Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Burl reviews Club Paradise! (1986)

Ha ha mon, it’s Burl! I’ve got yet another review of a marginal 80s comedy picture of just the sort I ignored when it came out, and ever since! Until recently, I’d never seen such a gallery of cracknel biscuits as Protocol, Armed and Dangerous, Funny Farm and The Money Pit, and now I’ve seen them all! Some of them I liked less than others, ha ha, and it’s my terrible duty today to place Club Paradise on the lower rung of these pictures!
It shouldn’t have been that way! Ha ha, it was directed by Harold Ramis, who’d done fine comedy work helming Caddyshack and Vacation; starred Robin Williams, who was capable of being funny; and filled its supporting cast with as many SCTV stars as there are in the sky, with the crucial exception of John “The Silent Partner” Candy!
The plot is some kind of crazy nonsense! Williams is a Chicago fireman who gets exploded out a window and covered in a pile of bricks! With his insurance settlement he retires and relocates to the Caribbean island of St. Nicholas! The progression of events is hurried and vague, but he becomes friends and then partners with Jimmy Cliff, who plays a lite-Reggae singer who also runs a downmarket resort with what is frequently referred to as a very nice beach!
Somehow Twiggy becomes his girlfriend (the whys and wherefores of that are very obscurely presented indeed!), and that great voice of trailers, Adolph Caesar, whose last movie this was, is strutting around like he owns the place! The late, lamented Peter O' Toole plays a cork-pulling consul straight out of a Graham Greene story who strolls through a scene now and again, sometimes in mufti, sometimes not! Suddenly a bunch of wacky tourists descend on the place, and vignettes, one or two of them amusing, are played out like games of tic-tac-toe!
The real keepers here, I think, are Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy, playing a pair of mock-Jewish mashers, both named Barry, with a particularly grotesque line in woopatter! They have many adventures on the island and are separated, and their reunion, after much deserved trial, is actually kind of touching, particularly because of Moranis’s outfit and Levy’s giant bag of marijuana!
It’s all very brightly filmed by Peter Hannan, whose versatility is proven in that he shot both this and its polar opposite, Withnail & I! But take your pleasure where you can with this one, ha ha, because frankly speaking it’s just not very good! The music is surprisingly terrible – ha ha, The Harder They Come this isn’t – and the script is unbelievable lazy, both with the jokes and with the politics! At least its sympathies are in the right place, I suppose, but everything is pretty cartoonish, so “the right place” is pretty unpinpointable! Finally, and most damnably perhaps, is that the picture suffers from a noticeable lack of pep!
Poor Twiggy – this is one of the most undeveloped female roles in modern American cinema, and that’s saying a lot! It’s not much better for Williams though, whose character is frequently something of a jerk! But not a jerk chicken, ha ha! So I’m sorry to say that, while at least the location is far more colourful, the mis- or under-used network stars and the croakball of a script will keep you away from that mellow place you should be in with such a movie! I give Club Paradise one parasailing mishap!

Monday 30 December 2013

Burl reviews Inside Llewyn Davis! (2013)

Dear Mr. Kennedy, it's Burl here! Please don't fire me into outer space! Ha ha, good day friends: I’ve got a review of the folktastic new picture from the Coen Brothers for you! Yes, I’ve enjoyed their photoplays for as long as they’ve been making them, and I believe there’s only one I have yet to see: Intolerable Cruelty! I’ll watch it at some point of course, but for now I’m here to chat about Inside Llewyn Davis!
It’s the simple story of an irascible folk performer and his adventures in and around Greenwich Village in February of 1961! This irrepressible beardo mingles among, ingratiates himself to, outrages, impr*gnates, heckles and disappoints a variety of Village denizens played by the usual great gallery of Coen faces! Ha ha, the terrific supporting cast includes John Goodman of course, whom we know from C.H.U.D., Matinee and many other Coen Brothers pictures, as well as Adam Driver from Frances Ha, Sylvia Kauders from Armed and Dangerous, F. Murray Abraham from The Big Fix and Jerry Grayson, whose last movie this was, and whose first movie was Wild on the Beach!
For the most part these people are new to the Coen oevre, but such is their timeless appeal that they seem to have been imported en masse from their previous work! The elevator operator, for instance, may as well be the elevator operator from Barton Fink!
Llewyn Davis himself is played by the talented Oscar Isaac from The Force Awakens, and the picture follows him around for about a week and a half as he bumbles about committing acts of self-sabotage, and trying his best to keep hold of an orange cat who looks a lot like Jones from Alien! (And a lot of people forget this, but Jones also makes a cameo in Aliens!)
I’ll tell you what stood out for me while watching this picture: the absolute rock-solid confidence with which it was made! Ha ha, these are craftsmen, and no mistake! There are no camera tricks here – no tracking down plug-holes, for instance – and indeed very little camera movement! As they occasionally do, the Coens had to use a different cinematographer than their usual genius lensman, Roger Deakins, because apparently he was off shooting Skyfall! But the fellow they got instead, Bruno Delbonnel, did an extremely creditable job!
The usual plot beats and narrative organizers are absent here, but are not missed, as we get instead a pleasantly folky forward momentum! Llewyn’s saga is as sad-sack as that of any folk-song protagonist, as his baleful glances toward the off-ramp to Akron will attest! But because it’s a Coen brothers picture, it can’t help but give some laffs too!
It’s a hugely enjoyable movie, and might place somewhere in the top half of their filmography, if I were a list-rating man! And that’s certainly high praise from ol’ Burl! I give Inside Llewyn Davis three and a half corduroy jackets!

Sunday 29 December 2013

Burl reviews Blast of Silence! (1961)

Ha ha, best of the season, it’s Burl! Yes, it’s true that everyone has their own anti-Noël picture: the movie they think best represents the very antithesis of the Christmas season while still being in some way a Christmas movie! Bad Santa is the counterseasonal picture of choice for most people, I believe, but ha ha, I’ve never even seen that one!
My choice for least-Christmasy Christmas movie has got to be the great Blast of Silence! Ha ha, it’s a terrific, grotty little dinge-fest about a hit man arriving in New York at holiday time to do a rub-out! The picture follows Baby Boy Frankie Bono (played by the picture’s director, Allen Baron) as he undertakes his preparations, hectored every step of the way by barky second-person narration from Lionel “Cul-de-sac” Stander! Ha ha, it’s moida!
Baby Boy Frankie Bono wanders the streets of the Big Apple, following his target and arranging for his weapon from the unsavory behemoth Ralphie! There are complications galore: Ralphie proves untrustworthy and must himself be rubbed out – no easy task, as he’s stronger that a house! And Baby Boy Frankie Bono runs into an old orphanage pal and gets drawn into a Christmas party situation, where he pushes a peanut across the floor with his nose and makes time with an old flame before completely ruining everything with his uncouth ways!
Stander’s narration is constantly referencing the temperature and relative humidity of Baby Boy Frankie Bono’s hands! This varies according to the situations he’s in or about to be in, and by the end of course, because this is a noir, and a particularly grim one at that, his hands are about as cold as they can get!
As with the tonally similar Killer’s Kiss, the picture serves as a great picturebook of mid-century New York at its least picturesque! It’s worth watching for that reason alone, but the hopeless fatalism and hi-test cynicism really put the icing on this pair of Dutchman’s breeches! The character of Ralphie, played by Larry “Shock Corridor” Tucker, is another highlight – he’s so greasy you can imagine the yellowclear stains he’d leave on a paper towel if you mopped his slablike forehead! Ha ha!
It’s a terrific little picture, and like all low-budget black-and-white crime movies, it looks great! If you want to watch a Christmas picture just because it’s that time of year, but you’ve already seen A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation and Yosh and Stan Schmenge Present Christmas In Leutonia, this is the picture for you! I give Blast of Silence three and a half balding bongo players who are dressed in black all the ti-i-ime!

Saturday 28 December 2013

Burl reviews Prince Avalanche! (2012)

Ha ha, with a sharp report it’s Burl, here to review a recent small-scale dramedy, Prince Avalanche! Oh, sweet wingalls, how I frown on that word, “dramedy!” And I’d wager two pounds of mackerel that the makers of Prince Avalanche hate it too!
It’s a picture from the young man who made All The Real Girls and Pineapple Express! This new picture is a sort of synthesis of those movies, a lovely-to-look-at character study of two fellows hard at work in a remote, burned-out forest area of Texas, circa 1988! Ha ha, why 1988? It’s hard to say, but maybe the setting is merely a device to keep cellular telephones out of the picture!
The two fellows are Alvin, played by Paul “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” Rudd and a moustache, and Lance, played by Emile “Killer Joe” Hirsch! Ha ha, there’s not a lot of love flowing between these two men, and their rapport only gets worse as the story progresses! Their work painting road lines and knocking in signs is periodically interrupted by a mysterious truck-driving elderly who provides them with hooch! The hooch in turn provides the picture with an opportunity for the two fellows to relax a bit and make friends! Ha ha, the last act gets pretty heartwarming!
I guess mainly this is about the clashing personalities of Alvin and Lance! Lance, a part-time hardrocker, is the sententious Alvin’s girlfriend’s brother, so when she breaks up with him by letter and by telephone, all sense of obligation is out the window, and Alvin may feel free to bludgeon Lance with a rolled-up magazine! But it all ends up in friendliness!
It’s a pretty breezy little picture, small-scale and as slow-moving as a line-painting machine! It looks lovely, thanks to a genuinely burned-out location and beautiful cinematography from Tim Orr! Ha ha, there’s a tuneful musical score and a mellow vibe, and, unusually for this director, not a marijuana in sight! (A touch of green would have fit in pretty well, though!)
I enjoyed the picture! It’s fairly easily forgotten and not likely to become anyone’s favourite, but it’s pleasant to look at and listen to, and often funny! I’m going to give Prince Avalanche two and a half car-birds and a recommendation that you check it out!

Friday 20 December 2013

Burl reviews Desperate Moves! (1981)

Rollin’ at you, it’s Burl! Ha ha, here I am to review what I believe was meant as Italy’s contribution to the rollerskate genre – their version of Roller Boogie perhaps! Except it’s not fully an Italian movie – it was made by Italian filmmakers in America, the same guys who made Tentacles in fact, and like Tentacles it has an American cast and is nothing like Roller Boogie! Ha ha! Anyway, the picture is called Desperate Moves, and it’s really a thing of its very own category!
A very short glasses nerd with long curly hair, by name Steigler, is wondering about his place in the universe! He decides to leave small-town Oregon and make his way in San Francisco! He takes his rollerskates (as the interminable opening title song repeatedly informs us), and immediately on arriving in Frisky he falls in love with a rollerskating blonde named Olivia! Ha ha, she steals his wallet and tells him to get lost!
At the local rollerama, Steigler gets a low-paying job and encounters Olivia again! He also encounters Eddie Deezen, famed from his roles in pictures like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Surf II and Mob Boss, and an even bigger nerd than Steigler is himself! There is also a trio of skate bullies!
Eddie helps him get a room at Isabel Sanford’s boarding house, where the canny lady susses him out immediately as a virgin, and gives him fifty dollars from her Billy Dee Williams gigolo fund to purchase himself a lady professional! Ha ha, but he uses the money to take Olivia out for a lobster and soup dinner that she doesn’t even eat! After a goodnight kiss, the three skate bullies appear, wearing flashlights, and put a punching on Steigler!
After this, things get weird! Steigler had earlier helped out Cosmo, a gay Wolfman Jack-type radio personality (played by, of all people, the white neighbor in The Jeffersons, Paul Benedict) who had been stripped naked for some reason! (Ha ha, two Jeffersons cast members in one movie? Sweet wingalls!) Now, because of the punchings put on him, Steigler is burning with vengeful anger, and Cosmo directs him to the institute of Dr. Carl Boxer, played by none other than Christopher Lee from The Gorgon! Boxer’s techniques help people become aggressive and unpleasant, and this he teaches to Steigler! As a bonus, he imparts to Steigler – who has transformed from a simple glasses nerd to a leatherdaddy punk – the Move of Moves, an elaborate kung-fu strike giving one the power to kick another person’s head off!
Well, Steigler uses the Move of Moves on the head rollerbully, and after that he makes a last desperate play to win Olivia’s affections, which involves a hair-raising ride across the Golden Gate Bridge! As unlikely as it seems, this works, and the picture ends with the nerdly homunculus leaping into his beloved’s arms!
Ha ha! On the one hand, you would think that a movie featuring Eddie Deezen, Christopher Lee and Isabel Sanford must have something going for it! And how can you go wrong with a scene in which Lee’s character, anticipating an upcoming appearance on 60 Minutes, muses that “It should be intriguing to cross swords with Mr. Mike Wallace!” But on the other hand, the picture features two of the most intolerable characters ever seen on the screen: Steigler, a simpering half-wit so socially maladroit that he must rely on Eddie Deezen for tips on how to operate in the world, and Olivia, a truly rotten person! Steigler's attraction for her is unaccountable, for she treats him terribly throughout, her mouth curled into a perpetual sneer, her every word dripping with sarcasm! And we are asked to spend 106 minutes with these people, ha ha!
The Christopher Lee scenes, the rollerskating and the general weirdness offer some respite! The Italian strangeness that permeates movies like The Visitor rears its head here and there, and at other times it seems like an earnest, almost normal sit-com pilot! And I think it might slightly be an Xmas movie, as Steigler hides behind a "Trees For Sale" sign at one point! It’s altogether an odd drink of water, and I give Desperate Moves one and a half stuffed persons!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Burl reviews The Silent Partner! (1978)

Ha ha, it’s Burl, please give me all the money! No, just kidding, I’m not here to rob you! I’m here to review one of my own Yuletide standards, the great Canadian thriller The Silent Partner!
Yes, where some people have Die Hard or Cobra, my own favourite non-Christmasy Christmas picture is this jolly tale! But many people forget – I myself had forgotten before re-watching the movie, in fact – that it’s only a Christmas picture for the first half, after which it switches to a summery milieu! Nevertheless, the images of a cold-eyed Christopher “Dreamscape” Plummer in a Santa suit are what linger from the movie, so file it under Xmas, say I! Ha ha!
The plot unfolds like the chess game so frequently and unsubtly referred to through the picture! Miles Cullen, played by Elliot Gould from M*A*S*H and S*P*Y*S and W*H*I*F*F*S, is a milquetoast bank teller in Toronto’s then-new Eaton Centre mall! It’s nearly Christmas, and the observant Miles notices clues which lead him to believe one of the many mall Santas is going to mount a bank heist! So he prepares by setting aside most of the money for himself, and Plummer, the bad Santa, gets away with only a small amount!
Well, this does not sit well with Santa, and he sets about trying to von Trapp the teller into giving him the money! Back and forth goes the see-saw, and soon Miles has cleverly led the police to Santa’s very workshop itself! This is where the time jump occurs, with Miles sitting on his money – which he keeps in a safe deposit box at the curiously low-security bank – while Santa sits in the cooler!
Of course the battle continues once Santa is released, and then we have more threats, some shouting, a gruesome fishtank murder and a scene in which John Candy, years before he was Armed & Dangerous, gets married to a vacuum-headed blonde! Finally Santa, who has reinvented himself as a woman, makes another assault on the bank, and Johnny Smith’s dad from The Dead Zone gives him serious what-for!
Anyone who is curious about what Canadian money looks like should watch this picture! They’ll find not just many scenes of Gould counting out bills, but attractive photography from Billy “Billion Dollar Brain” Williams and solid suspense direction from Daryl Duke, who’d made Payday a couple of years earlier! Little remarked upon, other than for its existence, is the score by jazz great Oscar Peterson! Ha ha, it turns out that Peterson was not just a great pianist and composer, but a dab hand at suspense music as well!

Here is a fine genre exercise, dated in only the best ways! (Candy, for example, is quite svelte!) There could stand to be a little less of the relationship between Gould and banking colleague Susannah York, but it pays off in the end, and makes the picture richer! The young and lovely Francophone who makes sweet love to Gould later in the picture is not the greatest performer ever, but she does okay! In sum, this is a movie worth your while, especially at this time of year! I give The Silent Partner three deceased angelfish!


Burl reviews Creepshow 2! (1987)

Ha ha, kiddies, it’s Bur-r-r-r-rlllll here! Yes, if I was a horror host or an E.C. Comics spokesghoul, I could hardly be less frightening than Tom Savini in his role as The Creep in Creepshow 2! He’s a great bloodslinger, but Savini just looks goofy in the big-chin makeup and black cape he sports in the opening scenes of this picture! Ha ha, but then it turns to animation, so that’s okay!
I went to see the original 1982 Creepshow with my dad, I remember! Ha ha, O glorious day! By the time Creepshow 2 rambled around, I was old enough to at least make a credible attempt to sneak into an R rated picture, and in this case I was successful! But had I known going in what I would learn before I came out, I probably wouldn’t have been all that concerned about not making it past the crabby lady at the ticket counter!
The sequel offers up three horror comic-inspired tales instead of five, so already you know it’s a bit skimpy on the peanut butter! There was a game of musical chairs behind the scenes, too, with George Romero writing the script and Michael Gornick, the cinematographer of the original, manning the bullhorn! King provided the stories, which somehow feel less like they could have been original E.C. tales than did the stories in the 1982 movie!
The first tale takes place in a dusty little town, the centerpiece of which is a store owned by kindly Ray and slightly less kindly Martha! Ray and Martha, happily, are played by George Kennedy, who is of course well known from such pictures as Hotwire and Death Ship and Just Before Dawn and Earthquake, and Dorothy Lamour, famed for her role in My Favorite Brunette! Naturally a painted wooden Indian stands outside the door! Their store is robbed by a preening longhair and his slobbering pals, and poor Ray and Martha each catch some lead! Well, the Indian creaks to life and takes his vengeance using feathered arrow, tomahawk and scalping knife! Yowtch!
Next we go to a chilly pond in Maine in the middle of which four college students are stuck on a raft, trapped by a hungry garbage bag! Boy, is he hungry! He eats all the students and then the story ends! Ha ha!
Finally there is the tale of an amoral lady played by Lois Chiles, a lot more interesting here than she was in Moonraker! driving home from an assignation! She hits a sou’wester clad hitchhiker, apparently kills him, and then spends the rest of the story trying to get away from the fellow as he reappears over and over, looking more like a chili burger each time and repeatedly thanking the lady for the ride! But why is he thanking her? She didn’t even give him a ride!
The interstitial bits are something about a Venus fly trap and some bullies, but it was animated so I didn’t really pay attention! The movie as a whole doesn’t invite much attention, actually! There are a few nice bits here and there, and some tomato paste (particularly in the hitchhiker story), but frankly, ha ha, the movie is bad, or at least not very good! Its main crime, if you ask ol’ Burl, is in failing to capture the same E.C. spirit found in the original! It’s not just because they didn’t use coloured gels and canted angles, I don’t think – there was a cohesive spirit in Creepshow, with everybody on the same wavelength, working toward the same goal! To me that seemed missing here!
It was a disappointment, I’ll admit! But for a few performances, particularly that of George Kennedy, and some spirited Special Makeup Effects, I’d like to give Creepshow 2 one and a half fresh stripes of war paint!

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Burl reviews The War of the Worlds! (1953)

Tiewww-tiew-tiew-tiew-tiew, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a terrific old science-fiction invasion picture for you – one of the granddaddies of the form, in fact! It’s the fine old original pre-Spielberg version of The War of the Worlds!
Now, ol’ Burl has a confession to make here! Ha ha, despite seeing clips of the movie (it appears at the beginning of Explorers, for instance) and bits and pieces of it on television over the years, I don’t think I’d ever actually sat down and watched it before now! I know, it’s incredible! Well I’ve rectified that particular oversight, and now you get to read all about it!
Ha ha, between the H. G. Wells book, the Orson Welles radio broadcast, this picture, the TV series, the Spielberg remake and the low-budget versions that followed, we all know the basic plot: Martians attack, kill everyone they see, but are themselves felled by germs! In this iteration, Dr. Clayton Forrester, the world expert on all science pertinent to Martian invasions, happens to be fishing near the site of the first arriving Martian cylinder! He meets up with local teacher and science groupie Sylvia Van Buren, and together they run, dive, duck and huddle their way through the whole disastrous incursion!
They get separated towards the end though, and the movie gets a bit churchy when, figuring from an earlier monologue that Sylvia will seek sanctuary in some Los Angeles House of God, Dr. Clayton pops his head into a number of them and finds people singing and praying for some miraculous salvation – and of course this is soon delivered! But of course if the Lord had wanted to provide some kind of protection, He might have stepped in a bit earlier, one might be forgiven for thinking – perhaps earlier, when Sylvia’s pastor uncle sacrifices himself in an effort to communicate with the blobby aliens! Ha ha, where’s a five-foot-nothing crane operator with a grenade belt when you need one!
This picture has a great Technicolor look, marvelous spaceships and props, terrific trick effects, iconic sound design and a fantastic cast! Gene Barry, familiar from Soldier of Fortune and many other pictures, makes a forceful Clayton Forrester, and Ann Robinson, playing his companion Sylvia, is a bit screamy, but not at all bad! Les Tremayne, whom we know from Holy Wednesday and The Monster Of Piedras Blancas, is great as the frustrated general, who can’t comprehend that anything might be able to resist his guns, tanks and bombs; Jack Kruschen of Satan’s Cheerleaders plays an ill-fated enchilada salesman; and of course we know Robert Cornthwaite not just from his cameo in Matinee, but from an even earlier alien invasion picture, Howard Hawks’s The Thing From Another World! Lewis Martin, playing the pastor, had tangled with Martians before in Red Planet Mars, so it’s a surprise to see him so incautious here! And Paul Frees, well known for his narration in pictures as diverse as The Errand Boy and The Milpitas Monster, provides narration here too, and appears as a radio reporter with no radio to report to! Ha ha!
I’m certainly glad to have caught up with this fine old picture, and I hereby award The War of the Worlds three ashen bodyshadows!

Burl reviews Funny Farm! (1988)

Buck-buck-buck, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about a farmer! Ha ha, well, sort of! And it’s just as sort of a movie about a farm! Actually the farming is all in the title and in the characters’ names – otherwise farming is an utter non issue in this picture! The movie is called Funny Farm, and it’s yet another one of the 80s comedies I’ve decided I should finally get around to watching! Ha ha, most of them are pretty bad, so this very loose project is as much a mystery to me as to anyone!
All I can do when I pop one of these items in is pray it’s not as bad as Protocol! But I’ve always been curious about Funny Farm, because although it has every appearance of being a particularly lame Chevy “Fletch” Chase picture, it was directed by George Roy Hill, which I always assumed had to count for something! Hill made at least a couple of pictures I really like, and here you’ll assume I’m going to say Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting! Ha ha, those are fine pictures, but for my money his classics are Slaughterhouse-Five and Slap Shot!
Okay then, what about Funny Farm? Well, heart-sinkingly enough it started out just like another 80s comedy, The Money Pit! Sportswriter Andy Farmer and his wife Elizabeth, played by Chase and Madolyn “All Of Me” Smith, remove themselves from New York to a pastoral area near the town of Redbud, somewhere in Vermont! Thankfully the house doesn’t start falling down around them, but indeed strange and worrisome things do begin to occur! Some of them involve Chaseian slapstick, but many others do not – they have more to do with the weirdnesses and venality exhibited by the townsfolk, and the emotional, physical and ethical toll this takes on poor Andy!
Some of it is kind of funny and some of it is dire! Andy’s book gets written, but it turns out to be terrible! (I thought it would be a movie about how he can’t write his book, but along comes a helpful montage near the end that enables him to create a literary masterpiece! Glad I was to find this was not the case!) Meanwhile Elizabeth writes a book of her own and manages to sell it in short order! Ha ha! This leads to a second-act turn which leads to the final bit of the picture, wherein the Farmers instigate divorce proceedings and pay off the townsfolk to help them sell their house!
Now this sounds like an interesting development, doesn’t it, ha ha! But it seems to come out of almost nowhere, as the townsfolk haven’t actually been that weird, or at least haven’t been so weird as to put off prospective buyers! (The Farmers bought the place, after all, didn’t they!) It feels as though a lot was cut out, like there’s an Our Town’s worth of material showing the Redbuddians acting weird and the feud between them and the Farmers reaching crisis proportions! But this has to be imagined, as we don’t see it in the picture!
But what we do see is better than I’d thought it would be, probably because there was a real director to keep Chevy in line, and to stand up to whatever wackiness or sentimentality the studio might have demanded! And the last act turned out to have a Yuletide setting, so it was unexpectedly appropriate for the season, ha ha! So in the end it’s among neither the best of the 80s comedies I’ve been drawing from my VHS collection, nor the worst! It’s pleasant, forgettable 80s entertainment! I give Funny Farm two skeleton arms in the trash!

Monday 16 December 2013

Burl reviews You Can't Cheat An Honest Man! (1939)

Hello all you chumps! Ha ha, I don’t really mean to call you chumps – I’m just channeling the spirit of W.C. Fields! Because it occurred to me recently that there’s a big gap in my classic comedy watching experience – a big gap shaped just like Fields! Aside from It’s A Gift, I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of his movies and routines! And so it was that I decided it would be good to watch one of his later pictures, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man!
Fields had a pretend feud going with famed radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and more particularly with Bergen’s little pal Charlie McCarthy! This movie was largely a framework within which to carry that feud over to the motion picture medium, and apparently it paid solid dividends at the box office! Though, ha ha, the word is that Fields disliked making the picture, and didn’t get along with credited director George Marshall!
Here, Fields is Larson E. Whipsnade, a circus owner in debt up to his lampshade! He’s in constant conflict with two of his star attractions, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy! Ha ha, some of the Bergen-McCarthy scenes, especially a sequence in which Fields feeds the little dummy to the alligators, give off a distinct Dead of Night vibe, as we are shown in no uncertain terms that Charlie is alive, sentient and capable of independent locomotion! It’s pretty creepy, especially if you’ve seen as many living-dummy movies as ol’ Burl has, ha ha!
To the extent that the movie provides a plot, it’s that Larson’s daughter, who worries about her father’s financial well-being (as well she should, ha ha!), falls in love with Edgar Bergen, and by extension Charlie McCarthy too, I suppose, but agrees to marry the rich dewberry Roger Bel-Goode instead! But then Larson arrives at the Bel-Goode mansion in a chariot, terrifies the lady of the house with all his talk of snakes, and then engages in a downright hilarious ping-pong game with a Frenchman! The money problems are not resolved, but Larson and his daughter are chased out of the house for a reuniting (grudging on Larson’s part) with Bergen and his hated manikin!
It’s true that this picture has a stodgy vaudevillian feel to it, with skits instead of scenes and probably too much Bergen and McCarthy! But I’m not overly familiar with the famed duo’s routines, so I didn’t mind that! Fields is funnier though, and I wished there was more of him! I chuckled quite a bit, especially when Bel-Goodie père calls Larson a pharisee, a pecksniff and an egregious tartuffle! Ha ha, Roger is then told by the tomato-nosed con man that “if there is such a thing as a tartuffle, you sir are just that thing!”
It’s not considered on of W. C. Fields’s greatest works I suppose, but I thought it was a pretty funny picture, and I’m going to give You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man two and a half ca-nables! 

Sunday 15 December 2013

Burl reviews Drop Zone! (1994)

Whoosh, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a parachuting picture, Drop Zone! That was one of two released in 1994 (the other was Terminal Velocity), which makes it part of the Double-Double phenomenon right alongside Dante’s Peak/Volcano, Babe/Gordy, Armageddon/Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down, and of course all those body switch pictures!
I haven’t seen Terminal Velocity (yet!), so I can’t tell you which one is better! But Drop Zone, directed by John Badham during his Peter Hyams period, is the one with Wesley Snipes jumping (ha ha!) into the crazy world of daredevil skydivers! He plays some kind of policeman who, in escorting a computer nerd prisoner by commercial aircraft, loses both the prisoner and his fellow cop, who happens to be his brother, to a band of parachute criminals led by Gary “Big Wednesday” Busey! Well, nobody believes Wesley that parachute criminals even exist, and when a remorseful captain strips him of his badge and gun (ha ha!), he must fight to clear he and his brother’s names from without the system, and even sell his car to finance his investigation!
Ha ha, after a rocky start with parachuting enthusiast Yancy (ha ha!) Butler, wherein she dumps Snipes out of her plane without a parachute (for which, after she rescues him, he places a well-deserved punching on her), the two team up to fight Busey and his flying nogoodniks! There are some mid-air adventures along the line of Moonraker’s opening scene, but curiously not one character dies from straight-up plummeting from an airplane! There are close shaves, and one character who almost dies that way, and then of course Busey plummets from a tall building at the end, flying like Superman into the cab of his friend’s truck, but that’s it!
I guess it has nothing to do with whether the picture is good or not, but I still found it odd! Also unusual is that, to my recollection, the movie contains virtually no explosions! Otherwise, this is a pretty garden-variety 90s action movie, with several punch-ups and some of what they call “creative kills,” like a death-by-photocopier! Ha ha! It’s a pretty well-paced picture, generously budgeted, solidly directed by an old pro, and every bit as dumb as it wants to be!
It tries really hard to be one of those pictures that immerses you in a specialized world of enthusiasts, dropping their lingua-franca with the clumsy regularity of a palsied waiter dropping spoons! It never seems very authentic though, and doesn’t encourage you to care whether or not it really is! Ha ha, I’ve actually jumped out of a plane myself, more than once, and it was still all just crazy jargon to me!
Wesley Snipes doesn’t make much of an impression as an action hero here, but then he doesn’t get any lines like “Ha ha, always bet on black!,” as he did in Passenger 57! So maybe it’s not all his fault! Anyway, Drop Zone is as disposable as they come, and I’m going to give it one and a half Busey-missiles!

Friday 13 December 2013

Burl reviews Wolfen! (1981)

1981, ha ha! No less an authority than Cinefantastique magazine named it The Year Of The Werewolf! This was the period that brought us The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Larry Cohen's Full Moon High, and this non-shapeshifting variation, Wolfen! Ha ha, it’s the odd canis lupus out, I guess – and an odd movie in so many ways!
Ha ha, let’s start with the director! I’ve always wondered how this project came about, it being the second feature made (after a ten-year gap) by the director of Woodstock! Ha ha, a horror movie about killer wolves is about the last thing you’d expect a guy like that to make, and I really can’t imagine how he hooked up with it! And I know the thing was reworked a lot after Wadleigh was fired late in the game, but I still say he did a good job with it! You can tell just from the way the movie looks and feels, the way the scenes play out!
The movie starts with the killing of a couple of rich folks out for a midnight ride in their limo! They drive to Battery Park (it’s a New York movie, I should mention) and are set upon by creatures we don’t see, but who possess heat vision similar to that of the alien in Predator! The next thing you know, rumpled detective Albert “Skyfall” Finney is on the case, and he forms an investigative team with Diane Venora from F/X, who is some sort of vaguely defined general-purpose specialist, and, separately, with superfunk coroner Gregory Hines! It’s never really explained why a coroner would end up patrolling the South Bronx wastelands with a parabolic microphone and a high-powered rifle, but I assume all of these questions were answered in Wadleigh’s (reported) four-hour original cut!
The investigation reveals there’s a pack of wolves of nearly mythic capabilities who live in slums and survive by eating down-and-outers who are unlikely to be missed! Only the Native populations know about these animals, because that’s just the sort of thing they know about in movies like this! But the wolves were feeling territorially threatened first by the rich land developer, and thence by Finney, Venora, Hines and gangly Tom “Manhunter” Noonan, the animal expert helping them out! Ha ha, so the wolves take action!
There’s all sorts of political – well, subtext is the wrong word; trowelled-on text is probably more appropriate! There’s also a bit of the old tomato paste, with bitten-off hands, ripped-out throats and, just as in An American Werewolf in London, a scene in which a wolf jumps at a stodgy police inspector and rips his head off! There’s terrific widescreen cinematography from Gerry Fisher, who did such beautiful work on Malpertuis, and a fairly complex sound design, which draws a parallel between the wolves’ extraordinary sensory apparatus and the most modern surveillance technology!
Gregory Hines gives a performance as likeable as his turn in Running Scared! He was a talented man who left us much too young, and I was sad when he died! Finney is pretty good too, with his weird attempt at a New York accent, his shaggy hairstyle and his constant eating! There are all sorts of interesting actors lurking in the margins, like Edward James “Blade Runner” Olmos, Dehl “Bullies” Berti, James “Armed and Dangerous” Tolkan and Reginald “Die Hard 2” VelJohnson! And Dick O’Neil, an uncelebrated actor, gives a very nice performance as the soon-to-be-lidless police inspector!
The picture has its dull points and digressions though (ha ha, what could that four-hour cut have been like?), underlined by, for example, Finney’s last line in a complete dead-end of a sequence involving SLA-type domestic terrorists! “Where does that leave us?” he is asked after an interrogation proves fruitless! “Like this just didn’t happen,” Finney replies! Ha ha, thanks for pointing out the pointlessness of the last fifteen minutes, filmmakers! I also admit to being slightly disappointed by the creatures themselves - though the fact that they're really just normal-looking wolves fits the picture thematically, it would have been nice to see something more monstrous, along the line perhaps of the alien gorillawolves in Attack the Block!
But I still maintain a stubborn admiration for Wolfen, because it tries to be something different and because it is in so many ways a good movie! It has some amazing scenes of Finney and Olmos up on the top of a bridge (no trick effects here, ha ha!), a plausible investigation (which excuses the digressions somewhat), an elegant if unlikely conception of its creatures, and its heart in the right place! I give Wolfen three talking heads!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Burl reviews Target! (1985)

Burl here, people! Yes, Burl! I’m here to review another forgotten 80s picture, a semi-homburg picture called Target! This is the one that should have been good because, like the great Night Moves, it features Gene “The Quick and the Dead” Hackman and was directed by Arthur “Penn & Teller Get Killed” Penn! But the reviews suggested it didn’t turn out quite as well as that earlier private eye picture, and so I never bothered committing 117 minutes to Target… until just recently!
As it turns out, just about everything that went right with Night Moves went wrong with Target! Ha ha, it’s hard to conceive how it could have been much worse – maybe it would have been had they cast Ryan O’Neal or somebody instead of Hackman, who always brings at least a gruff plausibility to his roles, however outlandish or dumb they may be!
And his role here is pretty outlandish and dumb! He plays “Walter Lloyd” (not his real name!), a humdrum Dallas-area lumberyard owner who, it turns out, used to be a super CIA agent! Ha ha, it’s a toss-up which identity Hackman is most ill-suited to! Walter has a spiky relationship with his sullen son Chris, played by The Flamingo Kid himself, Matt Dillon; but the two must work together, and Hackman must spill the secrets of his past, when their wife/mother is kidnapped while on some kind of package tour through Europe!
Ha ha, so father and son hop on a plane, and the rest of the picture is their quest to find Mrs. Lloyd! But her situation never seems to worry them much – there’s even a romantic fireside scene between Walter and one of his old flames, also a spy! There are plenty of arguments between père and fils, and occasionally there will be an action scene! These prove beyond a doubt that action is not Penn’s specialty, or else he was profoundly disinterested in it around about the mid 80s! Ha ha, these scenes are both dull and incomprehensible, and really should have been handled by, say, John Frankenheimer or someone like that! And the whole thing looks dull too, with grim, overcast photography by Jean “Moonraker” Tournier! The picture takes place, and I believe was actually shot, in Dallas, Paris, Hamburg and Berlin, but it could all have been filmed in back-alley Cleveland for all you see of these cities! I’m not asking for postcard shots of the Eiffel Tower, but, ha ha, throw us a bone here!
Nothing in the picture rings the least bit true! The musical score is terrible, the acting generally lousy and the bad guy is exactly who you think it is! A young backpack lady shows up repeatedly and eventually almost seduces Chris with her wiles and her breasts, but after a dreadfully unsuspenseful suspense scene, she gets a headknock and disappears from the scene without any explanation for what she was ever doing there in the first place! Ha ha, it’s really terrible storytelling!
Hackman is about the only virtue here! I couldn’t find anything else to like, and I’m frankly surprised I made it through the whole picture! Like I said, ha ha, the darn thing is nearly two hours long! It could have been a fine little thriller and a nice addition to the father/son genre, but they just squandered any possibility the thing ever had! I give Target a big boo and one half of an explosion chair!  

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Burl reviews Moonrise Kingdom! (2012)

Delighted to be with you today: it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a Wes Anderson picture! He’s not a director to everyone’s taste, and even I think he tries a little hard now and again, but in general I find his pictures funny, nice to look at, cleverly constructed and possessed of a wistfulness and melancholy that usually hits ol’ Burl in the sweet spot!
My good pal Evan, who has never steered me wrong, hepped me to Bottle Rocket when it first came out! (Just to give you an idea of Evan’s tactics, he once pulled up beside my car, made the roll-down-the-window motion, tossed me a cassette of Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden, which he knew I’d never heard, and zoomed away!) Then I went to see Rushmore on a first date which proved also to be a last date, and then saw the next two pictures, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, with a big group of like-minded pals, and we had a terrific time! The Darjeeling Limited was another pleasant cinematic experience, and quite a romantic one! But then I missed the next couple of pictures, and have only just now caught up with Moonrise Kingdom! (The Fantastic Mr. Fox I’m saving for when my little child is old enough to appreciate it, and then we’ll watch it together!)
So how does Moonrise Kingdom stack up in ol’ Burl’s opinion? Well, it’s decidedly a minor work, I suppose, ha ha, but a lovely one in many ways! It takes place on a little made-up Atlantic Coast island, which in the grand tradition of made-up islands seems to have a lot more space on it than would be geographically possible based on the frequent map shots! It hardly matters of course, when telling the tale of two love-struck, prematurely damaged pre-teens who fall in love circa 1965 and hie off together to camp in the woods! Boyscout Sam is an orphan, is disliked by the rest of his Edward Norton-led troop, and is an excellent woodsman; kohl-eyed Suzy is the dour, binocular-obsessed daughter of Bill “Ghostbusters” Murray and Frances “Fargo” McDormand!
The two missing kids stir the island into a real hubbub, with local cop Bruce “Die Hard” Willis mounting his own special type of investigation! In the meantime his secret love affair with McDormand winds to a bittersweet conclusion! Occasionally a naturalist/historian/narrator played by the underused (in this movie and, I believe, in general) Bob “Altered States” Balaban pops up to provide information on an approaching storm! Other stars who show their faces include Tilda Swinton, playing Social Services, Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben, and Harvey “Mean Streets” Keitel as The Commander! It all comes to a climax as the storm hits its zenith, and I can’t report that it ends unhappily! Ha ha!
For some reason this picture was not shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio Anderson favours – it’s especially strange because this is an out-of-doors picture and the widescreen format would have suited it well! Nevertheless it looks lovely (except for the cheap and lousy visual effects), and delivers the expected funny and touching moments! Its themes swim lazily below the surface: loneliness, otherness, the evasion of the inevitable! The island setting clearly symbolizes obviousness, but that’s okay! I liked the picture, and its little takedowns of quasi-militaristic scouting tropes, best represented when an angry Keitel tells Norton “I’m fieldstripping you of your command!” Ha ha! I give Moonrise Kingdom three fieldstrippings!

Monday 9 December 2013

Burl reviews UFOria! (1981)

Ha ha, here’s Burl with a Quirky Cult Classic for you! I’ve known for years about UFOria, a little-celebrated character comedy made in 1980 or thereabouts! (1981 is the copyright date on the picture, but it wasn’t released until 1985!) But I never did watch it, because I figured it would be a little too self-consciously quirky, and also because I simply didn’t (and still don’t!) like the title!
But I finally purchased the VHS tape of this movie, which is what you have to do because it’s not on DVD! (Of course, like so many movies you can probably track it down online, ha ha!) And when I watched it I was most pleasantly surprised! Yes, it’s a classic 80s quirkfest, but it was probably the first classic 80s quirkfest, which makes it the godfather to pictures like Repo Man (with which it shares the great Harry Dean Stanton), Stranger Than Paradise, Rubin and Ed, and so forth! (And I realize that many of you, like me, might shy away from anything described as “quirky,” but I haven’t got a more apt descriptor handy! "Eccentric" is better, maybe!)
It takes a tone I might call realistic-quirky, at least until the end! The picture begins by introducing us to Sheldon, a drifter who steals money from con-dom machines to pay for his gas, played by Fred “Secret Admirer” Ward! He stages an Animal House-style supermarket shoplifting caper, but is eyeballed by born-again UFO enthusiast Arlene (the only name possible for this character), who is played by Shirley herself, Cindy Williams! Later Sheldon renews his acquaintance with Brother Bud, a tent preacherman played by Stanton, and while he’s playing the part of a lame man responding to Bud’s healing powers, the disapproving Arlene catches him out again! Naturally a rocky romance ensues!
Complicating things are Sheldon’s rambling tendencies and Arlene’s fervent, dream-based belief that a UFO will be landing on earth shortly and will be picking up passengers! As Sheldon and Arlene’s love affair progresses, a strange new community is born around them: Bud’s bodybuilding true-believer assistant Emile, played by Robert Gray from Innerspace and Armed and Dangerous (ha ha, muscle guys are a staple of 80s quirkomedies – remember Echo Park?); the Old Colonel, played by the terrific Hank Worden (whom you know as Shopping Cart from Big Wednesday and (I think!) the “Somebody’s fiddle!” guy from The Searchers!); a pair of New Age parents, who’ve just named their child Krishna Jesus; and an elderly couple who’ve just suffered a UFO encounter of their own, very well performed by Peggy McKay and the great Harry Carey Jr.!
This really is a marvelous and entertaining film, much better than you think it will be, even if you think it’ll be pretty good! There's a terrific country soundtrack, with songs by Roger Miller, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and of course Waylon! I’ll leave unanswered the question of whether the UFO ever arrives, but you can fit this picture beside such works as Breaking the Waves and Repo Man in the Movies In Which The Supernatural Or Otherworldy Intrude At The Last Moment category! Ha ha! Anyway, UFOria is a great, weird, affecting little picture in the dusty American Southwest tradition, and I give it three and a half heelocopters!