Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 30 November 2013

Burl reviews The Bat People! (1974)

Chp chp chp, it’s Burl, here to review a 1970s bat picture for you! Ha ha, no, not Nightwing – I did that one already! No, nor Bats, which was a 90s picture anyway! This one is called The Bat People, but despite that title, there’s really only one bat person in it!
It’s another non-wolf shapeshifter movie, very reminiscent of The Beast Within (and in fact the two pictures were paired up for a DVD release I believe!) or The Blood Beast Terror or The Vulture, but with a distinctly 70s TV movie vibe! It wasn’t a TV movie, but it sure feels like one, and with its frequent ski resort scenes and POV attacks, it feels like Snowbeast in particular!
Our story begins with a young (-ish!) married couple on a combination honeymoon / chiropterological outing! Yes, Dr. John is interested in taking organized cave tours so he can look at bats, while his wife Cathy would prefer to have a regular honeymoon! But they go to the cave anyway, and while looking for a comfy place to engage in married persons’ ponky, Cathy blunders into a bughole! Dr. John blunders on after her and the result is: batbite! Ha ha!
Naturally this has some unpleasant consequences! Dr. John has personality shifts where he turns into a big jerk for no reason at all! Then come the spaz-outs, and then the floppy rubber hand stage, and this is followed by homicidal bat-mania! The little town, which seems perched at the edge of a dimensional gateway between the Carlsbad Caverns and a Northern California holiday mountain, is soon the scene of bat-mayhem, with nurses, pot smokers and stewbums all on the menu! A local moustache cop played by Michael Pataki suspects Dr. John from the very beginning, and dogs him unmercifully for the rest of the picture!
Speaking of moustachemen, I forgot to mention the ponky moustache doctor who takes on Dr. John’s case near the beginning of the movie, but the whole time he really only wants to go skiing! Ha ha, he sports a fulsome beauty of a chevron, and I guess he does his best medically, but he really isn’t very helpful with the bat problem! However, taken as a pair with the cop (who sort of takes over ‘stache duties for the picture’s second half, and whose personality is distinctly opposite to the doctor’s) the two make a nice pair of bushy bookends!
One thing I’ve always shied away from in my drama movies is stories where one half of a previously happy married couple is possessed and is mean for no reason! This picture has a lot of that, and I didn’t like it! It also has a tremendous amount of chatter, and though it’s only 95 minutes long, it seems to last forever! Ha ha! There’s lots of creeping around in dark places too, and when the monster does strike, the attacks usually take the form of lame fisheye chases right out of Bog!
But there were some scenes I liked! The bat-man steals an ambulance at one point, and a pretty good chase ensues! The opening scene with the bugs and bats is creepy, as is the scene where the cop visits the wife and suddenly turns aggressive and tries to make sweet love to her! (He comes to a pretty horrific end, a little disproportionate to his crimes, I thought!) The scene with the stewbum is strong too – he pulls off his own transformation from comedy drunk to desperate depressive, and thence of course to bat chow! And there’s a remarkable scene in which Dr. John, well along in his batmorph, finds the time to make sweet love to his wife; and he does a pretty good job of it too with those scrabbling claws and chittering teeth!
Finally there’s the ending, which I confess came out of left field, but satisfied! Still, even with all of these positive elements, it can’t be denied that this is a pretty boring movie that fails to live up to its potential! You may enjoy it if you like Curse of the Black Widow and TV movies of that ilk! I’m going to give The Bat People one and a half pug nosed bat masks!

Friday 29 November 2013

Burl reviews Only God Forgives! (2013)

Biff bang boom, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review another picture for you – a particularly garish picture, all blood reds and aquarium blue! It’s a picture from the famed Scandinavian stylist Nicolas Winding Refn, who brought us Drive and Bronson and Pusher and other single-word productions, most of them pretty violent! Only God Forgives is no exception!
Ha ha, I expected it would be violent, but it was even more so than I’d thought! It’s right up there with The Mutilator and other Special Makeup Effects productions like that! It seems there’s a family of American drug dealers who’ve set up shop in the neon section of Bangkok, using a boxing club as their cover! There’s Billy, the oldest brother, Julian, the taciturn younger brother, and Mom, who holds her cigarettes like she’s watched too many Joan Crawford pictures!
The story begins when Billy, who is apparently crazy, murdering a teenage girl! An unprepossessing policeman, Chang, allows the girl’s father to take his delight in Billy, which in this case means clubbing the young psycho to a pulp with a table leg! Then Chang metes out a little more rough justice on the father, who was also his daughter’s pimpsman! And then comes Mom’s retribution for her son’s death, after which further bloody events take place! Ha ha, it’s Chang who retains the upper hand and commits most of the mayhem!
At one point, Julian, whom we assume to be a real punch-artist, challenges droopy-dog Chang to a fight! Well, ha ha, the young roundeyes lands not a single blow, and the elderly Thai puts such a punching on Julian, ha ha, such a punching! Chang then doles out more of his signature punishment (some of it quite welcome!), and by the time he’s done, there aren’t many characters left, and those who remain are short a limb or two!
All of this is enacted with a rather hilarious air of self-seriousness, but also a great deal of pictorial beauty! There was not much ol’ Burl could hang his hat on as far as emotional engagement went, which was clearly by design! Ryan Gosling, who plays Julian, could have stirred embers with his facial expressions, and he speaks hardly a word through the whole picture!
It’s a gaudy, sleazy, nasty and frequently gorgeous world the young Refn has created, but one with about the half-life of good latte art! It’s pure and unashamed genre pulp, which is what I liked about it, but it was missing the energy one associates with the form, and that I didn’t like so much! And the puffery was a bit too much! It almost fits into that category in which I place movies like Enter the Void and Holy Motors, a category I call Ha Ha, How The Heck Did This Ever Get Made??? But it’s rather a thin broth compared to those, so I’m going to give Only God Forgives two and a half horrible pokings!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Burl reviews The Gorgon! (1964)

Oh ho and by garr, it’s Burl again! Yes, I’ve got another Hammer picture for you today! It’s The Gorgon, which is one of their better efforts in ol’ Burl’s opinion, and which in many ways, not least its green-skinned female antagonist, greatly resembles The Reptile! Ha ha, in fact, the particularly intelligent screenplay was written by The Reptile’s director, John Gilling! He didn’t direct The Gorgon, though – Terence Fisher did, natch!
Instead of a small Cornish village, we have here a small Central European village! It’s dominated by a sinister castle which no one dares approach, because over the last half-decade, a number of people have been found dead! And not just dead either, ha ha, but completely turned to stone!
There are a lot of characters involved, and almost every review I’ve read, even Phil Hardy’s venerable Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Horror, gets the details wrong! I’ll try to get it straight for you here: it seems a young bohemian by the name of Bruno is romancing a lady in the little village of Vandorf! But soon enough both Bruno and his beloved have met fateful ends – the young lady calcified and Bruno left hanging from a tree! Well, Professor Heitz, Bruno’s father, is soon in the village, protesting that his son, upon whom the blame for all the murders is being placed, is just a convenient scapegoat! But soon Professor Heitz too is hard as a rock!
In the meantime Professor Peter Cushing from Island of Terror, playing one of his mean-doctor characters this time, is removing brains at the local sanitarium, and his assistant, the beautiful Klara, is troubled! Who is turning everyone to stone? Why is the whole village, and in particular Dr. Cushing, being so secretive about it? Ha ha, and why does she herself disappear for walks in the night which she later can’t remember taking?
More characters show up: Bruno’s brother Paul, who demands answers, and also his mentor, yet another professor played with great gnashing of teeth by Christopher Lee! Ha ha, the movie’s a particular pleasure whenever Lee is on screen, because he tells it like it is! After Paul gets partially calcified after seeing the deadly Gorgon in a reflection, he claims to merely be ill! “Ha ha, ill?” Lee thunders! “You look as though you’ve been in your grave and dug yourself out!”
It’s a terrific picture, because it doesn’t rely on the same old monsters, dear as they are! The same tropes are all present and accounted for of course, but Megaera, as the Gorgon is named, is actually quite eerie, because unfamiliar! Fisher does his usual bang-up job, and Gilling’s script, as mentioned, has a braininess about it that helps immeasurably!
Where the picture disappoints is in the makeup when Megaera is finally revealed! I didn’t mind the fakey snakes so much, but her face, which is meant to be bone-chillingly hideous, looks more like someone trying out as a backup singer for an Aladdin Sane-era Bowie! Too bad! Roy Ashton, the makeup artist, usually did a fantastic job, as can be seen in The Reptile and any number of other Hammer pictures!
Well, it’s hardly the end of the world! The picture is still an enjoyable dilly, even given the ending where, after a misunderstanding-based swordfight, almost everybody dies! On the whole, I recommend it! I give The Gorgon three unctuous coroners!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Burl reviews Sexcula! (1974)

Wink wink, nudge nudge, ha ha, say no more, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review a rather daring picture for you today, a motion picture decidedly for adult audiences and not for the tots! Yes, it’s Sexcula, a horror-pornoo picture that was made in Vancouver all the way back in the hairy, scary days of 1974!
Ha ha, do you like grimy, ill-lit shots of hairy, heaving buttocks as they thrust and grind and gyrate in a castle laboratory set? Then Sexcula is the picture for you! The story begins as a young lady and her fullback-sized date journey to a busted-up house she apparently has inherited from an old granny or something! There she discovers granny’s diary, and then the couple repair to a field for a pic-nic lunch and a reading of the diary! Oh, and for reasons of her own, the young lady takes off all her clothes!
The bulk of the picture is diary flashbacks! It seems the granny was named Fellatingstein, and she of course was a Modern Prometheus in the vein of our good friend Udo Kier in Flesh for Frankenstein! Her creation, Frank, is a fey individual who can do anything but the act he was specifically created for! No, he has no interest in sex at all! So Fellatingstein must call in her good friend the Countess Sexcula, recognized across Eastern Europe as an expert in such matters!
Sexcula and Fellatingstein embark on a program of sexual encouragement! This involves fondling; co-ed bathing; a carriage ride with a prostitute wearing a Rose-from-Golden Girls wig; and finally a scientific gambit involving the fluids of love purloined from men engaged in the act! And somehow a wedding officiated by an elderly Mennonite which devolves into what I might call a sort of slumber party – and rest assured, the elderly Mennonite preacher gets involved, and if you have ever wondered what an elderly Mennonite preacher looks like in dishabille, you will find out here – becomes a part of it all!
Ha ha, some of the narrative twists and turns here are a little confusing! Perplexing too is the question of exactly whom this picture is meant to, ha ha, turn on! Maybe nobody, maybe everybody! Maybe it was just meant to be weird, and in that it certainly succeeded! Thankfully ol’ Burl likes his movies weird!
I’m not a great consumer of movies in the pornoographic genre, though I have nothing against them either! Still, based on what I have seen – Pretty Peaches, Little Girls Blue, pictures like that, thanks Dave’s mom! – Sexcula is strangely chaste for a pornoo! Perhaps it’s exactly what you would expect from a pornoo movie made by a bunch of youngsters who’d never done anything of the kind before and couldn’t fully commit themselves! That’s kind of what I like about it - that and the weirdness! I also liked the lab set, and that the fellow playing the gorilla pulled off some very simian moves, nearly worthy of Charles Gemora! Ha ha, it should be mentioned too that there's a hefty, mealy-faced hunchback right out of an Andy Milligan movie, or maybe Cannibal Girls, and at one point I believe the gorilla rapes him! It’s hard to tell for sure - some of the scenes are a little murky!
But there are some nice looking scenes too, and if the men all seem rather, ha ha, inadequate for pornoo stars (could be my limited experience showing here), the ladies are game enough! There are a few funny comedy moments too, though despite its horror trappings, only the hunchback is scary, and then only when he’s naked! I give Sexcula two and a half cases of bumne, and a hefty part of that is for merely existing at all! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Gravity! (2013)

Burl to Houston in the blind, ha ha, I’ve got a movie review for you! Yes, it’s of a new picture, Gravity, a rocketship movie that gives you the mindboggles thinking about how they made it! I heard that someone interviewed the director just after it came out and asked him in all seriousness whether it had been difficult making a movie in space! Ha ha!
It’s easy to think that this person must have been a real simple simon, but for great stretches the space setting is pretty convincing! The story is uncomplicated: two astronauts are floating above the Earth and are doing some work on a satellite, and suddenly some debris destroys their shuttle and they’re left floating around with their oxygen supplies dwindling and no immediate means of terrestrial return! The rest of the story is about trying to get back home, natch!
It’s a pretty popular movie, so I won’t say all that much about it! I was certainly impressed by the trick effects, though it’s my prediction that some of them, mostly the action bits like the shower of debris and the return to Earth, will look fakey and dated in a few years’ time! The smaller-scale stuff, like the spacewalking and the scenes indies the spacecrafts, will hold up just fine! That’s ol’ Burl’s prediction!
The acting will hold up as well, I suppose! I’m no great fan of young Miss Bullock (though of course she was excellent in Demolition Man), but I have no complaints about her here! Now that I think about it, I’ve only seen about five of her movies: The Vanishing, The Net, Speed, Speed 2 and of course the aforementioned Stallone picture, and now Gravity! That makes six, and looking through her filmography, there’s not many others I’d even consider watching, ha ha!
The young Bullock is the main show here, but the rest of the teeny cast is fine too! You’ve got your George “The Descendants” Clooney portraying the merry space trucker who keeps his head about him and comes to a very Dark Star conclusion; and in a clever move, the voice from Mission Control is played by Ed Harris, who of course is best known for his role as Hank in the ‘Father’s Day’ segment of Creepshow! Ha ha!
That’s about all I have to say about Gravity! I enjoyed watching it, thought the hole-through-the-head guy was a nice touch, and was pleased that it clocked in at a tight 90 minutes – a very rare running time for today’s space epics! For technical daring and innovation, for not ignoring the small moments, for defiantly ignoring studio executive dictates, and for successfully promoting the act of theatergoing (because the reviews correctly stated this was a movie to be seen on the big screen), I’ll award this picture three Marvin the Martian cameo appearances!

Monday 25 November 2013

Burl reviews Protocol! (1984)

With a ditzy smile and a wave, it’s Burl, here to review a Goldie Hawn movie for you! Ha ha, I don’t think I’ve seen many Goldie Hawn movies, and certainly none from her 80s batch! Nope, never seen Private Benjamin, never seen Overboard or Bird on a Wire or Swing Shift, never even seen Wildcats! I think I saw Foul Play once, and maybe Best Friends for some reason, and at some point in the future I’ll probably have a look at Seems Like Old Times! Still, considering what a big star she was, there’s not much Goldie in my movie-watching history!
That’s why I thought I’d tackle Protocol! Ha ha, I’d never heard much of anything good about it, but occasionally, as with All of Me or The Money Pit, I’ll watch a mid-80s comedy for just no real reason at all! So I put it on and let ‘er unspool!
Well, Goldie plays some kind of sexy waitress at a jungle-themed Washington, DC, strip club, one of those PG-rated strip club where no one actually strips! One evening she accidentally saves an emir from assassination, and her grateful government gives her a job in the protocol office! This is all very contrived of course, but that would be forgivable if, as is the case with a similar picture from the same era, Spies Like Us, it was just a tiny little bit funny! But it’s not, ha ha! It’s not funny at all! The only time I came close to chuckling was when Goldie decided to host a party for the emir at her old peeler bar, and the club owner put up a banner reading “Welcome Amir!”
When I saw in the credits that there were some experienced character actors in the cast, and that the screenplay was by Snyder himself from Grumpy Old Men, Buck Henry, I thought maybe I was in for an unheralded treat! Nope! It’s a dreary, laffless exercise! Pondering this, I thought maybe it was actually a clever and pointed political anti-Gipper satire in disguise, some kind of Iran-Contra analogy perhaps! Nope again, I’m pretty sure! I sought in vain for an Ollie North stand-in, or a lightly disguised Sandinista!
But like I say, there’s at least a solid supporting cast! The emir is played by Richard Romanus from Mean Streets, and his buddy, a party animal guru, is André Gregory, André himself from My Dinner With André! Chris “Fright Night” Sarandon is the love interest with whom Goldie has absolutely no chemistry! Cliff De “Secret Admirer” Young is doing his besuited slimeball thing, which requires, and gets, no effort from him; and we also get both Kenneths: Kenneth “For Keeps” Mars and Kenneth “Dune/’Salem’s Lot/Malone” McMillan! Plus there’s a secret cameo from another future Fright Night alumnus, Amanda Bearse, playing a soap opera actor, and familiar faces like Archie “Innerspace” Hahn and Paul "The Devonsville Terror” Willson as T.V. newscasters! And don’t forget a friendly appearance from Al “Die Hard” Leong as a cook!
I suppose I’m itemizing the (mostly wasted) supporting cast this way because, ha ha, there’s not much more to talk about! It’s also a way to offer you links to better and more interesting movie reviews! This is a lousy picture: it’s boring, it’s repetitive and it has a grindingly abrasive party scene that feels as though it will last forever! Grasping for something on the plus side, I’ll say that the treatment of Goldie’s gay roommates was refreshingly mature for the period, and it's always nice to hear dotty-Ronnie jokes! Anyway, I give Protocol one half of an exploding electric toilet!

Saturday 23 November 2013

Burl reviews Frances Ha! (2012)

Ha! That’s right, it’s time to review a movie whose title contains one half of my catch phrase, so I thought I’d give it the other half it so richly deserves! The picture of course is Frances Ha, which I was intrigued to see when I learned that it was at least in part a tribute to the great French New Wave pictures I love so well!
And certainly it wears this influence on its sleeve, as it uses a lot of music from those films, stuff from The 400 Blows or some of the sweeter Georges Delerue work! I thought this was a nice touch, and it gives the picture a classic feel it might otherwise not have managed! The black and white photography is another apposite touch!
It’s a character piece, mainly: the tale of the eponymous 27 year old lady making her way the only way she knows how in the Big Apple! She lives with her dearest pal and dances for her dinner! That’s a tough way to make a living, and Frances doesn’t ever have much money, but she has fun anyway! She attends parties and gallery openings and does lots of playfights with her pal!
But things start to fall apart a bit, ha ha! She breaks up with her boyfriend, which itself doesn’t trouble her overmuch; but then her pal Sophie, who makes a lot more money than Frances, takes a different apartment! Frances is left to do a bit of apartment hopping and job searching too! Ha ha, and then the squirmy fun, if you want to call it fun, comes from observing her string of poor choices and frequent lack of self-awareness!
She takes an ill-advised two-day trip to Paris, more to reinforce the New Wave connection than for any narrative reason, and is forced to find other ways than dancing to make ends meet! (It still doesn’t seem realistic that she could, considering the credit card debt we see her rack up!) But eventually she matures somewhat and takes a few belated but definite steps into adulthood!
It’s a pretty good movie if you like anxiety and awkwardness and stressing about money! Ha ha, and who doesn’t? Occasionally, as when she tries to playfight her new, reluctant roommate, her cluelessness borders on some kind of mental disability or emotional infirmity! In any case, it ceases to be believable! But the acting is good, and the French New Wave stuff certainly pushes ol’ Burl’s buttons! And I enjoyed the black and white photography and the gallery of NYC locations!
The picture was a solid indie effort, I guess you’d say, and it had plenty of nice touches! I’m going to award it two and a half subway platform micturations!

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Burl reviews Thunder Bay! (1953)

There she blows, it’s Burl! Yes, today I’m here to review a petroleum picture with an obsessed oilman for a main character – but no,  it’s not There Will Be Blood, but another, much earlier one! It’s called Thunder Bay, and surprisingly enough it doesn’t take place anywhere near Thunder Bay, Ontario! It actually takes place in the Gulf of Mexico! Ha ha, don’t that beat all!
Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window plays Steve Martin, who arrives in the little Louisiana shrimpers’ town determined to put up an oil rig there! Ha ha, he’s got plenty of experience and a nose for crude, so if he says he’s an oilman, you will agree! He meets a man willing to stake him – willing, in fact, beyond all evidence or logic to do so, and at his corporate peril too!
But the townsfolk are not so happy to see Steve Martin come to town, nor his pal the tool driver, played by frequent film noir bad guy Dan Duryea! Joanne Dru, who was usually in Westerns, plays the lady who doesn’t think the oilmen will do anything good for the town! And when Steve Martin gets on a boat and starts tossing dynamite overboard, right on top of their shrimp beds, the rest of the town has had it too! They’re not very good at putting together an effective mob though, so Steve Martin and the tool driver don’t actually have much to worry about!
But old Steve Martin sure does talk the oilman talk, all about how great it’ll be for the town and how we all need oil and how his high explosives couldn’t possibly be doing any harm to the shrimp beds! None of it seems all that believable, ha ha, even if it’s Jimmy Stewart doing the talking with his persuasive drawl!
It’s an Anthony Mann picture, but it seems a much lighter confection than those grim, great Westerns he and Stewart did together, like Bend of the River or The Man From Laramie! Stewart himself doesn’t seem all that engaged with the proceedings, though he’s technically good in the part! The movie is largely about the beginning of offshore digging in the Gulf of Mexico, and knowing now where that’s led mitigates some of the enjoyment!
Still, it’s nicely shot in Technicolor and on location, and the special effects are good, and curiously all the Cajuns are played by Italians, except for those portrayed by Mexicans; and anyway we can’t hang all that on Stewart and Mann! It’s a picture with a lot of pep, and the romance isn’t nearly as intrusive as it had every possibility of being! Ha ha, imagine if Douglas Sirk had directed it! That might have been something pretty great, now that I think of it!
But it’s just a fairly routine industrial adventure film in the end, one with a hero not so much complex and multi-faceted as a kind of a jerk! But every time either he or Duryea stray too close to genuine objectionablilty, a bit of Hollywood magic zips in and saves the day with its unrealistic conventions! I enjoyed watching it, though! I give Thunder Bay two and a half Golden Shrimps!   

Friday 15 November 2013

Burl reviews Starhops! (1978)

Ha ha, it’s Burl again, with a review of an extremely unusual sex comedy picture! Did you know that not all sex comedies were made by men, just 99.5 percent of them? It’s true! One of the few examples of such a movie made by a lady is the other big carhop picture, which came along in early 1978, a couple of years after The Carhops! This new superproduction, written by Stephanie “The Velvet Vampire” Rothman (a woman) and directed by Barbara “Humanoids From the Deep” Peeters (another woman) was called Starhops! “They’ll do it all for you!” the ad copy reads! “Have it their way!”
The movie itself opens as a Star Wars parody, from the title to the star field under the credits, to an attempt at mimicking the sci-fi hit’s famous opening crawl! We’re thrown into the saga of a failing drive-in restaurant owned by none other than the fantastic Dick Miller from The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood and A Bucket of Blood and oh so many more! Surrounded by bill collectors, mortgage officers, alimony-hungry ex-wives and psychotically truculent customers, Miller comes believably unravelled, screaming and tearing the place apart, then selling it lock, stock and grease-barrel to his carhops, Angel and Cupcake! These ladies then stumble upon Danielle, a French “kook” and graduate of the Cordon Bleu school of cheffery in Paris, and all together use their feminine wiles to cadge a bank loan and free carpentry from a succession of drooling males! Ha ha!
Christened “Starhops,” the new restaurant is an immediate success, due in no small part to the incredibly scanty outfits the girls wear at work! A minor plot kicks into gear when a crazed oil magnate takes a shine to the property, intending to buy it and put up a new futuristic gas station! The ladies, of course, are unwilling to sell, so the old oilman sends his fey dingbat son Norman in as an undercover carhop! Norman’s job is to ferret out illegal or unsavoury goings-on at the drive-in, but none are forthcoming, so, ha ha, he must resort to sabotage! This takes the form of tossing frogs in the salad and rats in the stew just as the health inspector comes by! (Since when do drive-ins serve salad and stew, anyway? Ha ha!)
But, as already seen, these ladies know how to use their wiles, as well as their breasts! Cupcake uses hers on Norman to extract a confession and bring him on side to plot against Daddy! Other romances are blooming too in the meanwhile: a fearsome biker named Kong has taken a shine to Danielle, and the button-down architect responsible for designing the newfangled gas station also defects from the oilman’s team in a Hasslehoffian bid to save the drive-in and woo Angel! After some slapstick, a touch of mild nudity, a lot of car stunts, a few farcical misunderstandings and an explosion, the old man’s plot is foiled and he’s hauled off to the loony bin where he belongs! The movie ends in the best and only way it could: with a pool party!
It’s a likeable little picture I suppose, though perhaps lacking in the zing you might be hoping for from such a confection! Still, it has two elements which raise it above average! One of course is Dick Miller, who gets to have a great freak-out and strangle a guy Homer Simpson style! Ha ha! The other is the guy Miller strangles, a drive-in customer so loathsome that you only wish the banty little Miller was allowed to finish the job! He's played by Matthew Bright, who would go on to direct movies like Freeway and Tiptoes! Bright gets a good line while complaining about the golf pencil he finds in his French fries: “I coulda turned purple! I coulda become terrified and died!”I give Starhops two and a half Fronsh cookies!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Burl reviews The Premonition! (1976)

Hi, It’s Burl! You must now deal completely within the metaphysical system, ha ha! And of course what I mean by that is I’m here to review a strange and mystical horror picture for you today – a movie you would do well to consider watching yourself sometime, if you can find it!
From the late 60s into the middle 1970s, there existed a microgenre I call Hippie Horror! Maintaining the broader definition of the term, we include under it movies like Hex, Premonition (the Alan Rudolph picture, no relation to this one!), A Name For Evil, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Simon, King of the Witches! There are lots of others too, and while they don’t all involve hippies, they generally have a mystical theme or flavor to them!
That’s certainly true of The Premonition! It begins with a nervous lady, Andrea, newly released from the bughouse, pairing up with Jude, a clownman at a local circus whom she’d met while institutionalized! Her goal is to reclaim her daughter (played by Danielle Brisebois of Big Bad Mama II fame) from the couple who’d adopted her long ago, and who are certainly her parents now! With the help of the clown, Andrea makes a nighttime kidnapping attempt, but is interrupted by the mother, and only manages to kidnap the little girl’s doll!
The clown goes crazy and puts a savage poking on Andrea! But she’s still very much a part of the movie, as her supernatural influence seems still to be working overtime! After a number of dreamlike encounters with Andrea’s shade, the mother gets into an otherworldly car crash and the daughter disappears! The husband calls in his colleague, an earnest parapsychologist who has some ideas of her own, and a rumpled cop played by legendary acting coach Jeff “Curse of the Black Widow” Corey takes on the case, maintaining his involvement even after other police would give up because, as he correctly asserts, “There’s too many weird things going on!” The little girl finds herself at the carnival and in the custody of the increasingly unhinged and murderous Jude, Andrea ends up playing the piano in a field near a hay-munching horse, and all of this leads to one of the strangest concertos ever filmed!
Ha ha, as you can tell, this is an oddball motion picture! It also manages to be quite gripping and occasionally very scary! It’s about the bonds of mother love, and if it doesn’t pit the biological against the de facto varieties, it at least holds them up to comparison! The end of the picture is ambiguous but completely satisfying, and the strange, bleak atmosphere of the movie stays with you after it’s over! It’s also got some fine performances, in particular from Richard “The Sword and the Sorcerer” Lynch as Jude the clown, and Sharon Farrell, who played a similarly distraught mother in It’s Alive, as the adoptive parent!
It’s got a few shaky moments here and there, and some slow stretches, and some flaky mysticism too of course, ha ha, but it never loses your interest! I wholeheartedly recommend The Premonition, and give it three dancing clowns!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Burl reviews Love on the Run! (1936)

Well a ha ha and a jolly hello, my screwball pals! Here I am with another movie review for you, this time of a hoary old picture called Love on the Run! Ha ha, even reading the back of the VHS box I could tell this was a picture that had been made in the wake of It Happened One Night, with the addition of some would-be Hitchcockian cloak-and-dagger!
Clark Gable, well known from his performance in Soldier of Fortune, plays good old Mike Anthony, a newspaper reporter on assignment in England! He’s bunking for some reason with his quasi-pal and top journalistic rival Barney Pells, and gets hornswoggled into covering the society wedding of poor little rich girl Sally Parker, played by the lovely Joan “The Unknown” Crawford!
Through a series of unlikely events, which are the only sort of events you’ll find in this picture, Mike and Sally don big shapeless flight suits and take off in a stolen experimental aircraft bound for the Continent! Barney Pells, hungry for his own big scoop, trails along in a Terminator-like pursuit! And the owners of the plane, it turns out, are some species of spy; ha ha, Bolsheviks no doubt! They’re all after a particularly weak McGuffin, a map which gets mentioned maybe three times through the picture!
The picture has some great patter from Gable and Crawford and from Franchot Tone (Mr. Crawford at the time) in the role of Barney Pells! But the whole thing is such a wisp of a scrap of a titchy-mitchy-fitch of a thing that, charming as it frequently is, it never gains any traction! There’s a scene in the middle in which our pair of runaways find themselves at a palace, possibly Versailles, where they break in and change into the clothes they find there! Well, of course the security guard, played by Donald “Mark of the Vampire” Meek, takes Gable for the Sun King himself and Crawford for his consort, and they all do a little dance that stops the movie cold!
There’s romance and also a series of outrages perpetrated against the gullible Pells, and occasionally the cod-Hitchcock elements assert themselves, but poorly! I’d say the picture is about 65% It Happened One Night and the rest is trying to be The 39 Steps, and it doesn’t come near to either of them! But it’s not without wit, and the stars have charm, and it’s hardly a total loss! The movie was directed by Woody “One Take” Van Dyke, who of course also brought us Another Thin Man, and the job he does here is professional but rather bland!
It’s a poufy entertainment and nothing more, but if it comes on The Old Movie Channel and you’ve got nothing pressing to do, you might as well sit back and watch it! I give Love on the Run two invisible dogs!

Monday 11 November 2013

Burl reviews The Hunted! (1995)

Hi, hi, it’s Burl! It’s another action picture review today, and the action picture in question is the slightly bizarre mid-90s oddbird The Hunted, which, believe it or not, ol’ Burl caught in the theatre way back when! Yes, this is the movie which features both Christopher Lambert and swords, but rarely in the same shot! Ha ha, there can be only one in-deed!
Being as it comes from the director of Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, it should be no surprise that the movie is weird! It’s weird in a different sort of way though! For instance, when you hire an actor years past his sell-by date, whose most renowned work is in a beloved sword movie – Highlander, for those not in the know – and then spend most of the picture having him simply cower in the corner while others do the swordfights, you’re being a little bit perverse!
Lambert plays Paul, a New York necktiesman with a heavy French accent doing computer chip business in a Tokyo that seems populated largely by Chinese people! He hooks up with beautiful Joan Chen for a night of love, but is surprised when suddenly some ninjas appear and chop off her head! They try to kill Paul too, but he survives, which makes head ninja John Lone, whom we know from King Kong, very, very angry! Paul becomes the Hunted of the title, and surely the ninjas would have got him too, if not for the sudden appearance of a crabby swordsman and his wife, who make it their mission to use Paul as bait so they can get that John Lone!
Any review of this picture will tell you that it peaks around the midpoint with a massacre on a bullet train! The ninjas slaughter everyone, car by car, on their way to get Lambert, but the frowny-face samurai gets in their way! Ha ha, it’s pretty great how he strolls insouciantly through the cars and puts a savage poking on all the ninjas, staining their sandy-coloured daytime outfits a spreading crimson! And there’s a nasty ladyninja who, after losing her battle against the grumpus, shaves her face off for honour! Yikes, ha ha!
The movie slumps a bit after that, though there’s certainly more swordplay to come! The cringing Lambert eventually takes a bit of desultory training from a drunk, and is able to hold his own against Lone once the latter has been so gravely wounded by others that he’s barely able to stand! The picture ends with a headchopping that would do Highlander proud!
As I’ve mentioned in a few different ways, this is a slightly strange movie! It’s got some action scenes, but still somehow doesn’t qualify as an action movie! I’d maybe call it a ninja drama! Lambert’s character is even less heroic and skilled in the martial arts than Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, but unlike that fine picture, this isn’t a knowing satire on the very concept of heroism and its inversely proportionate relationship with attitude! I believe, in fact, that it’s meant as a serious look at the ninja-samurai rivalry Japan was still grappling with in 1995! Ha ha!
It’s enjoyably trashy while it’s on – and mark Burl, friends, there’s real value in that! – but totally forgettable when it’s not! Many of the plot points and character motivations are utterly inscrutable! It’s trying, I assume, to be an updated version of that terrific Mitchum picture The Yakuza, but it ends up being something else completely! It's got a few obvious matte paintings (which I always like to see, ha ha!) and a wonderfully horrible morphing effect! As you can see from the poster, it strives for a classy patina it simply doesn't earn! I recommend it, though! I’m going to give The Hunted two pink-handled samurai swords!

Sunday 10 November 2013

Burl reviews Computer Chess! (2013)

Burl to Queen’s Bishop five! Ha ha, checkmate! Yes, it’s Burl here to review a chess movie – except it’s not a chess movie so much as a computer movie, or maybe a nerd movie, or maybe something that’s all of those things, but also something better! The picture is called Computer Chess, and it’s one of those rare feature films shot in black and white on old video cameras!

The picture stars a bunch of people who, with the exceptions of my old pal Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused, and renegade movie reviewer Gerald Peary, I’d never heard of before; but their performances are uniformly excellent! Ha ha, and the setup is a weekend competition taking place in a hotel somewhere in Texas, where tech organizations have brought their latest and greatest playing programs to pit them against one another! It’s nerds abounding, ha ha!

There are other groups in the hotel as well, including some kind of culty encounter workshop and a bunch of swingers! The computer guys’ interaction with these parties account for a great deal of the dramatic tension found in the picture! We also follow a self-important “independent programmer” as he tries to find a room to stay in, and the travails of one group whose program appears to be suiciding itself more quickly with every game! There are hints of shady backroom practices and sinister, Kubrickian implications that some of these computers are simply sick of being told what to do all the time!

The picture is part of what I think of as the same Texas tradition responsible for movies like Last Night at the Alamo and Slacker, and of course Future-Kill! A nice little corner on eccentric indie movies asserts itself in the boy-howdy state every once in a while, and Computer Chess fits right in! It’s a funny picture but nevertheless not a comedy, and that’s usually my favourite kind of comedy, ha ha! And though I usually don’t gravitate toward the awkwardness movies, the extremely awkward scenes in this picture didn’t bother me – they worked as a bizarre admixture of comedy and suspense! The scene with the glasses nerd and the swingers is a particularly good example!

There’s also a terrific scene involving the roomless guy, Papageorge, and his mother and another fellow! This sequence is shot on colour 16mm film, and feels like a scene out of Demon Lover Diary or American Movie or something along that line! Like the rest of the picture, the scene uses its medium with elegance and wit, and hints at great insights about technology and human behavior and the intersection between the two; and somehow that the film never deigns to reveal these insights, at least not completely, feels like the greatest unrevealed insight of them all!

The ending of the movie is where some might throw up their hands and declare this some kind of Cronenberg-Lynch-Tsukamoto coattail rider, but I thought it worked very well! It’s handled with great competence, and really, of all the pictures you might expect to see a naked lady in the closing moments, this one is about the last! But still, there she is, and what happens next will invite a slight but definite mindboggling!

I enjoyed this picture a great deal, and for excellent ensemble acting, the courage of its formal convictions, the wit and restraint it showed in playing with the technology and era with which it concerns itself, I give Computer Chess three and a half fluffy ghost cats!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Burl reviews Attack the Block! (2011)

Ha ha, trust, it’s Burl here again wif anuvver movie review for ya! This is yet another picture set largely in a single tall building – ha ha, after Skyline, Die Hard, Enemy Territory, Gremlins 2, Poltergeist III and Dredd, you must think I’ve been seeking them out! But no, they come to me, and quite willingly too!
This one, Attack the Block, is a picture I’d been hearing marvelous things about for some time, so I thought, ha ha, let’s see what’s up here! It takes place in a block of council flats in South London, among the aimless, hoodie-clad youths who roam there! The movie starts out all Harry Brown, with a perfectly nice lady getting street-mugged by what appears to be a pretty unpleasant youth gang! Ha ha, the robbery is cut short by the arrival of a fireball from space, which lands in a car and disgorges a varmint of some kind! (Nobody notices the fireballs because, cleverly, the movie is set on Guy Fawkes’ night – and by complete chance I watched the movie on Guy Fawkes’ night! Ha ha!)
The kids manage to best the space varmint, but close on its tail are more of them, bigger in size and meaner in temperament, and they want revenge! They retreat into their block, where weed grower Ron (played by Nick Frost, who of course is famed for his role in another alien comedy from the same year, Paul) and several other characters reside! Ha ha, but there really aren’t that many people around for such a huge residential complex! I guess they couldn’t afford too many extras!
Anyway, the movie moves along pretty quickly and has some terrific laffs – Nick Frost has probably the single funniest line, ha ha! The critters are pretty basic, but look great – furry, deep-black gorilla-dog things with glowing blue lamprey teeth! They bound around like the Terror Dogs from Ghostbusters, snarling and slashing and biting off one poor fellow’s face! Ha ha, there are some nice, nasty moments! It’s a little like another kids–vs.–alien movie from 2011, Super 8, but in this one not all the kids make it to the end!
It’s a little surprising that the nasty street gang, who in another picture would probably be among the first victims of the otherworldly invaders, end up as our heroes! Turns out they’re not as bad as they first appear, and the lady they mugged actually teams up with them to battle the ape-nines! Ha ha, how the world turns! The other interesting thing is that the accents and slang are thicker than muesli, but I for one never had a moment’s trouble understanding what was being said! That’s a testament to the actors and to the general mise-en-scene too, I’d say!
Ha ha, as a little slice of space invasion the movie works very well, but it does seem strangely limited in scope too! Naturally there was no budget for a London-wide invasion, nor the desire for it either, and the focus on the kids and their narrow world is appreciated, but I guess what’s missing is the sense of greater potential or a vaster threat, as well as some idea why a bunch of dogs would arrive from space anyway! One of the kids, or maybe the trust-fund stoner who appears now and again, ventures a theory that they just drift through space like the Body Snatchers, alighting on whatever planet gets in their way, but this seems so unlikely as to be immediately dispensable! The Thing pulled off a similar scene, in the midst of a similarly focused invasion, with much better results, and even Invasion From Inner Earth managed to make you consider the implications of its alien invasion!
That’s not a very constructive critique, but the upshot is that, to ol’ Burl, there was an ineffable something missing from this picture - maybe just the sense of something ineffable, if you follow! Nevertheless, it was tremendously enjoyable and strongly accomplished in almost every department! The creatures are especially impressive! Altogether a great addition to the alien-invasion genre, and I offer Attack the Block three parties at the zoo!

Monday 4 November 2013

Burl reviews Number One with a Bullet! (1987)

Put your hands behind your head, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review another policier from those crazy days, the late 80s! This one is called Number One with a Bullet, and instead of being a Die Hard rip-off (a tradition extending at least to the year 2013 with pictures like Olympus Has Fallen) it’s a Lethal Weapon rip-off! Of course, ha ha, it would be a pretty trick to be a Die Hard rip-off considering Number One with a Bullet came out the year before that action classic – and, come to think of it, may have come along even before Lethal Weapon was released!
Anyway, whichever came first, just as in Lethal Weapon we have a white cop with insanity issues and a steadier black cop who just barely tolerates his partner’s crazy ways of getting things done! The major innovation is that the black cop is not a boring family man but a slick womanizer! Ha ha, since he’s played by Billy Dee Williams, renowned for his cop role in Fear City, how could he be anything else?
The role of the white madman, Nick Berzak, is essayed by Robert Carradine, familiar to us all from his appearances in such diverse pictures as The Pom Pom Girls, Massacre at Central High and Django Unchained! He bugs all the other characters, including his boss Captain Peter “It Conquered the World” Graves, with his obsession to prove the drug-related malfeasance of a local slimy businessman, Da Costa! But nobody will listen to Berzak, so he conducts himself in a wild and out-of-control manner, which essentially means he acts like a big jerk to everybody!
Ha ha, in fact both of these so-called officers of the law trample the civil liberties of their targets with wild, Reagan-era abandon! In the meantime, Berzak pursues a relationship with his ex-wife, Valerie “C.H.O.M.P.S.” Bertinelli, using what may only be called stalker-esque tactics! Naturally these tactics, in combination with Berzak’s abrasive personality and a confusingly-staged scene in which, thanks to her ex, Bertinelli almost gets blown up by a car bomb, are completely successful!
Ha ha, the picture is dumb as a box of dead crabs, relentlessly uncool, and not helped by the nü-jazz score by Alf Clausen, who had apparently not yet developed the breadth of style he would bring to The Simpsons! Ha ha, the tootling saxophones drain every drop of potential excitement from all the action scenes, from car chases to foot chases to violence fights! The movie also feels at least fifteen minutes longer than it should be, the trimmable fat mostly being the tricks the pair use to subvert protocol or just rile one another! And the climax of the movie was so undistinguished that it didn’t even seem like a climax at all – Carradine punches up the extremely underwhelming, unthreatening bad guy a little bit, then the picture ends! Ha ha, cue the sad sound of a deflating balloon!
There are little moments of pleasure both ironic and genuine scattered throughout, however! Carradine manages to be funny once or twice, and it’s great to see Peter Graves do his thing, and the cast generally is competent – hiding in the margins are journeymen like Mykelti “The First Power” Williamson and Bobby “The Supernaturals” DiCicco! But overall it’s something of a zagnut, and director Jack Smight is not able to scale the dizzying heights he did with such older work as Damnation Alley and Fast Break! Altogether, I’ll just have to bestow upon Number One with a Bullet one single dressing-down from the chief!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Burl reviews Olympus Has Fallen! (2013)

Ha ha, attention citizens! It’s Burl here with a review of some Contemporary Action Cinema! This picture is called Olympus Has Fallen, and it was one of two Die Hard-in-the-White House movies to come out in 2013! It’s a classic re-run of the Meteor Syndrome of 1998, with Deep Impact in May of that year and Armageddon coming in July, and Volcano Syndrome of 1997, when Dante’s Peak and Volcano came out within two months of one another! Ha ha, in the latter case, as I recall, I went to see them both! There was also Dinosaur Syndrome four years earlier – ha ha, I went to see both Carnosaur and its later imitator, Jurassic Park! And of course there was Mars Syndrome in 2000, President’s Daughter Syndrome in 2004 and Magician Syndrome in 2006, and many other examples too!
Of the two White House pictures, I’m guessing Olympus Has Fallen is the Carnosaur of the pair – the cheaper, scrappier, more violent iteration! It certainly has lots of CGI bloodshed and collateral damage! North Koreans, you see, mount a frontal assault on the presidential domicile, attacking it first with a plane (and shooting many a pedestrian in the process), and then with ground forces who’d been milling around disguised as tourists! And of course Gerard Butler, the man who used to guard the prexy before an unfortunate event involving the First Lady plunging into a river, happens by just as all this is taking place; and the next thing you know he’s skulking around the body-strewn corridors of power, having punchfights with any North Koreans he happens across!
Meanwhile President Aaron Eckhart is trapped in the bunker with members of his cabinet and a bunch of the bad guys, and a terrible punching is put on Secretary of Defense Melissa “Deadtime Stories” Leo; and on the other side of the Potomac, Speaker of the House Morgan “Outbreak” Freeman, Secret Service Director Lady Angela “Innocent Blood” Bassett and General Robert “Alligator” Forster all crease their brows as they try to figure out what to do! Strangely, as they chat with lone wolf Butler, not a one of them says “You know, ha ha, this is just like in Die Hard, right down to the terrorist henchman who sports the scraggly, stringy-haired look of Al Leong!”
And it is, except of course Butler is not only an ex-Secret Service man, but an ex-Elite Forces Agent or whatever! Ha ha, that’s the thing about Die Hard – Bruce Willis wasn’t an ex-anything, except an ex-husband! He was a cop, but a pretty meat-and-potatoes one! That’s because the makers of Die Hard had confidence in their material, and the people who made this one realized they were just doing a slavish, inspiration-free copy, so they had to make their hero a superman!
They also had to gin it up with some of the most egregious flag-waving seen in recent times! Ha ha, maybe that stars-and-stripes stuff works on Americans, or some of them anyway, but the rest of us are all, like, “Move on to the carnage, please!” But at the same time you can’t accuse the movie of lacking carnage! The White House invasion scene, wherein most of that ingredient is stored, is the most exciting part of the picture, that’s for sure, and the number of casualties is pretty high! Everything that comes after that is kind of anti-climactic, especially the relatively low-key final fight scene!
There’s not much style or panache here, and everything is as by-the-numbers as you can possibly imagine! The simpleton geopolitics fail to gain credibility even with Freeman’s impeccable diction, and the notion of putting vaguely Occupy-esque sentiments into the mouth of traitor Dylan McDermott (who has a previous Secret Service prexy-in-peril drama, In The Line Of Fire, to his credit) is just silly! Ha ha, they should have made him one of those Tea Party clowns!
Altogether, Olympus Has Fallen is a particularly blockheaded action picture with a few decent scenes and several unsavory ones, and for its all-star disaster movie vibe and surprisingly unannoying First Kid, I give it one and a half bullet-riddled flags tumbling sadly through the twilight’s last gleaming!