Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 30 May 2014

Burl reviews Godzilla! (2014)

Ha ha, with a honk and a roar, it’s Burl, here to review what is becoming an annual tradition for me: the big summer monster movie! After all, last year I reviewed Pacific Rim, and some time before that, Super 8! This year, to get my fix of big, lumbering, city-stomping beasts, the natural choice was Godzilla!
I’m not a devoted fan of the Godzilla pictures, though I did see both Godzilla 1985 and that stinky 1998 version in the theatre! And of course you all know of my admiration for War of the Gargantuas! But I’ve only seen a few of the Toho pictures, and have yet to sit down and properly watch the charcoal-black Japanese version of the original film! (I plan to rectify that soon, ha ha!) They always seemed mainly like kiddie films to me, I guess!
But when this one came along, I couldn’t help but beetle off to the cinema to check it out! Now, my favourite part of all these pictures (that is to say, disaster movies and monster-attack films) is the build-up, when strange things are happening, and mysterious but still relatively small-scale disasters are plaguing the area! I also like when you can see that, somewhere off in the distance, just over those hills or on the other side of those big buildings, something incredibly destructive is occurring! And let me tell you, ha ha, Godzilla offers a great deal of this stuff!
Now remember, I saw Godzilla 1985 in the theatre, so this picture had a pretty high bar to clear! The beginning of the movie, where a man played by Bryan Cranston, well-known from Dead Space and, I must say, one of the bigger hambones working today, suffers a workplace disaster that claims the life of his beloved wife, Juliette Binoche, the Gallic performer familiar from Clouds of Sils Maria and many other pictures! After that Cranston gets a good deal of screen time to devote to his famous overacting, and his young son grows into a bomb dismantler named Ford, who is played by one of the least expressive actors since Lundgren!
Well, eventually there’s monster action again, and Ford becomes a sort of monster Forrest Gump, always around when the critical events are taking place! Ha ha! The plot mainly has a couple of monsters which, according to the complicated backstory, are the spawn of Mothra and Rodan, making their way to San Francisco in order to be married! (Ha ha, the Mothra/Rodan connection was a pretty canny way of inserting maximum Toho mythos in there, so congrats filmmakers!) And Godzilla shows up to ruin the wedding night, because as a stone-faced Ken Watanabe observes, his function is to redress nature’s balance! (I therefore assume his next stop will be the head offices of Monsanto, ha ha!)
Anyway, there’s plenty of spectacle here, and even better, there’s not as much spectacle as there might have been, since we often don’t get to see the full battles and the toppling of buildings! It’s more realistic that way, and demonstrates that there was some actual thought put into the staging of all this mayhem! Viewers such as myself truly appreciate that, ha ha!
It’s hardly a brilliant picture, but for a summer action monster spectacular, it’s pretty darn good! I congratulate the filmmakers and hope they’re able to keep a good thing going in the inevitable sequels! I give Godzilla two and a half pointless red smoke trails!

Thursday 29 May 2014

Burl reviews 3 Days to Kill! (2014)

With a huff and a wheeze, it’s Burl, here to review 3 Days to Kill, a GeriAction picture from recent times! I might have said it was “from recent memory,” but I don’t think anyone actually does remember it! Ha ha!
"Ha ha, but McGee whizz Burl,” I hear you saying! “Wasn’t this picture helmed by one of the premiere action specialists of our day?” No, it was not! It was directed by the fellow who made that Terminator picture I never saw! But considering he also made those Charlie’s Angels movies, which I did see, or one of them at least, I was surprised that this picture was fairly bereft of bing-bom-bow! I suppose there must be an established shooting code for this subgenre, earnest and sedate, with possibly In the Line of Fire providing the style book!
Anyway, I saw this on an airplane, and I can tell you that it would be perfect airplane fodder if only it was a bit livelier! (I felt the same disappointment over Jack Reacher, as I recall!) As it stands, its plot, involving a near-elderly CIA agent dying of brainwaste who is pressed into service for One Last Job by a clownish, syringe-proffering dominatrix, but who is coincidentally attempting as a final gesture a rapprochement with his ex-wife and teenage daughter, both promised and delivered two of the things I hate the most in drama: Waiting In Vain For Someone To Show Up, and Dad, You Were Never There For Me! Heavy doses of each are in store for the accidental viewer!
Of course the Parisian setting tips it off as one of those Luc Besson action productions, like Taken 2! Ha ha, I’m sure it’s been mentioned by others, but Besson really seems to have a thing for dysfunctional father-daughter relationships! That compulsion is on naked view here, with Costner literally torturing fathering tips out of a minor-league criminal who happens to be a successful pére des ados! All of this hoo-haa is something about using The Albino to trap The Wolf, or some such crazy nonsense! I have to admit, I tuned that stuff out almost as vigourously as I did the family drama!
Anyway, there’s absolutely nothing to distinguish this movie from a dozen others like it, except perhaps that it’s a bit duller and more repetitive, and more rah-rah American, than most! I’m writing this review now, a week or so after seeing the picture, because I’m already at the outer limit of even remembering the title, much less anything about the picture! Ha ha! Perhaps this seems an unfair review strategy, and I will say in the picture’s defense that I support the making of movies that are neither sequels, remakes, nor adaptations, and as far as I can tell this qualifies!
In closing, I’ve completely forgotten better films than this one; and if I sound very cynical about it, I think I might have caught the sentiment from the movie itself! I almost forgot to mention that it features yet another of my most-disliked tropes: The Ailment Which Kicks In At Critical Moments! It’s right up there with Dying Sadsack, actually! I give 3 Days to Kill one half a cheeseball wobblecam hallucination!

Friday 16 May 2014

Burl reviews Rip-Off! (1971)

Cool man, let it all hang out, it’s Burl! Ha ha, that’s me doing hippie talk! And that’s because I’ve got a movie from hippie times to review for you today! Yes, it’s called Rip-Off, and it’s just as Canadian as a mooseburger! In fact, ha ha, I think this might just be the most Canadian movie ever made!
Rip-Off is the second feature from Don Shebib, the fellow who made Goin’ Down the Road! But it was always confusing for me, because I knew Shebib had followed up that great debut with a heist picture and a movie about a bunch of friends – that Rip-Off should be the heist picture and Between Friends the one about the friends seemed a reasonable assumption!
Turns out it’s the other way around! Rip-Off stars Don Scardino, whom we know from Squirm and He Knows You’re Alone and of course Homer, as Mike, the de facto leader of a quartet of suburban Toronto high school students! There’s Steve, who has enormous canoe paddle-shaped mutton chops; Ritchie, who’s short and twitchy and frequently a goof; and Cooley, who’s the requisite hefty, awkward one I guess! Ha ha! The picture follows them through their final year of high school, up to the Easter break when they travel up north, somewhere near Timmins, to find and stay at a piece of land Mike has inherited from his gramps! But, much as in the similarly-structured Withnail & I, the attempted holiday is a disaster!
Ha  ha, this is a pretty clear predecessor to the “bumbling group of horny guys” subset of the Teen Sex Comedy genre! You know what I mean – pictures like Porky’s, like the Lemon Popsicle series, like The Last American Virgin, like Hot Moves, Hot Splash, Hot Chili and Hot Times! Ha ha, a scene in which the four guys are picked up by a bored older lady, clearly some sort of professional, and taken back to a hotel room where Cooley, the biggest and least presentable guy, has a strange adventure with her, might just as well have appeared in any of those later movies I listed! So too might the scene where Mike and Richie get stoned and foolishly attend math class!
Also, there’s probably just as much nudity in Rip-Off as in any of those TSCs! Not what you expect from venerable old Canadian classics, unless we’re talking Loving & Laughing, ha ha! The ginger hero, Mike, is a pretty precise half-and-half admixture of Bobby from The Van and Sam from Paradise Motel, and that too strengthens the connection between Rip-Off and its lower-brow successors!
But make no mistake, Rip-Off isn’t a full-bore Teen Sex Comedy! Like Fandango, it’s mostly just a picture about friendship and how it mutates over benchmark moments, learning experiences and just plain time! As photographed by Richard Leiterman (who also shot Watchers, believe it or not), it looks nice too, very early 70s dingy! It’s a simple movie, but not simple minded, and it has such a loose and rambling structure and such a mellow vibe that it might remind you, as it did me, of Malibu Beach
And that’s high praise! Ha ha, you might have guessed already that I enjoyed this picture! Ha ha, I sure did! I liked pretty Susan “Shivers” Petrie as Mike’s objet d’amour! I liked the scene where the guys are driving up north in their boogie van and sing the Byrds song Old Blue! I liked the rock n’ roll band! I liked the extreme Canadian accents and the thick 1970s hoser atmosphere! I liked the goofy gags and the non-contact fight scenes, and the appearance of two Red Indians, one of whom was played by the late great Augie Schellenberg! (I worked with him once – nice guy!)
It’s altogether a treat, and I was glad to have watched it! If you like coming of age pictures and the word “eh,” this is the movie for you! Before going off to seek out Shebib’s Between Friends, I’m going to give Rip-Off three and a half tubs of wig cleaner! Ha ha!

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Burl reviews Mid-Knight Rider! (1979)

Hi, Burl here with a real curiosity for you! Ha ha, when you watch a lot of movies, you sometimes stumble across a perplexity: a movie that was made for no apparent reason at all! Who was this picture for, exactly? you ask yourself when it’s over! What particular audience could possibly have been waiting for this story to be told?
Well, ha ha, Mid-Knight Rider is such a picture! As you’re not likely to ever see it yourself, I’ll describe the story for you: it seems there’s a Hollywood gigolo named Guy who prowls the streets in his tight jeans and leather jacket, and then ladies pick him up and later give him money! Ha ha, there’s a montage of him with various naked ladies that seems to go on forever! One day Guy is picked up by a glamorous old lady, and he eventually makes his way to her palatial home, where he is given absinthe! He starts sweating and crying and eventually takes all his clothes off and runs in circles on the front lawn! Ha ha!
Next thing you know, poor sweaty Guy is tied to a bed and being burned with cigarettes as the lip-smacking old lady and her two gentleman friends have their various ways with him! Yikes! When he wakes up in the morning he goes berserk, puts a punching on everybody, then runs off! He keeps running until he arrives at a ranch run by none other than crusty old Keenan Wynn, whom we all know from such gems as Piranha and Herbie Rides Again! Wynn plays Jed, and he lives there with his teenage granddaughter Chris, played by Donna “Blood Song” Wilkes! Ha ha, it seems that Chris’s mother was struck by lightning one night on the beach, and so it’s just the two of them now!
Before you know it Guy has become their handyman, and he’s even fixing up the old motorbike in the barn! Chris develops a crush on the handsome prostitute of course, but he remains a gentleman! But soon the idyll is broken, because it seems Jed is a-feudin’ with another old rancher, the nefarious Curly! The local cops take a dislikin’ to Guy as well, and soon, after Jed is found beaten, he’s on the run again, rolling down hills, jumping off cliffs and crawling through caves, where he gets attacked by bats in a scene right out of Nightwing! Finally, raggedy and bleeding, he crawls out of the mountain only to face the maniacal Curly – but, ha ha, don’t count old Jed out just quite yet!
This one’s all over the place, ha ha! The early scenes are filled with Hollywood sleaze, and they pack a lot of full-frontal in there, and then you have the sadistic sexual torture scene; but then, when Guy gets to Jed’s farm, it’s like a pastoral family film, with plenty of waving grasses in the foreground and lots of softrocking song interludes! It gets a little more violent again by the end, with a climax that will probably remind you of the one in Explosion; but there’s still a pretty perplexing series of tonal shifts that really would end up pleasing nobody, except maybe the connoisseur of strange movies – a person, ha ha, such as myself!
There are a few familiar faces lurking in the margins of this picture, like John Crawford, whom we know from The Boogens, as Sheriff Josh – nobody calls him “Sheriff” at all actually, just Josh! Then we get Henry Brandon from The War of the Worlds as Curly, and, in the role of a flirtatious old waitress, Keenan Wynn’s co-star from The Dark, Jacqueline Hyde! Ha ha, if you’ll recall, and I’m sure you do, she played De Renzy in The Dark!
Well, there’s not much more I can tell you about this peculiar little late-70s burblenton! The actor who played Guy, Michael Christian, wrote the movie for himself, and so I guess it’s a bit of a vanity project! It’s not a very good movie, but it has a certain compelling quality, and you are rooting for Guy even if he’s a pathetic lump of a character! Even though the title is virtually unspeakable (it's also known as Hard Knocks), I’m going to give Mid-Knight Rider two theater marquees advertising Same Time Next Year!

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Burl reviews Blood Screams! (1987)

Hoy hoy muchachos, it’s Burl, here with a review of a little-known American-Mexican horror picture called Blood Screams! It was originally known as The Bloody Monks, which makes it sound a lot more like one of those Blind Dead pictures than it actually is, ha ha!
The movie opens with a scene set hundreds of years in the past, in which a cruel, gold-hungry plutocrat tosses an endless succession of monks from the top of a tall monastery tower! Then it’s the present, and we join Karen, a young American lady traveling by train through Mexico! Frank, a magician and moustacheman played by Russ Tamblyn, who’s well known from pictures as diverse as The Haunting, War of the Gargantuas and Django Unchained, has glommed on to her as an unwanted companion, but she would prefer to chat with the brooding Hymie, a young fellow who looks like a Mexican Wayne Gretzky!
Hymie gets off at the town where the monks plummeted, which is his hometown – he’s here to figure out the mystery of what he saw as a boy when he found his father dead of a slashed throat – he recalls seeing something so horrific it put him into a fugue state, but he can’t remember just exactly what it was! Karen follows him rather than stay with the jerky Frank, and of course gets caught up in the supernatural shenanigans which are plaguing the town! She also begins to have bad dreams which involve things like Hymie with an oatmeal face or zombie monks busting through the walls like unholy Kool-Aid Men!
There’s lot going on here: the Mystery Of What Hymie Saw, the zombie monks, the murderous ghost of the cruel hacendado, a witch (played by Isela Vega from Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia), a young American bartendress who is apparently under her thrall, a friend of Hymie’s who has secrets of his own which may or may not be connected to the missing gold and the murder of Hymie’s father, and of course the unstoppable Frank, who jumps off his train and spends the whole movie making his way cross country to catch up with Karen! It’s a lot to pack into seventy-five minutes!
Blood Screams also offers some of the worst acting on record, particularly from the young lady who tends the bar! We also get some overly bright cinematography (which I suppose is preferable to overly dark, ha ha), dialogue that sounds like it’s meant as placeholders for the real dialogue, and some of the worst Special Makeup Effects since Bad Meat! All of this conspires to give Blood Screams a very community theatre feel!
I do have to single out one performer, however: Russ Tamblyn! Not only can he do magic tricks, he can act! He also uses his skills as a dancer and tumbler to do some quite risky train stunts, ha ha! These are shot in such a way that there’s no mistaking that it’s actually Russ doing these things and not a stuntman, and I have to say I admire the actor and his can-do attitude!
On balance, while it’s certainly a complete zagnut, it’s an enjoyable one, so I’m going to grin, shake my head softly and give Blood Screams two completely pointless witches!

Burl reviews The Mean Season! (1985)

Why, stop the presses, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here with another review for you, this time of a mostly forgotten mid-80s newspaper thriller called The Mean Season! It was the first step into the Hollywood machine for its director, Phillip Borsos, who’d earlier made that fine Richard “Into the Night” Farnsworth bandit movie The Grey Fox! Like William Girdler, the young fellow who made The Manitou, Borsos was struck down at an all-too-early age, leaving his career largely a matter of speculation!
We can certainly consider The Mean Season as a pretty fair consideration of his authorial stamp, if he had one! Ha ha, I always think it’s a good test of a director’s skills to do a completely generic middlebrow thriller script like this, just to see what they do with it! Mostly they end up making completely generic middlebrow thrillers, ha ha, but not always!
Here we have Kurt Russell, well known from his role in Big Trouble in Little China, playing a newspaper reporter fairly characterized by his editor (played by Russell’s compatriot in The Thing, Richard Masur) as not having done the job long enough to be as burnt out as he thinks he is! At any rate, he and his ladyfriend, Mariel Hemingway, are about to pull up stakes and move to Colorado when, what do you know, a crazyman begins a program of murder and pulls Russell into his scheme by enlisting him as his “conduit to the public!” This means plenty of waiting around for the phone to ring and a great many laden phone conversations once it does! Meanwhile, shutterbug Joe Pantoliano snaps photos of everything he sees!
The cops, represented by Richard Bradford and a young Andy Garcia, seem engaged but at the same time curiously aloof! Eventually, after some help from none other than William Smith of Action U.S.A. fame, the killer is identified as Richard “The Hunt For Red October” Jordan, delivering a fine performance as the cunning but pathetic psychopath! There’s a kidnapping and a chase and a small twist later borrowed by The Silence of the Lambs!
On the whole it’s a story we’ve seen before! Helping it stand out a little bit are the many shots of heavy skies and swaying palms which presage the climactic hurricane; the accurate-feeling newsroom atmosphere (it seems closer to reality than The Paper, anyway!) and a pretty solid cast! There’s also a barely-seen Special Makeup Effect near the end, courtesy of cosmetician Craig “Dreamscape” Reardon! Ha ha, gruesome!
But it mostly stays doggedly within the framework of the Generic 80s Thriller! It never really takes advantage of the opportunities for suspense, and though it wrestles manfully with the ethical problems faced by Russell’s character, and isn’t afraid to show him being a jerk, there’s not much more to him than that, along with his much remarked-upon newspaper writing acumen, of course! It’s an okay picture and you could do a lot worse – ha ha, I certainly liked it better than other 80s pflugulens like Someone To Watch Over Me or Black Widow, for example – but on balance I think I’ll have to award The Mean Season two marvelous green Mustangs!

Monday 12 May 2014

Burl reviews The Manitou! (1978)

Paloon fitchy boogaloo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, just what does that crazy nonsense mean, you might be asking! Well, it means that old Burl recently watched The Manitou again, and I’ll tell you this, ha ha: I think it might be the movie which contains the most mumbo-jumbo I’ve ever heard in one single picture!
It’s a crazy one all right! Of course, as we all know it was the last movie made by the young William Girdler, who’d already directed eight or nine pictures before this, and he was only thirty! But sadly he died in a helicopter crash a few months before The Manitou was released in the spring of 1978, and we never got to see what kind of crazy movies he would make thereafter!
Now, The Manitou is a real pixystick, and I’ll try to illustrate why! We meet poor Karen Tandy, who is played by Susan “The Trip” Strasberg, and who is not the CEO of Radio Shack but in fact a San Francisco lady with a problem! She’s got a massive fleshee on her back, and it’s growing! The fleshee baffles all the doctors in the high rise hospital, and it’s up to Karen’s ex-b*yfriend, a fake mystic named Harry played by Tony “Brainwaves” Curtis, to persuade the medicos that in fact the fleshee is no ordinary fleshee, but the corporal figure of an ancient medicine man incarnating itself in Susan’s thoracic region! Ha ha!
Well, pretty soon John Singing Rock, in his own words “just a South Dakota Indian with a bag of tricks,” is brought in to help! John Singing Rock resists Harry’s appeal at first, but pretty soon, between Harry, John and Karen’s specialist, we have a Jaws-like (or Grizzly-like if you prefer, considering the director) motley male trio on the track of Mister Maquas, the medicine man, who’s as primal a force as any shark or bear! And pretty soon, who comes a-knockin’ from inside that fleshee: yes, despite all the powdered barriers and shaking of bones, Mister Maquas pops out, grimacing, and he’s a real nasty little spud too!
Ha ha, with a set up like this who would have predicted the tenth floor of the hospital transformed into the ice planet Hoth, with one room becoming a portal to the limitless reaches of space, and exploding doctors and frozen nurses, and and a t*pless lady on a floating hospital bed shooting lasers from her hands at the three-lobed burning eye of infinite evil! Ha ha!
So it’s crazy and deeply silly, but also almost as entertaining as it sounds! A scene early in the picture involving Harry and one of his clients, an old lady who becomes suddenly possessed, shouts “Panaa Witchy Salatuu!” and floats down the hall to tumble down the stairs, seems an untoppable highlight of hilarity, but the whole last act blobs down all over it like a blancmange! Ha ha, just about everybody in the picture says “Panaa Witchy Salatuu” at least once, and it probably should have been the tag line on the movie poster!
There are a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, like Burgess “Grumpy Old Men” Meredith as a grumpy old man, and Stella “The Mad Room” Stevens as a mystic! There are lots of old ladies too, in the first half of the movie anyway, and these are played by the likes of Ann Sothern, Lurene Tuttle and Jeanette Nolan! And in the role of Mister Maquas we get two diminutive performers, Felix Silla (who played creatures of some kind in The Brood, Demon Seed, House and many others), and Joe Gieb, who was in Weird Science as a blob operator!
In the end, as I’ve done so many times, the bottom line really amounts to “This is a terrible movie! Ha ha, go see it!” It’s just amazingly silly and derivative, but you won’t easily find a more 1970s horror experience anywhere else! It was also Girdler’s final work, and even though it was certainly not intended as such, that seems to imbue it with certain meaning or import! So have a look, ha ha! I give The Manitou two and a half exploding typewriters!

Saturday 3 May 2014

Burl reviews The Mad Room! (1969)

Good day, eh, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a picture made and very firmly set in the Great White North – a movie made in 1969 and known to all as The Mad Room!
Ha ha, I was pretty sure this was another one of your standard-issue batty-old-dame pictures, like the ones Curtis Harrington was making at the time! Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice and things like that! But although it has a similar look to those, and takes place in a big old rambling house, and features Shelley “The Visitor” Winters as not so much a batty old dame as a horny one, The Mad Room ultimately travels along a different path!
The picture, set on Vancouver Island, stars Stella “The Manitou” Stevens as Ellen, a young lady who works as some sort of companion or assistant to the massage-loving Mrs. Armstrong, played by Winters! She’s planning to get hitched to Mrs. Armstrong’s stepson Sam, and everything’s going along smoothly until she gets a letter from Toronto informing her that her younger brother and sister, both in their late teens, are ready to leave the bughouse, where they’ve been locked up for a dozen years after apparently committing a brutal double parricide! But which of the two actually did the foul but not entirely undeserved deed, no one can say, as the children themselves were too young to remember!
George and Mandy are a little weird, ha ha, but not alarmingly so – at least not at first! Ellen brings them back to Mrs. Armstrong’s house but tells no one about the real facts of the case! But the pressure of maintaining this fiction is to much for the youngsters, ha ha! And then there’s the mad room itself: the dedicated space these youngsters require in order to spend private time “working out their problems!” Ellen secures a forbidden attic room for this purpose, but when Mrs. Armstrong discovers this, and subsequently the truth about the kids and their dead parents, things take a turn for the bloody and soon a big wooly dog is carrying a severed hand around the house!
Ha ha, this story started life as a play, and when things slow down or stop entirely for some talky scenes, you can really sense the stagy origins! The central mystery doesn’t really make sense, since the kids weren’t quite so young as to be completely unable to remember what really happened all those years ago! So the premise is pretty shaky, but the execution is solid! Ha ha, director Bernard Girard, who gave us A Name For Evil only a year after this one, gets good performances from everyone, particularly Stevens and Winters! Stevens in particular has a lot of different stuff to do in the movie, some of it pretty over the top as is expected in a Gothic guignol, and she performs it all quite capably!
The cast includes a very welcome appearance from Beverly Garland, whom we know and love from Gunslinger and It’s My Turn, among many other movies, and here she plays a small but resonant part as a woman whose husband is always massaging everybody! Ha ha! Severn Darden from Vanishing Point and Back to School plays a construction boss, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the point of his character, unless it was just a way to get Severn Darden into the movie, which is reasonable enough; and the kids are played by Barbara “Stand Alone” Sammeth and Michael “Thumb Tripping” Burns!
Altogether it’s an okay little mystery picture, though outside of the scene with the doggy and the hand, it never gets as weird as one would like! No, ha ha, I can’t call it a memorable picture! But it’s good enough while it’s on, and because it’s got a fine cast working hard, I’m going to give The Mad Room two papers from Manitoba! Ha ha!