Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Burl reviews The Sensuous Caterer! (1980)

Pieww-pieww-pieww, it’s Burl, disco dancing into the room to do another review for you! Ha ha, this one is of a picture called The Sensuous Caterer, and it sure is an odd one! Sit down on this heart-shaped couch and I’ll tell you all about it!
It seems there’s a very New York fellow called Marc Stevens who wants the greatest Valentine’s Day shindig ever! So he’s turned to an organization, or rather, a cowboy-hatted man, called The Sensuous Caterer to organize this once-in-a-lifetime bash! And ha ha, what a party they’ve put together for the perpetually amazed Marc!
That’s the plot in a nutshell! The twist is that Marc appears to be some kind of an adult film star – his name, I confess, was unknown to me before sitting down to view this production – and many of his guests are as well! And they sure look it, ha ha! Of course Tiny Tim and a lady companion (Miss Vicki, maybe?) appear in one scene, so I guess not everybody there was in the business!
The first thing you notice when the movie starts is that it was shot on 1980-era video and so looks like it might itself be a pornoo, ha ha! And maybe at one time it was, but it’s been disco-edited into a mishmash where you occasionally will glimpse a nude person, but there’s no actual sex! And that was fine with ol’ Burl, as pornoo is not really my genre of choice – though if I really am going to review all the movies, I guess I’d better start watching them!
The next thing you notice is that, in all the scenes of Marc talking with The Sensuous Caterer, you never see the latter’s face, only his big cowboy hat! Why they leave his appearance a mystery is one of the picture’s greatest mysteries, in fact! The Caterer tells Marc all about the many wonders he’ll experience at his party and how much all the guests will like it! Marc himself seems very gay, but is constantly enthusing about the fabulous women in attendance!
There are also scenes of an adult magician performing sex-themed magic tricks, and little intermezzos in which Marc converses with a Mae West puppet which I at first took to be Madame! In vain I sought Wayland Flowers! And promptly, the puppet attempts to seduce Marc with leering ribaldery! And then there are many scenes of disco dancing and incredibly drawn-out burlesque acts! Ha ha, there’s once scene with Marc and a lady doing a lightsaber dance to a song about space love! It’s all crazy!
By the end of this epic rumbustification, Marc is completely spent, and there’s a real party’s-over ambiance to the picture’s denoument! It’s especially poignant given that the community on view throughout the movie, though they know it not, is about to be blindsided and decimated by the terrible plague of A.I.D.S.! Marc himself was a victim later on, and I’m sure many of the people we see partying it up without a care would later be tragically affected by the disease! So amid all the gyrating and coloured lights and pulsing beats and random hilarity, there’s a deep and abiding melancholy!
But on the other hand, it’s a party, and one of the greatest late-70s time capsules I’ve ever seen! Forget about Saturday Night Fever, ha ha, The Sensuous Caterer, thanks to its insider access and unforgiving video, is where it’s at! There’s not much of a story, and the dance numbers are highly zoomable, and the jokes mostly aren’t funny, but there’s a rough and innocent charm to the whole affair that makes it likeable! As a “before” snapshot of New York’s underground sexual community, it’s invaluable! I give The Sensuous Caterer two issues of Harvey magazine!

Burl reviews Side Effects! (2013)

Burl here, writing you a prescription… for murder! Ha ha, I’m here to review Side Effects, the Steven Soderbergh picture which he claims will be his last theatrical release! That Liberace picture was supposed to be a theatrical release, I understand, but it was a TV release instead, ha ha!
It’s already been said in other reviews, but the greatest twist in this unexpectedly twisty picture is that it’s not the genre you expect it to be, and continue to expect it to be even by nearly the halfway point! No earnest study of modern-day pill-popping this, but a patsy-man film noir in the vein of Double Indemnity! And ha ha, if you haven’t seen it and plan to, you may wish to skip the rest of this review, because I’ll probably give something away!
It’s not a “big twist” picture or anything, just a slight genre exercise that’s more enjoyable when you go in expecting something else! The story concerns a young wife, Rooney Mara, whose husband Charleston is just getting out of the pokey, where he was tossed by the effa-bee-eye for investment crimes! She suffers from bouts of suicidal depression and gets both worse and better when her mind doctor, Jude Law, gives her a new type of  pill!
But soon: tragedy! Ha ha, she’s cutting up a red pepper in her sleep one night when she turns and puts a vicious poking on poor Charleston! After that her previous mind doctor, a funny caricature of a horn-rimmed lesbian played by Catherine Zeta Jones, gets in on the action! Jude Law is placed in a precarious position, one so time-consuming he hardly gets a chance to shave, and it’s only his dogged investigations in the face of scorn and bewilderment from his family and peers and the unraveling of both his personal and professional life that finally saves the day!
Well, all of this is handled and told in a ruthlessly professional fashion by a director who knows very well what he’s doing! I always like Soderbergh’s genre pictures, and I think my favourite of his might still be The Limey, which I think is the last movie he made before deciding for whatever reason to become his own cinematographer! (No, on looking it up that was his next picture, Erin Brockovich!) Ha ha, cinematographers spend most of their time talking to gaffers and key grips, so I’m not sure exactly how you do that while you should be working with actors! Of course, he uses some pretty fair actors, ha ha, so he probably doesn’t have to tell them much! On the other hand you have Peter Hyams, sort of the flipside Soderbergh; and how did he direct Arnold, who probably needs lots of care, in the terrible End of Days while lighting his set at the same time? Ha ha, I can barely imagine it!
Anyway, Side Effects is a thoroughly polished production in almost every respect! It really hits some strange olden days notes though, when it turns out not only that the predatory lesbians are behind the whole thing, but that the straight white guy saves the day and the family unit, including the unpleasant wife, is restored! It’s clearly Soderbergh trying to mess with us, and that, as I said, is his greatest trick of all!
For that, and the director’s willingness to risk the “Oh, the movie’s over now… and why did I care about what was going to happen at the end?” feeling that such an ancient, corn-fed stratagem can invite, I give Side Effects two and a half hat tips to Psycho!

Sunday 22 September 2013

Burl reviews Maniac Cop! (1988)

Calling all cars, it’s Burl! Ha ha, no, you’re not under arrest, it’s just me, Burl, here to do another review, this time of a cop-themed picture! Yes, it’s a review of Maniac Cop, a picture by William Lustig, the director of Maniac! Certainly this is a man with a fascination for maniacs!
In New York City, an officer of the law is making a nuisance of himself by killing everybody he sees! The town is in a panic, and good old Larry “A Return to ‘Salem’s Lot” Cohen, who wrote but didn’t direct this, once again gets to show off how good he is at creating a larger canvas out of very little cloth! What I mean is, he really gets across the feeling of a city in panic, and takes care to really put across the feeling of what the ramifications of a killer cop might be, socio-politically speaking!
At any rate, the cop is sort of an undead guy, or maybe he was only nearly dead, as in The Princess Bride; but at any rate, he’s got superstrength and a resilience to bullets, so he seems like a zombie along the line of Part 6-era Jason! On the other hand, while he thrillkills left right and centre, he has an agenda and a planned list of specific victims! These latter unfortunates are the politicians and police officials who were behind his disgrace and imprisonment some undetermined number of years earlier! Then he was murdered, or at least partially murdered, in prison, and ended up as this might-be-a-zombie cop! Ha ha, Larry Cohen is not always quite as good at filling in the details of his stories! Anyone who has seen The Stuff or God Told Me To will know this!
So there are some vague elements to the picture, but on the other hand it has a dream exploitation cast from beyond the moons of Jupiter, with just about everybody in it playing a cop! You’ve got hard-nosed detective Tom Atkins, well known from The Fog and Halloween III! Bruce Campbell is in there, playing, in his earlier scenes, the closest thing to straight drama I’ve ever seen him attempt, with the possible exception of The Woods! Ha ha, Laurene Landon, seen in Armed Response and Roller Boogie, plays his girlfriend! Richard Roundtree, John Shaft himself, is the police commissioner! And then you’ve got William Smith, well known as Lucky Man from Fast Company, and the mighty hubcap Robert Z’Dar as the killer! Ha ha, wow! A few of these personages are underused, or used badly, but that’s still a heck of a marquee!
Unfortunately the maniac cop, while an imposing figure, looks a bit silly in his makeup! He looks like someone went to the bathroom all over his face! But, while the movie foozled a lot of people who were expecting a Savini-esque bloodbath, it still delivers the pokings and the slashings, along with quite a few stunts (in the manner of a more modest The First Power, now that I think of it!) and plenty of hard-boiled dialogue! There are actually some pretty good laffs in the movie!
I’ve never seen any of the sequels as far as I can recall, though if I’m to review all the movies, as is my stated goal, I’ll eventually get to them I suppose! In the meantime, this was a fine bit of B movie entertainment: one that tries a little harder than most of its fellows! I’m going to give Maniac Cop two and a half St. Patrick’s Day parades!

Saturday 21 September 2013

Burl reviews Jack Reacher! (2012)

Ha ha, Burl here to review a real throwback! Or at least it seemed like a throwback to me as I watched! Ha ha, I think it wanted to be a Parallax View for the new millennium, but it turned out more like one of those bloodless thrillers of the 80s and 90s, like Suspect or True Believer or Murder By Numbers! The picture was called Jack Reacher, and you’ll have to bear with me if I get some of the plot details wrong – ha ha, I watched it a few months ago while flying on a plane!
It tried to be tough and cool and hard-edged, and with Werner Herzog playing the bad guy, I thought it might have a chance at succeeding! But it’s just another action thriller, and, ha ha, not a terribly thrilling one at that! Tom Cruise plays some kind of ex-military investigation man who now leads a transient existence in which he apparently rambles down the highways and byways of America like some kind of modern-day Shazam!
Meanwhile, in some city somewhere, a sniper shoots up a bunch of strangers, and while this would hardly seem an odd occurrence in the United States, the patsy accused of the crime calls for Jack Reacher from his hospital bed, and as though by magic, Jack Reacher appears! After that it’s a matter of finding the real culprit, exposing the truth and dodging the authorities, who regard him as a most suspicious fellow indeed!
There are several fight scenes and some occurrences in a big box store, and a scene where Jack Reacher catches a baseball bat to the noggin! Ha ha! There’s a car chase that never really gets going, and some scenes in which we find out how nasty Werner Herzog’s character, who bit off his fingers in a Siberian work camp or something, really is! Eventually it all comes down to a corporate conspiracy – a point in the movie’s favour, ha ha! – and a shootout at the ol’ construction site! There’s a corrupt cop in the mix of course, but there’s also a red herring and a yawner of a double-back sneak!
Herzog does a fine job with his role, and there are a bunch of competent actors surrounding him and the wee Cruise, like David “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Oyelowo, Richard “Cabin in the Woods” Jenkins, and of course crusty old Robert Duvall as a popgun-lovin’ cuss! The real problem is how generic the picture feels – it seems like something made to be watched on an airplane, and that’s not meant as a complement! On the other hand, as a true believer in the power of the big screen, I recognize that the picture might have had more impact had I seen it on one!
Still, I have to work with what I was given, and the movie, while being big and shiny and expensive and competently made and occasionally mildly suspenseful, has a dispensable, bargain-bin feel to it! I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse, but Jack Reacher is getting no more than one and a half gnarly hand prostheses from me, ha ha!

Friday 20 September 2013

Burl reviews All of Me! (1984)

Hi, Burl here to review another picture starring that wild and crazy fellow, Steve Martin! Ha ha, the picture’s called All of Me, and along with The Lonely Guy, it marked a change in Martin’s acting style from “completely wacky” to “slightly less wacky!” Ha ha!
We of course know Steve Martin from his performances in ¡The Three Amigos! and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and here he plays Roger Cobb, a lawyer and sometime jazz guitarist! He’s got one of those fiancĂ©es who is so clearly not the person he should be marrying that it almost seems unfair to both the character and the actress to have put her in that position! Roger has to go out to see millionairess Edwina Cutwater, at whose mansion a nutty deathwatch is taking place! Edwina, played of course by Lily Tomlin, is about to kick off, and she has a Tibetian ceremony prepared that will transfer her soul into the body of a young, healthy lady! Ha ha, in other words, she seeks to gain The First Power!
Through rambunctious circumstances, Edwina’s soul ends up in Roger Cobb, and the rest of the movie has clever if repetitive physical comedy from Martin as he battles for domination of his own body! Also, ha ha, sometimes he has to p*e! And then, finally, when we realize that the young lady is an evil opportunist, shenanigans must be engaged in to set things aright! Just about all the loose ends are tied up in a too-neat bundle!
I admired how low-key all the supernatural stuff is in this movie! All the soul transferring scenes are just people standing around a little bowl – there are no blue optical effects or lightening flashes! Ha ha, if the movie was made today (and there’s talk of a remake, I believe!), you’d certainly be hit over the head with a bunch of flashy trick effects that would do nothing more than slow the action down to a crawl! But the only trick effects in this picture are little mirror gags, whereby Edwina appears in any reflective surface Roger looks into! A little like Poltergeist III, actually!
There’s a pretty solid journeyman cast haunting the fringes of the picture, like Dana Elcar as the law office boss, Richard “Fletch” Libertini as the guru (a casting strategy I can’t see going over well today, ha ha!) and the gravel-voiced lady as Roger’s humourous secretary! And of course Roger owns a shaggy dog to show his eccentricities, and his best friend is a blind jazzbo played by Jason “No Way Out” Donovan, who also briefly becomes possessed by Edwina!
Altogether this is a competent little film, sprinkled with a few laughs here and there, but ultimately forgettable! Roger’s desire to crusade for the underdog against the rich is an refreshing sentiment to hear voiced in a Reag*n-era picture, and just as refreshing was the movie’s utter lack of interest in depicting how legal offices, trials and processes work! Ha ha, no Grishaming here! But as I say, there’s not much to hang onto about this picture – general competence is not terribly memorable or exciting! So I give All of Me two green buckets, and back it goes on my VHS shelf likely never to emerge again!

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Burl reviews The First Power! (1990)

Well hello again friends, it’s Burl here! I’d like to review a picture I saw way back when it was released into theatres in 1990! Ha ha, back then I would just go and see anything that looked interesting, and especially any horror movies! I’ve always loved seeing horror pictures in the cinema whenever possible, and that policy has usually served me well!
Today’s picture, The First Power, was one that seriously tested my resolve, however! For a while I thought “Ha ha, Burl, maybe this policy of going to see any horror picture in the theatre is not so wise after all!” But after some thought I realized that The First Power is not really so much of a horror picture anyway – it’s more of a cop action drama! And re-watching the picture again the other day only confirmed this opinion!
It seems there’s a satanic slasher killer at large in Los Angeles, and only noted serial killer expert cop and Bats fighter Lou Diamond Phillips – with help from a mysterious psychic – can catch the jagger-lipped fellow! The psychic warns him not to send the killer to death row, but that’s straight where he goes, and it’s after his execution that things are meant to become interesting!
The psychic is a pretty lady, of course, played by Tracy Griffith from Fear City, but Lou is dedicated to his philosophy of logical positivism, and he doesn’t buy into any mumbo jumbo or hocus pocus! So when the killings continue it takes a while for him to believe that old liver lips is back! But after witnessing the killer make several spectacular leaps – this picture is absolutely lousy with spectacular leaps, ha ha! – he changes his tune, accepts the possibility of pocus at the very least, and from there it’s a race to figure out just how to kill the body-hopping fellow once and for all!
It’s a silly picture, very mechanically done! It’s never once scary, though there are points where you feel the panic of the characters as they realize this satanic boogeyman is going to find them wherever they go! But like I said, it’s mostly about spectacular leaps and other such stunts! There’s one stunt scene involving rushing water that was apparently a record-breaker at the time, but it’s shot so drearily that the excitement is never there! Ditto the building-jumping scene!
This was one of a bunch of similar pictures that came out around the same time: Exorcist III, Shocker, Mister Frost, and probably more! (Two out of those three I saw in the theater, ha ha!) All of them feature chuckling, whispery, know-it-all serial killers who don’t fear incarceration or execution because they’ve made contingency plans! I’d say this was the worst of the genre, and almost as forgettable as the might-as-well-be-a-remake that came out eight years later, Fallen, which featured Denzel Washington in the Lou Diamond role!
It was nice to see David “Re-Animator” Gale in a brief appearance as The Monsignor, but otherwise the acting is slack and poor! What’s mainly lacking is pep, ha ha! This movie’s get-up-and-go clearly got up and went, and so I give The First Power only one Jesus knife!   

Monday 16 September 2013

Burl reviews Giant from the Unknown! (1958)

Grrr, ha ha, it’s Burl, towering over you to review another picture! This movie is one of the Four Cunhas, all of which I enjoy to some degree – they have a goofiness and charm all their own, while still fitting perfectly into the low-budget 50s genre niche in which they sit!
But ha ha, I hear you asking: what are the Four Cunhas? Well, they’re the four movies made by a man called Richard E. Cunha way back in 1958! The pictures are, in order of their production, Giant from the Unknown, She Demons, Frankenstein’s Daughter and Missile to the Moon! Ha ha, and they’re all short little movies, probably not much more than seventy-five minutes apiece, so you could have a good little one-night movie marathon with these things! This is an enterprise ol’ Burl heartily recommends!
Giant from the Unknown is perhaps not the most thrilling picture ever made, and not even the most thrilling of the Cunhas! No, it may be the least so, in fact! Not a whole lot actually happens for the first forty-five minutes or so, and if there was ever a movie that needed more giant attacks in it, this is the one! (Of course, more giant attacks would also have helped A Dangerous Method, ha ha and plenty of other movies too, I’ll bet!)
It’s set in a small mountain town in Northern California, where science wizard Morris “Zombies of Mora-Tau” Ankrum is puttering around with his somewhat reluctant daughter Janet, following up on a theory of his that a giant Spaniard might be buried somewhere in the area! A young archeologist, Wayne, runs into the pair, and together they all go upcountry to make a search!
Meanwhile, a local old man has been roughed up to death, and the hardnosed but teeny-tiny local sheriff believes Wayne might be the culprit! Ha ha, he’s not, of course: turns out the rocks in the area have a mystical preservational property that keeps entombed lifeforms in limbo, and the very same Spanish giant whom the professor is seeking – the Diablo Giant, they called him – has recently awoken, and not in the best of moods! Ha ha, it’s another Iberian reanimate, just like in The Vulture! Eventually there are some eerie scenes and a ghostly snowfall straight out of Eternal Love, and then the killer giant is knocked off a dam to his doom! Ha ha!
It’s a good premise with plenty of potential, but sadly the movie ends up something of a black clancy! The makeup for the giant was by the legendary Jack Pierce (he would do I Bury the Living that very same year, ha ha!), but it’s nothing to write home about, unfortunately! There are plenty of charms, however, like the scene in which Janet, on hearing the giant lurking outside her tent, grabs her gun and shoots her bed! And then you have that crazy kid Charlie Brown, Wayne’s pal, played by the guy who would later write the snake-revenge picture Stanley! And on top of that there are some nice mountain locations, some fake but lovely special effects, and the marvelously earnest acting one usually finds in these things!
I like all those Cunhas, as I’ve said, and while Giant from the Unknown may be the least-loved, I’m still going to award it two buddy baers and a hearty clap on the shoulder! Ha ha! 

Friday 13 September 2013

Burl review's 'Salem's Lot! (1979)

Bluh bluh, it’s Burl, here to tell you all about the vampires! Yes, I’m reviewing ‘Salem’s Lot today – the full length 1979 mini series, which I came across on VHS recently, and of course which was sequelized by none other than Larry Cohen in A Return to 'Salem's Lot! Ha ha, I got a whole box of VHS tapes through the kindness of a family member, all of them like new, and this double cassette was among them! (There was also a double cassette special edition of Hellraiser, and naturally Children of the Corn was in there too!)
Anyway, I was one of the millions of youngsters terrified by ‘Salem’s Lot on its original airing! At least I think that’s when I saw it, though I would have been pretty young! I remember some of the key scenes, like the kid whose younger brother appeared floating at the window (extra scary for me because I had – well, still have! – a younger brother of the same type!) and Mike the gravedigger jumping down into the grave and opening up the coffin! But the scariest scene for me was when the two guys (Mike and somebody else, I think) are transporting the big crate which we know contains the Nosferatu-esque hemogobbler Mr. Barlow!
Ha ha, it was all pretty scary at the time, and while it’s not so much any more, it remains a creepy and well-done television movie, which feels a lot quicker than its three hour running time would indicate! The story, for those who require it, has a writer returning to the small Maine town he was born in (ha ha, yes, as a matter of fact this is a Stephen King story!) and investigating the creepy house he once got spooked by as a child! Coincidentally, a vampire and his friend have just moved into that very house, and soon the townspeople are looking a mite pastier than before! Ha ha!
The picture was directed by Tobe Hooper, the man who later brought us such gems as The Funhouse and Lifeforce, and who at that time had just been fired from directing The Dark! He does an okay job on what must have been a tight schedule and low budget! The real draw, at least nowadays, is the cast, specifically the great James “Bigger Than Life” Mason as the vampire’s friend! Ha ha, he’s a lot like the handyman in Fright Night, in that he isn’t himself a vampire, but appears to have some superstrength and possibly other powers as well! And both of those fellows go down hard as they’re descending a staircase in a menacing fashion! Very similar scenes, ha ha!
Also in the cast we find Bonnie Bedelia, the lady from the Die Hard pictures, as the writer’s ill-fated ladyfriend; Geoffrey “The Fat Black Pussycat” Lewis as the ill-fated gravedigger; George “Massage Parlor Hookers” Dzundza as the ill-fated cuckold; Fred “Moving Violations” Willard as the ill-fated realtor; Ed “Exorcist III” Flanders as an ill-fated doctor; Kenneth “Dune” McMillan as the surprisingly not ill-fated town constable; and a bunch of fine old-timers like Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr., who also battled Blacula and is of course well known from his role as Grandpa in The Trouble With Grandpa! Phew, that’s a lot of actors! And I haven’t even mentioned scary-faced Reggie Nalder, who plays the ghoulish head vampire, or Hutch himself, who plays the rather bland hero!
Ha ha, that was one of the big changes from the King book that improved things, I thought – making the vampire more of a hideous bloodsucking animal than the urbane, sarcastic man-‘bout-town he is in the novel! It’s sort of the opposite of Christine, where they got rid of the backseat corpse of Roland D. LeBay! But ‘Salem’s Lot goes for the gusto with this great vampire; and it also pushes the violence about as far as it could go in a 1979 TV movie!
It’s an entertaining and engaging watch, a little chintzy and flat here and there, and too willing to let loose threads flap around everywhere; but overall it’s not too bad! I’m going to give ‘Salem’s Lot two and a half glowing bottles of holy water!

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Burl reviews Guess What We Learned In School Today?! (1970)

Hi, Burl here to raise your consciousness about a peculiar movie of yesteryear! Ha ha, the picture’s called Guess What We Learned In School Today?, and it’s a very early effort from John G. "For Keeps" Avildson, made just before he hit the medium time with Joe, and later the big time with Rocky!
I guess this was an attempt to make a timely picture, a turned-on trip about the youth of today, today, today! But it’s so crazy that I don’t think it ever would have seemed the least bit relevant! Central to the story are two families, one headed by a grumpy, bearded bear of a policeman, whose righteous mission in life is to stamp out all filth and depravity! Of course he’s a closet case as well, and is eventually awakened to that fact by the ministrations of a sassy black man-lady!
The policeman has a beautiful wife who is always next door getting stoned with the neighbours, who are the other main family in the film! The wife, a redhead, is married to an impotent colonel, and their son is Robbie, who acts about five years younger than he’s supposed to be! (Ha ha, the actor, meanwhile, is about five years older than Robbie is supposed to be – it’s pretty confusing! And that very same actor would later write the script for The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood! Whew!)
And down the road is some sort of educational institute where children are taught about married persons' panky, and other people stand around naked in a swimming pool! The place is run by a matronly lady, Dr. Lilly Whitehorn, who becomes the bĂȘte noir of the cop and the colonel! Ha ha, they think she’s corrupting everyone with her free thinking ways!
The movie bounces around between domestic farce, attempts at being sexy (though it never once is!), loopy 1970-era comedy and, toward the end, imagined acts of horrible violence! But love and sex and common sense win out in the end, and the two uptight citizens learn the error of their ways! At least I think they do – the movie made me pretty sleepy, ha ha!
It’s mostly people chattering away at one another, never really getting anywhere! Ladies do take off their clothes now and again, though by some sorcery the movie manages to drain this sight of any prurient interest! (We also see a good deal of The Colonel in dishabille!) The two male leads seem at first like goofy strawmen, but of course there really are people like this out there, John Birchers and whatnot – very easy targets, it ought to be said! Still, they’re a cartoony couple of fellows, even when the cop is conducting blatantly underhanded sting operations! Ha ha, he eventually gets busted in a twist I certainly didn’t see coming!
The acting in this picture, with a few exceptions, was a lot better than I’d supposed it would be! It’s too bad this solid thesping wasn’t in the service of something a little more hard-hitting! But I do give it points for being an artifact of its time, even if not a particularly enlightening one, and for its enthusiastically pro-sex stance! I’m going to give Guess What We Learned In School Today one and a half stammering mailmen!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Burl reviews Hometown U.S.A.! (1978)

Shoop shoop, it’s Burl! Ha ha, today I’m traveling back to ’57 to review a nostalgia piece for you, one of the many pictures that was inspired by the success of American Graffiti! Ha ha, you all remember Sweater Girls of course, and I’m sure you’re familiar with Slumber Party ’57! Well, this one is called Hometown U.S.A., and it’s just up the road from Grandview U.S.A., I guess! Ha ha!
The main character in this one is one of the most irredeemable nerds ever put on film! Ha ha, this fellow – Rodney C. Duckworth, known around school as The Rodent – is no hidden hunk just waiting for somebody to take off his glasses and let down his hair! No, he’s a true-blue nerd through and through; and though there’s a contemporary framing story to the movie in which Rodney has become the president of General Motors, the main body of the movie never shows him achieving any kind of apotheosis, or even “losin’ it,” as is the usual goal in these pictures!
Ha ha, the story is really just a series of major humiliations visited upon The Rodent, spaced out with consistent low-level abasement and a traumatic encounter with a giantess! The story has Rodney “borrowing” his brother-in-law’s flashy new car and heading out for a night of cruising! Through a series of events he hooks up with the two coolest dudes in school – one a would-be James Dean, the other a would-be Elvis – and together the three high school students, not a one of them a day under twenty-five, embark on a mission to, as they say in On Golden Pond, “cruise chicks!”
The two fellows rechristen Rodney “Rod Heartbender,” and the three of them experience many attempts to woo the opposite sex! I guess the running gag is that the two lotharios are no better at scoring than Rodney is! But after a series of events that might be chalked up to simple ill fortune, Rodney actually has a chance to bend a few hearts – but blows his chance simply by being so hopeless! It’s genuinely chagrining to see this podgy young man go down in flames! Then he has a traumatic incident involving a prostitute who undergoes a startling transformation straight out of The Beast Within, and just as scary; and the rest is history!
The movie has a wall-to-wall soundtrack of golden oldies, which goes to show you how cheaply they could be licensed back then! Ha ha, I actually own the soundtrack album, the twenty tracks of which only represent about half the songs actually heard in the movie! The period atmosphere is pretty well done, on the whole! I won’t say it’s subtle - no, not with all those songs! - but they aren’t constantly talking about what year it is, and about Sputnik and whatever else was in the news that year! They just do their thing, ha ha!
The movie was directed by Jethro Bodine himself, and he does a reasonable job of it I suppose! Gary Springer, in the role of Rod Heartbender, really commits himself in the role, and for his trouble gets several fantasy sequences in which he’s a ladykiller, including one where he and a lady make sweet love in front of the entire high school class! Ha ha, that’s usually the kind of dream you wake up from feeling disconcerted, but not Rodney! While Hometown U.S.A. isn’t the greatest of the Graffiti rip-offs, it’s got a few special charms all its own, and for that reason I’m going to award it one and a half heartbenders!

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Burl reviews Poltergeist III! (1988)

Triple boo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, it’s me, here to review a threequel! It’s Poltergeist III, the third and last in the series of ghost-popper movies that began way, way back in the summer of 1982! I saw Poltergeist in the theatre, and then in 1986 I ponied up for Poltergeist II; but by the time the third one came around in 1988, I couldn’t be bothered - until now! Ha ha, it was sort of the same thing with Robocop III, which, like this movie, features the acting of Nancy Allen, and which I'll review for you some day soon!
Ha ha, so where’s JoBeth Williams and the Coach? A.W.O.L., that’s where! Almost nobody who was involved with the first two pictures had a hand in this one, in front of the camera or behind, and even the location is vastly different! Ha ha, no Southwestern suburban dwellings here, but a tall Chicago skyscraper! (Yes, this is another high-rise picture, just like Gremlins 2, Dredd and Enemy Territory!)
It seems that Carol Anne, the little girl of the Freeling family and for some reason the locus of the ghostly interest, has been adopted into her aunt Nancy Allen’s family, which is made up of Allen, her greying spikehair husband Tom “Big Bad Mama” Skerritt, and Skerritt’s daughter Lara Flynn Boyle! No one can say why the Freelings, who several times have risked their lives and souls to save Carol Anne, would so easily give her up to relatives living in a distant city, but that’s the situation we’re faced with in the opening reel of the picture! We also learn that she goes to a special school for special children which is run by the guy who wrote Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer! Ha ha, what kind of school is that!
Pretty soon there are some appearances from that spooky reverend who was in the second picture! He’s not very scary here though, and the actor who plays him does okay, but he's no Julian Beck! It may not be his fault that he isn't scary, because nothing else in the picture is scary either! The building is getting very cold, which I suppose might be scary if you lived there, ha ha, and weird things are happening in the mirrors! The mirror trickery isn’t scary, but it certainly is quite ingenious!
Ha ha, and it’s here I should mention that another big difference with this movie is that it has none of the ghostly optical tendrils or cloud-tank thunderheads of the first two! All the trick effects here were done in camera, which mostly means they cranked up the old fog machines! You might think that would somehow help make the movie a more relatable, realistic experience, but actually it makes the thing seem like a high school play! The mirror effects are pretty neat, as I said, and the trick makeup is funny! Ha ha, there’s nothing as gruesome as the torn-off face in the first picture, but there is a scene where that little midget lady becomes a desiccated husk, then she busts open and Lara Flynn Boyle comes crawling out covered in cornflakes! Ha ha, gross!

It was one of those troubled productions, I hear, and not only because the little girl very sadly passed away just before the picture wrapped! There was all sorts of confusion, new endings were reportedly shot, and the end result is kind of bland and silly, with terrible dialogue and mostly indifferent acting, especially from Nancy Allen! It’s too bad, because the potential was there – the director, Gary Sherman, did a couple of horror pictures I quite admire: Raw Meat and Dead & Buried! But whatever he brought to those fine efforts, he left at home for this one! I’m going to give Poltergeist III one single hagface!

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Burl reviews Teen Lust! (1978)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here, reviewing a movie with a great title: Teen Lust! That’s what it was called on my video box at any rate; when it was originally released, it carried the title High School Teasers! Either one will do for a movie like this, really, ha ha!
Carol, our protagonist (played by Kristin “Friday the 13th part 2” Baker, ha ha) has a perfidious boyfriend, Terry (Perry “Alligator” Lang, ha ha, who was also of course in Spring Break), and a devil-may-care best friend named Neeley! She also has a monstrously dysfunctional family, with a simpering drunkard for a mother, a leering letch of a father and a proto-slacker brother who wears a housecoat all day! Carol and Neely have joined some kind of police work-experience program, which means they spend their days detailed to a pair of busy-fingered cops! This pleases neither Terry, nor Neely’s boyfriend Hotrod, nor the creepy “Give Daddy a kiss!” father, nor the dyspeptic mother! The latter plans to marry Carol off to Dustin, the trust-fund slowbones next door!
Whew! Enough plot already; time to hit the beach! No such luck, though! First, to please her mother, Carol must attend Dustin’s birthday party (“Why would you want to celebrate the birth of a moron?” asks Dad), which is predictably a disaster! Then it’s time for a confrontation with comedy-drunk Mom, which Carol treats as a scene from an After School Special (“You’re tearing me apart!” is her climactic cri-de-coeur of course) and the mother slurs her way through as though Lucy has accidentally gotten into the vanilla again! It all ends in hugs, violin music and Mom’s surreptitious swigs on a giant wine bottle!
There are a more antics to come! In a bog-standard teen sex scene, the boyfriends dress up as girls to sneak in past the parents for an erotic pyjama party, coyly flirting with Dad on the way up the stairs! But Carol is too preoccupied by Terry’s hound-dogging ways with the local floozy, De De, to make the most of the opportunity, and before much happens the maniacal WWII veteran father chases the boys out a window! There are a few scenes ripped straight from the Van Nuys Blvd. playbook – a hard-case cop busts a hot-rodder for having open pipes and then ends up handcuffed in his underwear! Later still, there’s a very odd scene in which Carol and Terry, having made up, are attacked by a gang of ten year-olds, who destroy Terry’s car then chase Carol across a field and rip off her clothes!
It gets even weirder! Carol has another confrontation with her mother after discovering the randy, sailor-capped plumber (played by the great George “Buck” Flower, of The Fog) getting a little too involved with the family plumbing, ha ha! Mom explains that the plumber is really her lover, and moreover has been for years; Dad, his lascivious behaviour notwithstanding, is impotent and is in fact a virgin; brother Ted is most likely the plumber’s son, and Carol herself was adopted! We then rush into a scene of the devastated Carol strolling with a priest and describing not her family problems, but her nightly dreams of being raped by “all different people, not just men!” In turn, the priest confesses that he himself is “sweet,” and asserts that love is the most important thing of all! “All Hitler really needed was a hug,” the priest tells her! “Not that he was my type, ha ha!”
Domestic events come to a head as Dad falls down the stairs, the angry plumber tries to attack him with a pipe wrench, and Carol discovers that her real mother is a black masseuse named Lena! Then there’s a pie fight, and Carol almost marries the basket-case Dustin while showing signs of having inherited her adoptive mother’s taste for booze! The wedding becomes yet another crazy melee, and, in a nod to The Graduate, Carol drives off with a different beau – not Terry, but one of the cops – as the families jump around in the background! Nobody ever does make it to the beach, ha ha!
It goes without saying that Teen Lust is a strange bird! With all the crazy domestic trauma it seems as though the movie might have been meant as a parody of the After School Special genre; though, if so, nobody told the actress playing Carol! I don’t know what they told her, frankly! I would like to point out that the picture was directed by James Hong, the actor who played Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner and David Lo Pan in Big Trouble In Little China! Ha ha, that’s weird too! I’m going to give Teen Lust two Neelies!

Burl reviews Pacific Rim! (2013)

Burl here, monstermaniacs! Ha ha, it’s time to review a giant monster movie in the style of War of the Gargantuas! This picture is a little vaster in scale than the gargantua movie though, and the plot is a bit different! The movie is called Pacific Rim, and it was only one of many big Hollywood epics released in the summer of 2013 that didn’t do as well as studio executives were hoping!
Certainly a lot of samoleans were spent on this one! It’s the story of giant monsters emerging from an interdimensional rift in the bottom of the sea and causing havoc along the world’s coastal regions! In fact, the bog critters, named kaiju by the peoples of the earth, seem to be zeroing in on big cities! They are not seen actually munching on people like in the gargantua picture, but if you get in their way, watch out! They’ll step on you as soon as look at you, ha ha!
Well, clearly humankind has no option but to build giant robots to combat these varmints! And though there are human-scaled conflicts in the picture as well – some involving a pair of glasses nerds, some concerning the pilots of these big robots, or their commanders – it really just comes down to many scenes of giant robots fighting giant monsters!
That’s probably as it should be, and take note that the trick effects are very well done, but these battle scenes do tend to get repetitive after a while, and even a bit boring! Still, because the director is the portly Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, all of this is handled with as much style and personality as can be injected into the sort of movie usually made by committee, and intended to appeal to the broadest audience possible!
Plus, unlike other recent giant robot pictures, Pacific Rim energetically celebrates the virtues of collective action! For this reason I remain fond of the picture, even as its flaws and inconsistencies mount in the recollection! The script is really, really dreadful, and the illogistics of using robots will dog the viewer even as the picture unspools – why, for instance, not at least back up the robots with jet planes, or just use drones to attack the beasts and not robots at all – but the idea of humankind forgetting their differences and getting together to build these big threepios is just so charming that you can’t help but cheer them on! And the robots require two pilots acting in concert to operate them, which underlines the theme nicely on a smaller scale!
And who, finally, can dislike a giant monster movie? Not ol’ Burl! I enjoyed the picture while it was on, and will happily go see the H.P. Lovecraft picture del Toro wants to make if he ever gets the chance to do it! In the meantime, I’m going to give Pacific Rim two Eurythmics, who were the 80s pop duo apparently recruited to pilot the Russian robot! Too bad for you, Pet Shop Boys, ha ha! Maybe next time!

Monday 2 September 2013

Burl reviews Gremlins 2! (1990)

Hello, Burl here to consider a sequel! Ha ha, and Gremlins 2 is a little bit special among sequels – many consider it superior to the original, which I’m not sure if I do; but you can’t argue that it’s not quite a bit different! The story goes that Joe Dante – director of Explorers, Piranha and Matinee, ha ha – was given carte blanche on this one simply because the studio wanted a sequel to the original hit so badly! He was able to do just about what he wanted, and what he wanted was to make a live-action Chuck Jones cartoon! Ha ha, so he did, and this is probably more faithful to the Jones spirit than even Dante’s own Looney Tunes: Back in Action!
I didn’t bother going to see this one in the theatres, though I should have! I was pinching my pennies that summer as I recall, saving them for everything from Total Recall to Last Exit to Brooklyn to Frankenhooker to The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover to Jan Svankmeyer’s Alice, to Mo' Better Blues, and to Alan Rudolph’s Love At Large for some reason! So Gremlins 2 got the old cold shoulder, and I didn’t see it until many years later, even though I was and remain a big Joe Dante fan and an even bigger Dick “Lies” Miller fan!
“Ha ha, Dick "Lies" Miller?” I hear you say! “Weren’t Mr. Futterman and his wife killed by gremlins in the first one?” The answer is no, apparently not! Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph (who also played husband and wife in Get Crazy, remember!) show up in New York to visit Zach Galligan and Phoebe “Private School” Cates and their little pal Gizmo! Both of the youngsters now work in the Clamp Tower, owned by the Trump-like airhead Daniel Clamp! Ha ha, and the next thing you know, gremlins have taken over the building, causing cartoon havoc throughout!
Ha ha, the great thing is that Miller really takes a hand in battling the little beasts this time around! He gets to be heroic and rescue Zach Galligan – ostensibly the hero, but actually offloading all heroics to Miller, Daniel Clamp, Phoebe Cates and Gizmo, along with several other supporting characters – and fights a gremlin on the streets of New York! He’s the only one who gets to do this, as all the other action is situated within the building itself, making this yet another movie about being trapped in a high rise!
It’s got plenty of gags, many of them pretty sharp (and I’ve always been partial to the line “It’s like I’ve always said: if you want to find something weird, you have to go downtown!”), ha ha, but the general silliness of everything means you don’t care much about what’s going on! That’s one thing the original has over this one – it was grounded in some form of recognizable reality, which I realize is an odd thing to say about a manifestly backlot-bound picture about little transforming creatures, ha ha! But whatever endemic goofiness Gremlins had, the sequel has in triple spades!
The great thing here is the cast! Of course we have Dick Miller, and almost as inevitably we find the underrated Robert Picardo, here playing another officious brambleberry, like in Matinee but worse! And then there’s John Glover, who’s fantastic in the Daniel Clamp role! Beyond that we have Robert Prosky, the garage owner from Christine, as a melancholy Al Lewis figure, the great Christopher "Starship Invasions" Lee essaying the role of a genetics scientist, and a gorgeous redhead whose name I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten! Ha ha, this building has everything!
It’s a big, professional production, with plenty of that great Joe Dante pep! Ha ha, pep in general is not lacking here! Neither is Dick Miller, I’m pleased to report! It’s a garden of pleasures, but also kind of an unmovie – like a book of gags or point-form lists is to an actual story! There’s still plenty to enjoy though, and just the fact that such an oddball studio movie exists at all is a point in its favour! I’ll give Gremlins 2 two and a half portly twins!