video dreams which show off the most 1980s fashions and habits you could ever hope to see! It’s a movie with no edges on it, painless and scanty! I’ll give Grandview U.S.A. one and a half sudden changes of heart!

Burl reviews Dredd! (2012)

Ha ha pals, it’s Judge Burl, here to render judgment on the second attempt to dramatize the Judge Dredd funnybook stories for cinema screens! The first try, Judge Dredd, came in 1995, with good old Sly “Cobra” Stallone judiciously grimacing his way through the role! This one, Dredd, features a different actor scowling like Waldorf from beneath the headgear, though, ha ha, it hardly matters!
The 1995 version of the story was one of those candy-coloured sci-fi action pictures that take place in especially fake-looking, studio-bound environments! That’s a venerable Hollywood tradition dating back to Logan’s Run; other examples include Total Recall, Demolition Man and the Batman pictures from the 80s and 90s! The action is never very exciting in these movies for some reason, perhaps because it all seems terribly hemmed in by the studio environments and the shiny fakery which there abounds! That’s not to say these movies can’t be occasionally enjoyable, but they just aren’t pulse-racers, ha ha!
This Dredd tries hard to be grittier and nastier and more inventively gruesome than its forbear, and while it succeeds in this, it still isn’t very exciting! It’s one of those video game-inspired plots in which everyone is trapped inside a grotty high-rise and the heroes must fight their way from floor to floor until they get to the big boss for the final confrontation! Ha ha, just like Enemy Territory and The Raid! (The Raid, for the record, has more action-excitement in any one of its setpieces than Dredd manages in its whole 95 minutes!
Our hero is of course Judge Dredd (keeping his helmet on the whole time, unlike Stallone, ha ha!) and his sidekick is a lady psychic, who is a big step up from the puny wiseacre who was Stallone’s compadre! They must battle Ma-Ma, a scarfaced harridan who has made this particular mega-block her own private property! She rules it with an iron thumb, and her business is dispensing a mind drug which makes everything happen in slow motion! There are lots of scenes from the point of view of the people tripping on this mind drug, and to tell you the truth, they could have had a bit less of it, even though it looks sort of neat!
I’ll tell you this, ha ha: Dredd is a pretty violent picture, but though the violence, the grim atmosphere and the off-putting neo-fascism of its concept would seem to demand some leavening, or at least a wink or two somewhere, we never get it! Everything in the picture leads up to Ma-Ma’s final punishment, which is extended into a multi-minute sequence thanks to the slo-mo mind drug, and therein, I suppose, lies its entire raison d’etre! It’s not much to hang a big expensive movie on, really; but at least the trick effects are nice! Ha ha!
I won’t say I enjoyed Dredd very much, because I didn’t! I guess I wanted to see the villains get theirs as much as anyone, and that’s why I kept watching, but it really is a movie where the end credits start and you say “Huh!” in an affectless sort of way! I’m going to award Dredd one single big tall apartment building!

Thursday 29 August 2013

Burl reviews Dumbo! (1941)

Rootin-tootin-scootin, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a classic in animation for you, the fine Disney picture Dumbo! Ha ha, you’ve all seen it, I’m sure, but I hadn’t! Not until recently anyway! I’d certainly seen bits of it, like the parts General Robert Stack weeps over during his screening in 1941, but that’s about it!
The biggest surprise I found in the picture was that Dumbo doesn’t really fly until the end! I thought his flying would be a big part of the movie, and that he would have many flying adventures! Maybe they were saving those for the (ha ha, non-existent) sequels, and this was meant as more of an origin story!
And indeed it does begin with his origin: in point of fact, delivery by stork! The particular stork delivering Dumbo is an elderly slowbones, a little muddle-headed, and his slack performance causes needless grief for dowdy Mrs. Jumbo! Dumbo – whose real name, Jumbo Jr., is quickly forgotten – finds himself in a world of nasty lady elephants, unfeeling clowns, a self-obsessed ringmaster and, thankfully, a good-hearted mouse! When Mrs. Jumbo goes ape trying to protect her offspring’s good name, she is locked up as mad, and the mouse becomes Dumbo’s only friend!
The movie doesn’t overdo Dumbo’s tribulations, I’m glad to say! Neither does it condemn his episode of accidental drunkenness! In fact, had Dumbo and the mouse not accidentally imbibed clown champagne, they never would have discovered his magical flying powers in the first place!
The movie is full to bursting with beautiful circus imagery and great character voices! Ha ha, that mouse is marvelous! Even the songs are pretty good, and not too numerous! I would echo Sigfried Kracauer’s critique of the picture though: the famed theorist complained that, while Dumbo might well have used his power of flight to soar off “toward some unknown paradise,” he instead chose to remain “the highly-paid star of the same circus director who once flogged his mother Jumbo.” Though the obvious answer is that Dumbo is choosing to remain with his mother and only incidentally with the circus itself, it still does seem as though one of the movie’s takeaway messages is that forgiveness can be bought with perks and comforts! And the rest of the animals still must dwell in their cramped quarters, after all!
The movie is a little thin, maybe – Dumbo never speaks a word in the picture, so as a character he’s a little lacking! Ha ha, but the garrulous mouse, the bumptious crows (whose Negro coding, while sympathetic, is the movie’s most outdated element), the bi*chy elepantresses and the deluded ringmaster all help to make up for that doughnut hole!
It’s a terrific picture overall, brisk and breezy at 64 minutes, beautiful to look at, frequently clever and often charming! Casey Jr. is a marvelous little train, too! I’m going to give Dumbo three faceless roustabouts!

Thursday 22 August 2013

Burl reviews Day of the Survivalist! (1986)

Ha ha, hello, and hello again! It’s Burl! Today I again plumbed the depths of my action movie collection and came up with an obscurity, which looks as though it was filmed about ten years earlier than its copyright date would indicate! It's called Day of the Survivalist, and it’s an awful lot like plenty of other pictures in which a lone hero ends up in some remote place battling a nasty gang of hayseeds! Avenging Force, Quiet Cool and Bullies all fit this paradigm, but the movie I recalled the most while watching the present picture was Malone!
That’s because, as in Malone, the bad guys in Day of the Survivalist are nutty right-wing survivalists who plan to take over a valley and rule it as heavily-armed kings after the pockyclipse! But the survivalist of the title is actually the hero, Fletcher, who is not himself a survivalist except in the broader sense!
Fletcher is a good-natured Vietnam vet with a pornography moustache! He lives in L.A., but becomes disgusted with city life after he gets robbed and shot lightly in the head! He goes home, opens up a Pepsi and relaxes in front of the television, but is disgusted to see news of only more crime and despair! But then something catches his eye: an elaborate ad inviting people to come and live in a remote Oregon valley! Fletcher fondles his chin for a while, then reasons that a spot widely advertised on Los Angeles television will be the perfect place for him to go for some peace and quiet!
The next thing you know, Fletcher has moved to Oregon and opened his own archery shop! At this point I thought: ha ha! Great! There must be a murder conspiracy in this valley, where they attract people there only to use them as The Most Dangerous Game, but this time their intended prey has a whole shop full of archery supplies as his arsenal! But no, there’s no conspiracy, only a handful of grumpy survivalists arming, supplying and training themselves against what they call The Crunch: the inevitable nuclear Armageddon and subsequent socio-economic collapse! Ha ha, but I couldn’t help picturing an enormous Crunch bar!
The group, led by The Colonel, try to get Fletcher to join their group, but he just thinks they’re a bunch of sillies! Then Johnny Paycheck shows up and sings a song called “I Love Rowdy People!” Johnny sits down with the survivalists for a brew, and they try to recruit him too! But Johnny begs off, saying he’s a lover, not a fighter!
Pretty soon it all goes wrong and the fellows are after Fletcher! They’re a pretty incompetent bunch, so there’s never much of a threat! Fletcher and a local lady – the sister of the most surly survivalist actually – go on the run, and eventually there’s some gunfire and flying arrows and a chop or two from an axe, and then The Colonel is dead and the movie’s over!
Ha ha, Day of the Survivalist offers plenty of pretty terrible acting – Fletcher is the best of the bunch, and I still wouldn’t say he was good, ha ha! – dull photography, uninspired direction and endless running around in the forest! On the other hand, the movie is strangely realistic in depicting how a band of right-wing, gun-loving survivalists would actually operate in a situation like this! They’re not a very slick or clever bunch, I can tell you! But these sorts of clowns do make pretty good villains, as I’ve said before! With its weirdly affable protagonist, its marvelously goofy Johnny Paycheck cameo – the most desultory guest star cameo ever filmed, it should be noted – and its grimy action, Day of the Survivalist is still a strangely compelling little picture, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching it! I’m going to give it two robotic lady cops!

Burl reviews The Long Ride Home! (1967)

Yippee-ki-yay-hi, it’s Burl! Yes sir, it’s time to review a Western picture, or at least a Civil War movie that is more or less a Western! This one is called The Long Ride Home, or sometimes A Time For Killing, and it’s one of those movies that suffered from what’s known as “production problems!” It started with Roger “Rock All Night” Corman as the director, but he quit or was fired (accounts differ!) a few weeks in! He was replaced by Phil Karlson, certainly a man who knows his way around a tough-guy picture! So it didn’t turn out so badly! And thanks to Corman’s involvement, this movie contains a performance from my favourite actor, Dick “Smokey Bites the Dust” Miller! Ha ha!
We’re at a fort somewhere in the South in the last days of the conflict, in the spring of 1865! Union soldiers have a bunch of Confederate prisoners, including George “Love At First Bite” Hamilton and Harry Dean “Repo Man” Stanton, and also Jethro himself, Max Baer Jr., who of course is well known for directing Hometown U.S.A.! Ha ha, a pretty odd crew, all in all! On the Union side you’ve got Glenn Ford of Happy Birthday To Me, the great fartiste Timothy Carey, Kenneth Tobey from It Came From Beneath the Sea, a comedy-relief duo played by Kay E. Kuter and a bearded Dick Miller, and a friendly appearance from the young “Harrison J. Ford”! Ha ha, an even motlier crew!
The bluecoats, led by an intransigent colonel, make no friends by botching an execution! The decent Glenn Ford opposes it, but there’s nothing he can do! Hamilton and his boys have had enough: they escape through a tunnel and make their way towards Mexico, and freedom! But there are complications: G. Ford has a missionary fiancĂ©e played by Inger Stevens whom he sends away by wagon train, and Hamilton does first a kidnapping on her and later a violation! Meanwhile, Max Baer Jr. is a real maniac, a giggler who goes kill-crazy! Ha ha, gotta get those bluebellies! And Hamilton decides his main mission is to kill Glenn Ford, and he won’t even let the official end of the war stop him, ha ha!
It’s a pretty violent movie, that’s for sure, with lots of popguns firing wildly! It’s no The Wild Bunch, but there’s still plenty of tomato paste! In the middle of all that, and amidst the brooding, the rape, the thirst for revenge, sits a pair of comic performances from Miller and Kuter! Ha ha, they’re pretty funny guys, and it’s a welcome sight whenever these two scalawags appear on the screen!
If you try not to think of The Wild Bunch (an immeasurably better picture) while you watch it, The Long Ride Home is not half-bad! It’s not the jolliest motion picture ever, but it has an authentically liberal outlook, evidenced by the hero’s dislike of war, guns and killing, and the fairly perfunctory nature of his revenge when it finally occurs! Also, you have to admit it has at least one thing The Wild Bunch can’t even touch, and that’s Dick Miller! Ha ha, I give The Long Ride Home two and a half Dean Stantons!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Burl reviews The Money Pit! (1986)

Hi, Burl here, writing from home! I have a review for you – a picture I just watched a few days ago for the first time! Ha ha, and it shows how, if you know of the existence and the basic plot of a movie for years, you can really form your own version of it, only to be mildly shocked when the real version is so different! Ha ha, I’m talking about The Money Pit!
My imagined version of The Money Pit wasn’t really so different materially, but tonally it certainly was! I thought the movie would be more realistic, treating the states of being broke and of dealing with contractors trying to shark you with at least one foot planted in reality! But goofiness begins early in the picture, and you realize it’s more of an expensive sitcom pilot than a genuine movie!
That may sound pretty harsh, and you may be thinking “Ha ha, Burl, you’ve just got sour grapes because you were wrong!” Well, I think I watched it with a pretty clear eye, and I’ve got to report that this picture is some pretty thin soup! It’s really a series of physical gags that only occasionally ring that sweet slapstick gong, and at every other moment in the movie there’s not much else going on!
Ha ha, one might hope to achieve at least the level of realism offered by The ‘burbs, another Tom Hanks domestic comedy! But no, not really! When a movie opens with your main characters getting the old heave-ho from none other than Yakov “Brewster’s Millions” Smirnoff, you get a sausage-sniff of what you’re in for! From there, the picture flirts with realism by presenting Hanks’s money problems and the contractor difficulties he and his ladyfriend experience after purchasing a falling-apart house, but it never comes close to reflecting or commenting on actual human experience!
No, it’s pretty cartoony! Weirdly, it was shot by Gordon "The Parallax View" Willis, whose nickname “The Prince Of Darkness” you’d think would put him low on the list of lensmen one might consider for a bright, goofy comedy! It was directed by Richard Benjamin, whom I like as an actor more than as a director, ha ha! He’s always great in pictures like Catch 22 or The Last Married Couple in America!
Hanks is pretty good in the picture, though he’s no Harold Lloyd! Shelly Long, known from television, plays his friend, and we also get little appearances from many comic character actors, but none of these good people are able to help The Money Pit rise out of its own foul mire! After all, there is a scene in which a contractor spells the picture’s theme out in blazingly on-the-nose allegorical terms, ha ha!
Ha ha, there I am being overly harsh again! I promise it’s not just because the movie defied my expectations, nor it is because I have suffered excessive contractor troubles of my own and believe the subject should be treated with deadly earnestness! It’s more because the movie is flat and not too funny, and aims its comedy at moppet level while dealing with mortgage payments and construction schedules! Moppets yawn at these things – I remember from when I was a moppet!
I sort of enjoyed it when Hanks fell through the floor and was trapped in a rug-bag for hours! It had a sort of Simpsons Rake Gag endurance quality to it! Otherwise it was a film of squandered opportunities, cementing in my mind the conviction that Yakoff Smirnoff’s best movie is and always will be The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension! I give The Money Pit one and a half fine old cars!