Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 28 June 2014

Burl reviews Death Valley! (1982)

Haw haw cowpoke, it’s Burl, here to review a rootin’ tootin’ slashin’ gashin’ tale of the wild fronteer! It’s one of the high-tone maniac killer pictures of 1982, Death Valley! Now, even though I haven’t contributed to it for some time, my growing taxonomy of slasher pictures is an ongoing project, and this particular one is of the sort you’d expect everyone connected to it would prefer was called a suspense thriller, ha ha!
Oh, you know the type! There are usually a couple of name actors in there, and certainly someone visiting from the television world! Think of Happy Birthday To Me with Glenn Ford and Melissa Sue Anderson, or Visiting Hours with William Shatner and Lee Grant, or The Initiation with Vera Miles and Daphne Zuniga, or even Too Scared To Scream, with Touch Connors and Ian McShane! Not many murder scenes (except for Happy Birthday To Me), nor much blood when they do occur (the exception once again being Happy Birthday To Me), and they usually run five or ten minutes longer than a slasher movie should!
Death Valley shares many of these qualities, though at 87 minutes it isn’t too long – just feels that way sometimes, ha ha! The picture begins with a long scene of frolic between young Billy – that is, The Dirt Bike Kid himself, bespectacled Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story – and his dad, bespectacled Edward Herrmann from The Lost Boys! Of course dad and mom are divorced, and mom, Catherine Hicks from Child’s Play that is, is taking Billy out West, back to her home country and her high school beau Mike, played by a drawling Paul LeMat, the actor well-known for his parts in Grave Secrets and Strange Invaders! (Ha ha, I always thought LeMat and Jeff Fahey must be cousins or something!)
But there’s a slasher killer about, played by a fairly young Stephen McHattie, though not so young a McHattie as we saw in Moving Violation! After taking out an RV of teenagers – a promising beginning – McHattie must hang his mchattie and wait it out with the rest of us while Billy and Mike get to know each other while mom fusses in the background! Luckily a walrus-whiskered cop played by the one and only A. Wilford Brimley (from The Thing, of course) adds some spice to things briefly, but only briefly! Ha ha, he and Scatman Crothers, and Richard Farnsworth too for that matter, could swap stories about heroics interrupted by sudden sucking chest wounds!
The rest of the picture involves western-themed stalking and chasing, then there’s some fisticuffs and some maniacs get offed, and I think one of them is impaled on a cactus! Ha ha! (That’s right, ha ha, I said maniacs – there’s two of them, just like in Just Before Dawn!)
It’s not always a very peppy picture, it’s true! Why, a good half hour or so of screen time is dedicated to showing a hefty babysitter eating snacks! And there’s lots and lots and lots of relationship stuff, scenes of friendly Mike reaching out to the young lad, with poor LeMat being wrestled to le mat each time by Billy’s apple-cheeked stoicism! The picture kind of stacks the deck against LeMat by having Edward Herrmann as Billy’s real dad – you can see he’d be hard to compete with! They clearly did that on purpose, because it successfully gives the Billy-Mike relationship a genuine, if pedestrian, arc, from which not even a scream escapes!
Even though it’s slow and uneventful, it retains the capacity to entertain! The cast is strong (semi-familiar faces like Jack “Sweater Girls” O’Leary and Mary “Weird Science” Steelsmith fill out the supporting roles), it’s got more stolid craftsmanship to it than most of these things, and the locations are nice! It’s got a little bit of tomato paste (impalings don’t you know!) and a pretty mundane story! Ha ha, altogether I’m going to give Death Valley one and a half shower caps filled with a product compote!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Burl reviews Shadow of the Hawk! (1976)

Lu-lu-lu-lu, it’s Burl, here to review a spookshow from the 70s! Ha ha, this is certainly not the first time I’ve done so, and it’s not likely to be the last! Today’s motion picture is called Shadow of the Hawk, and it’s a relatively rare one! I’d certainly never seen it before, and I’m supposed to be an expert in this kind of thing!
I’ll tell you the plot if you’d like! Young Mike, played by Jan-Michael Vincent of Damnation Alley and Enemy Territory, is a Vancouver businessman who enjoys throwing parties and swimming in pools with his ladyfriend! But at the same time he’s being plagued by strange visions: a terrible masked figure seems to be stalking him, showing up outside his condominium window (this scene is extremely similar to, and as effective as, and predates, remember, the one in ‘Salem’s Lot!) or in the water of his pool! Meanwhile, Mike’s grandpappy Old Man Hawk, a medicine man from a community somewhere far out of town, is making the long journey by foot into the city to see his grandson! Along the way he meets Maureen, a nosy-parker journalist, who somehow ends up coming along for the rest of the adventure, and having some encounters with the mask herself!
Of course Old Man Hawk is played by Chief Dan George, and very well too I might add! He needs Mike to help him take care of a nasty ghost witch who’s hexing and poxing and whammying the community with her clown magic! Ha ha! And of course Old Man Hawk has to work pretty hard to convince Mike and Maureen that any of this is true!
Most of the movie involves the trip back to the community, which is complicated by the evil influence of the witch! She has some minions who travel by car until Old Man Hawk puts a stop to them by use of an invisible wall! Ha ha, it’s a terrific sequence, with some daring stunt work by the much-maligned J-M Vincent!
In fact the movie contains a fair bit of daring stunt work, particularly in a scene where a rope bridge is swung crazily about by witchy forces! There's also an impressive bear fight and some great jeep driving! The movie looks good too, and – a bit of trivia for you movie credit nerds, ha ha – even though the picture lists two cinematographers in the opening credits, it was actually shot by two completely different ones who get no credit at all, namely Richard “The Dunwich Horror” Glouner and Philip “Deadly Friend” Lathrop!
The picture’s climax involves shambling, zombie-like figures and a shapeshifter as well as the ghost-witch, so it really works hard to tick off the horror boxes, ha ha! It’s not by any stretch a great or particularly effective movie (though it has some great moments), but it’s a comfortably enjoyable picture, and remarkably seamless given its troubled, complicated production history! I liked it, and I give Shadow of the Hawk three magic powder lines across the road!

Sunday 22 June 2014

Burl reviews Porky's (1982)

Oink oink, it’s Burl, here to review a very famous and beloved teenage sex comedy, Porky’s! You’ve probably seen it, and so had I, several times in fact, but recently I somehow discovered myself watching it again!
Ha ha, shall I reacquaint you with the plot? Well there isn’t one, not really, but there are several situations and these are strung along separately in a sort of continuation that creates the facsimile of a narrative! The setting is Angel Beach, Florida during the Eisenhower era, and the lads of Angel Beach High, all of them looking like they ought to have seen the back of Angel Beach High during the Truman administration, are up to various shenanigans! Ha ha, we never see them in a classroom, for their days are dedicated to complicated pranking scenarios and efforts to espy their female classmates in dishabille!
We learn about Pee Wee’s problems of length, and about Meat’s surfeit of same! We are introduced to the Jewish boy, Brian, who’s handy with his dukes! There’s the young greaser redneck with father problems, and some nondescript boys without any defining characteristics! There are some coaches and coachettes, including the legendary Ms. Balbricker (played by Nancy Parsons from Smokey Bites the Dust and Motel Hell!), and an older-brother cop played by Art Hindle from The Brood! And eventually there is Porky, and the lads’ confrontation with him at his eponymous hostelry, and their final victory over the inbred and corrupt forces of crackerdom!
Of course the movie has more on its mind than just shenanigans! In fact, it dares to tackle a Very Serious Issue: anti-Semitism among the JD set! Ha ha, there are several punch-ups on the subject in fact, and lessons are finally learned! And then in celebration an egg is broken on someone’s forehead!
But the centerpiece of the picture is certainly its famous shower scene! Ha ha, the boys crawl into some part of Angel Beach High, where, within a crawlspace, they find some nonsensical peepholes that the Porky’s art department threw together without bothering to reconcile how such peepholes could exist in the first place!
And that’s our good luck, because that would be boring! Instead we get a very busy shower scene, containing “so much wool you could knit a sweater!” Ha ha! It’s the scene this picture is known for above all others, and rightly so! Between viewings of the picture, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what goes on in many of the other scenes, which sounds like a callous dismissal of the picture, but in fact I count it as an advantage, since it lends the thing endless rewatchability! Ha ha!
The movie has a nice fog-filtery look and is well directed, and on top of it all is, like Spring Break, perfectly cast! Most of the actors never did much other than this movie (with the exception of several Canadians, including Kim “Big Trouble in Little China” Cattrall and Doug “Black Christmas” McGrath; and of course we know that Porky himself was in Good Bye Cruel World), but they are each of them perfectly cast! It’s an enjoyable if silly movie, and no wonder it was such a hit! I give Porky’s two Pigmobiles!

Friday 20 June 2014

Burl reviews WolfCop! (2014)

Arooo, it’s Burl, here to review a new werewolf picture for you – a low-budget lycanthropic tale called WolfCop that I just now saw in a big, if largely empty, movie theatre! Ha ha, I have to say up front that it’s always a pleasure to see a low-budget horror movie in the theatre, no matter the quality of the actual film!
I’ll tell you, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping for something good, and if not good, then fun and gory! And to an extent I got what I hoped for! The picture begins with an alcoholic cop named, ahhh-ha-ha-ha, wait for it, Lou Garou, who is not just a bad cop, but probably the worst cop I’ve ever seen portrayed on film! I don’t mean he hits people with truncheons or anything, ha ha; he’s just remarkably terrible at his job!
He gets bopped on the head and ritualized in the woods somehow, and the next thing you know he’s not getting five o’clock shadow, but five-second-later shadow! And, as in other werewolf pictures, such as An American Werewolf in London just to cite one example, small dogs take a strange interest in him! But the town is meanwhile beset by many travails, including missing pets, a drugs gang, a robbery gang, mysterious occurrences of all kinds, and a mayoral election, so the newly minted wolf cop is kept very busy! All of this is very fuzzily sketched out, with some things left, or made, much more confusing than they ought to be, usually by the omission of some basic information! Frankly, it was almost as bad as Bad Meat, ha ha – but not quite, because nothing could be!
This brings us to the picture’s most pressing and dire problem: poor storytelling! Some of the character confusion is explained near the end by the introduction of shapeshifting frog people to the brew, but in general everything the movie attempts, whether it be the main narrative, the perplexing back story (something about Lou’s father, who was a cop, and the lady cop’s father, who was a bartender, and something something mysterious deaths?) or the attempt to mint a unique mythology, is scuppered by the writer-director’s dearth of storytelling skill!
There are other problems too: the lead actor, with his Danny Huston hair, is weak (though considerably better in wolf form); the staging is often inept, particularly in the action scenes; and there are too many bad lite-metal songs on the soundtrack! Ha ha! But this is not to say the picture doesn’t have its charms, because it most certainly does! The other performances range from competent to good, with a cracker moustacheman played by Jonathan Cherry a particular highlight! The trick effects by Emersen Ziffle are, in general, excellent (though the wolfcop makeup looks a little raggedy in some scenes, ha ha), and there are touches of cleverness scattered throughout the film!
But the resolution makes so little sense that even the wolfcop questions it! Ha ha! I mean, how could someone lead a drugs gang and be a police chief at the same time? Or tend bar and be a mayor? And where did the frog people come from originally, and why do some of them burst into flames when shot, and others do not?
There’s no point in asking these questions, I realize! For me there was much sublime pleasure simply in going to the movie theatre to see what Joe Bob always called the three essential Bs: blood, breasts and beasts! This picture has them all, and if the werewolf looks a little more like the one in Death Moon than the one in American Werewolf, well, no matter! I’m impressed with this picture for even existing! I’m going to give WolfCop two Liquor Donuts and urge you to check it out at your earliest convenience!

Thursday 19 June 2014

Burl reviews Toy Story! (1995)

A good day to you! Ha ha, it’s Burl here to review an animated picture from… what? Almost twenty years back? Why, how time does fly! Ha ha, I still think of Toy Story as a new picture, I guess, because it fits in so well with all the many computer animated movies that have been made steadily ever since!
Now, I’ll tell you right off the bat that I’ve never seen any of these pictures! Ha ha, the most recently-made animated feature film I’ve seen is Beauty and the Beast, which I saw in the theater with a ladyfri*nd way back in 1991! I guess all these years I figured they were mainly films for kids, and that I would one day have a kid of my own with whom I could watch them! And now that’s the case, ha ha!
So until yesterday, I’d never seen Toy Story, and now I have! “Ha ha, what did you think of it, Burl?” you’re probably saying to your computer screen right now! Well, I thought it was pretty amusing! It was fast-paced and funny, just as I was expecting it to be!
Tom Hanks, famed from his appearance in The Money Pit, stars as Woody, a talking-cowboy doll which bears no resemblance to any actual toy I’ve ever heard of! He’s the de facto leader of the playthings in Andy’s room, but his benevolent rule, and his status as Andy’s Favourite, are threatened when the lad receives a Buzz Lightyear for his birthday present! There’s acrimony in toyland, and the two rivals must undertake a harrowing journey through a space-themed pizza restaurant and the home of a sadistic child, and not miss the moving van that will soon take everybody to a new home! Each must deal with his own troubles along the way: Buzz has to realizeand then deal with the realization that he’s not a real space ranger but only a child’s amuse-bon; while Woody must address his tendency toward mild unctuousness!
The movie is a trifle, but an enjoyable one! The voice casting is marvelous: Tim Allen, who is probably best known for his headlining appearance in What Do You Say To A Naked Lady?, sounds remarkably like Mel Gibson in his role as Buzz! Wallace Shawn from My Dinner With André plays a meek dinosaur; John Ratzenberger, known principally for his role in Protocol, is an officious pig; Annie Potts of Ghostbusters is a sexy Bo Peep; R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket is, of course, the leader of a platoon of army men; and Laurie Metcalf of Uncle Buck is Andy’s mom!
Little details delight the semi-alert viewer throughout, like the Alien-themed bop-em at the pizza place, or the fact that Andy’s house is being sold by Virtual Realty, or the mix-n-matched mutant toys led by a crab-legged confabulation that could only have been inspired by The Thing! I suppose the computer animation must look pretty crude to purveyors of todays cartoonshows, but it looked okay to me! I think I was right to start my journey into feature-length computer animation with the first one of them made!
There wasn’t much work done on the details of how life as a toy really works, though a set of capital-R Rules is alluded to at one point! Nor were they much concerned with providing any internal logic to the fancy! But ha ha, none of this bothered ol’ Burl! I guess I should watch the sequels, and maybe that has more of that business, if I ever do get curious about it! At any rate, it’s an inoffensive and fast-paced amusement, and I give it two and a half tributes to Gary Larson!

Monday 16 June 2014

Burl reviews Edge of Tomorrow! (2014)

Hi, Burl here, to review a new science-fiction picture about time loops! Hi, Burl here, to review a new science-fiction picture about time loops! Ha ha, did I get you there? No, you’re not in a time loop – I’m just here to review a picture with the soap-opera-y title Edge of Tomorrow, which is a science-fiction picture about time loops that I’m here to review for you, here to review for you, here to review for you! Ha ha!
Yes, I do admit that this picture features Tom Cruise, who is well-known from Jack Reacher; but did you realize that this movie gives you multiple chances to see Cruise die horribly on screen? It does! I mention this for those who dislike Cruise! I myself have no strong feelings about this particular thespian, though I did feel that the opening scenes of the picture, in which Cruise plays a glib and craven army PR man, match his public persona almost as well as his role in Magnolia!
Cage is the name of this character, and after an extremely efficient opening in which we learn, within less than two minutes, that a) the world has been invaded by buggy-wuggy aliens who have conquered Europe; b) Cage has been tasked with selling the war to those who think it strictly a European problem; and c) that a lady named Rita has emerged as the combat’s greatest hero so far, has been named The Angel of Verdun and has proven a handy tool for Cage’s propaganda, it only takes a further two minutes for Cruise to so offend General Brendan Gleeson that he’s shanghaied into service as a grunt in the imminent D-Day invasion!
Quickly, Cage is killed by the whipper-snappery creatures, but he’s gained the power of reset: each time he dies, he returns to Forward Operating Base Heathrow (where I myself recently spent some time thank you very much!) and begins the day again! He further learns that the same thing happened to The Angel of Verdun, and that it’s up to the two of them to find and destroy the evil central brain that controls the entire invading army! So, as every single other reviewer of this picture has pointed out, what we have here is Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day!
Indeed the picture is almost precisely that, and moreover it’s as entertaining as that co-mingling would suggest! Ha ha! As the movie goes on and Cruise must lose his cowardly-incompetent persona, becoming something much closer to the usual Cruise character (even repeating his grenade-pin trick from War of the Worlds near the end of the picture), it necessarily loses a bit of juice, but you can see a real effort is being made to be at once propulsive and at least a bit intelligent!
Of course there are the usual wild improbabilities, but that sort of stuff doesn’t trouble ol’ Burl much in pictures like this! We also get several scenes with a science doctor who has the entire alien deal figured out, but no one will listen: a character who seems plucked whole from Pacific Rim (and other pictures too of course!) and whose scenes are Terex MT-sized exposition dumps! And there’s an ending that (for me anyway) raised a lot more questions than it solved, but is at least improved by sharp cutting!
It’s frequently clever, not just in the writing, staging and editing, but when it comes to such details as casting! Bill “Weird Science” Paxton plays a Kentucky sergeant, the sort of character we’ve seen ten million times before, including in such pictures as Paxton’s own Aliens, ha ha, but appears most specifically modeled on Michael Ironside’s teacher-turned-topkick from Starship Troopers! He’s fairly perfect in the role! 
Even though I couldn't usually care less about box-office figures, particularly for blockbusters, I am rooting for this one to make some dough, just so medium-smart non-sequel movies might keep getting made! Of course, while it's not fair or accurate to put everything at the doorway of this picture, it does feel like something of a bellwether! In any case, for summer enjoyment, I’ll give Edge of Tomorrow two and a half crushings by army truck! Aiiii, ha ha!

Thursday 12 June 2014

Burl reviews Only Lovers Left Alive! (2013)

Bluh bluh, it’s Burl, here to review a vampire picture for you! But yes, you’re right, it’s not quite the usual vampire picture, but a vampire picture made by Jim Jarmusch! And if you’re now making the assumption that the vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive are louche, international sophisticates who consume culture as hungrily as they do blood, you’d be entirely correct! Ha ha!
I have a long and fulsome relationship with Jarmusch films! For example, I saw Mystery Train at a premiere festival screening – the North American if not the world premiere, in fact – and at the end of it, after Jarmusch did a little Q&A, they rolled a piano out onto the stage and Screamin’ jay Hawkins ran out and jumped on top of it, pounding on the keyboard upside down and shooting fireballs from his fingertips! Ha ha, it was great! Another time I saw Year of the Horse at a midnight screening where Jim and, of all people, Henry Silva came out and did a marvelous talk! I’ve seen as many as possible in the movie theatre: Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man, Ghost Dog and so forth! In short, I’m a fan!
And so along came Only Lovers Left Alive, and it did not disappoint! The picture stars Tilda Swinton, who has of late been populating Wes Anderson films like Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Tom Hiddleston, of The Avengers and Midnight in Paris fame, as two vampires named Adam and Eve, married but living apart, and still very much in love! They don’t put a biting on people, but get their blood from hospitals, and each of them have spent centuries reading, listening to music, learning about science and so forth! The only area of interest they don’t pursue is history, since, ha ha, they’ve lived it!
Eve dwells in Tangiers and hangs out with aging grampire Christopher Marlowe, who really did write Shakespeare’s plays and who is portrayed by that aging old grampire John Hurt! Adam, on the other hand, is a mopey postrocker living in the wildernesses of Detroit; his Renfield is an eager-to-please longhair named Ian, played by Anton Yelschin from Fright Night and Star Trek Into Darkness! We get a sense of their lifestyles and the things they enjoy doing, and after a while Eve journeys to Detroit to visit her hubby! (She books nighttime flights to get there, and the movie ignores the fact that there’s no such thing as a transatlantic flight which takes place entirely at night! But never mind!)
Soon, as foretold by dreams, Eve’s sister-buddy arrives to shake things up! Ha ha, she’s played by Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska like a vampire version of Ian Holm’s daughter from The Sweet Hereafter! A crisis point is arrived at and the two hemogobblers recuse themselves to Tangiers, where more problems await!
But you can forget about all the character and plot stuff I just told you, because really this movie is about what Jim Jarmusch would do if he was a vampire, and more particularly a movie about appreciating cool stuff! They’re really just a pair of superfans, immortal observers of the great cultural tapestry mankind is weaving just (it seems) for them, and which they embellish regularly themselves!
Some of the dialogue and the stuff struck me as rather obvious or hamhanded; but many other times I was pleasantly struck by a flourish or an idea! There’s a marvelous scene in a movie palace that felt almost like a centerpiece or Holy Motors-style entr’acte! The punchline to this scene made me actually wince, for I saw the movie in a cavernous theatre which is, in a few days’ time at this writing, due to close its doors forever! I have a real history with this particular downtown threeplex – a movie of my own premiered there, after all – and will miss it most heartily!
I enjoyed this vampire picture, so different from and yet so indebted to the Hammer vampire pictures of yore! I’ll give Only Lovers Left Alive three faces melting in acid!

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Burl reviews Next of Kin! (1989)

Haw haw, it’s Burl here with some hilbillysploitation! Or what should have been hillbillysploitation anyway! Yes, I’m talking about Next of Kin - no, not the Atom Egoyan picture, but that forgotten vengeance-actioner from the director of Ghost Story! This is the movie Patrick “Grandview U.S.A.” Swayze made right after Road House, and I got the idea it might have been made the way it was in reaction to that campy hübermacho bar brawl picture! It almost plays like Swayze or someone in his employ went through the script and excised anything that might be construed as camp or goofnuggets, but their own taste failed them, and they never stood back and took a look at the big, patently ridiculous picture!
I don’t mean to malign the name of Swayze—I worked on one of his movies once and he was a nice guy! And I don’t say the picture is wholly without merit – you’ll see, for example, that it has an interesting cast! The story is silly, but also kind of basic and obvious, and the whole thing has the feel of a Steven Segal flick that got a surprise upgrade from coach and is overcompensating for its new posh surroundings in a stilted, hyper-formal manner!
The picture opens with two Chicago hillbillies, Truman Gates (Swayze) and his little brother, played by Bill “Aliens” Paxton! You’ll never forget that name, Truman Gates, because they say it seventy-five-hundred times in the movie! Paxton, who works stocking and transporting vending machines with his pal David Jenkins, is popgunned in the head by a nasty Mafia bully played by Adam “Full Metal Jacket” Baldwin! Next thing you know, Briar, the oldest and biggest brother in the Gates family, played by Liam Neeson as though in preparation for pictures like Taken 2, goes on a corn-likker rampage about it all, adventuring through the Windy City and prodding his do-little brother, the film’s ostensible action star, into doing something! Their conflict climaxes in a handcuff-barfight that goes on almost as long as the one in Action U.S.A.! The head of the family is played by the same baddie from Someone To Watch Over Me, Andreas Katsulas; but is he so bad, really? His boy, whom he’s grooming for a high place in the family, and is played by a youthful Ben Stiller, certainly thinks highly of him! But Baldwin, the spurned deputy, is fuming and plotting from the margins in true Cracker Shakespeare style! Ha ha!
After a great scene where Neeson rides around on El trains, and another where he shoots up some pinball machines (which made me a bit sad!), it all ends up with a lively firefight in a graveyard! But there’s such a deficit of action here that, absent the barfight, I’d almost hesitate to call Next of Kin an action movie! But it does have that cast of worthies, including a young Helen Hunt almost straight from Trancers, and such welcome presences as Michael J. Pollard, playing a flophouse manager, Ted Levine as a bearded hillbilly, and Del Close as a consigliere!
But there’s so much mediocrity on view, so pedestrian a plot and so many terrible country songs that the balance cannot be favourable! They should have kept in all that extra Road House camp, and then we might have had something pretty memorable! As it stands, I give Next of Kin one school bus full of snakes!

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Burl reviews The Living Daylights! (1987)

Burl here, neither shaken nor stirred at the moment, ha ha! Yes, I’m here to review a Bond picture for you: one that sits in that hazy netherworld between crazy nussbaums like You Only Live Twice and the newer, more serious pictures like Skyfall! Under discussion today is one of the two Timothy Dalton movies: The Living Daylights, which, when I began watching it just the other day, I was astonished to discover I had never seen before!
Ha ha, it’s not often you find yourself watching a Bond movie for the first time! I’m pleased to report that it was quite a good one, too! Dalton, whom we know from his work in Looney Tunes: Back In Action, made a pretty solid Bond, I think! The picture begins on Gibraltar, with an 00 exercise that goes terribly wrong when an assassin takes out two of the double-noughts before Bond turns the tables and prosecutes an exciting car chase down the precarious roads! Of course Bond sends the baddie hurtling off a cliff, then parachutes down onto the yacht of a beautiful lady, and then bam! Opening credits, one of the chintzier-looking sets in the series!
The plot is pretty weak, I’m sorry to report – there’s a plot to kill spies, some diamond smuggling, a fake defector and some shady arms dealing, and somehow all of that is connected, but just exactly how never matters much! But all the stuff surrounding that is good, like that opening scene, and the bit where a tall, murderous  blond goon played by Andreas Wisniewski of Die Hard sets off a ridiculous trap involving a killer automatic door! There’s also a great scene where the goon kills a milkman and infiltrates a rather shoddily-guarded enclave! Bond always seems to be turning up at these locations too late to do anything, ha ha!
The other baddies are a jocular general played by Jeroen Krabbé from all those Verhoeven pictures, and a crazy, war-mongering pseudo-military man essayed by the great Joe Don Baker, whom we of course remember from Fletch! The main lady is well-played by Maryam “Xtro” D’Abo, and naturally John Rhys-Davies, known from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, appears as a Soviet general! Felix Leiter appears, this time played by John Terry, of Full Metal Jacket and Hotwire fame, rather than by Rik Van Nutter, who was probably my favourite Leiter, ha ha! And two stalwarts appear, both I think for the last time in the Bond series: Geoffrey Keen (who was in Moonraker, among others) and Walter Gotell, whom we may recall from Endless Night as well as many Bonds!
As I say, Dalton makes a fair Bond, though he doesn’t exhibit much of a personality! He gets a few quips and displays emotions, but little of it sticks! I’m inclined to think this is less Dalton’s fault than a simple lack of chemistry between him and the house style he’s meant to be a part of! But at the same time, he’s a better JB than Roger Moore, at least for my money!
It was an enjoyable picture, and all the more for me because I’d not seen it before! Certainly it was a major step up from A View To A Kill and Octopussy and the other nonsense movies that immediately preceded it! I call The Living Daylights enjoyable, and I give it two and a half rage-popped balloons!

Monday 9 June 2014

Burl reviews The Pit! (1981)

Hi, it’s Burl! Ha ha, watch out for that pit! Yes, it’s me, Burl, here both to bury and praise The Pit, that crazy tra-la-log movie from back in the early 80s! There are other tra-la-log movies, of course, but this I think is the definitive one! Sorry Joan Crawford, ha ha!
This one features Sammy Snyders – yes, Sammy Snyders, who could have been as big as Bieber – as Jamie, an oddball boy roaming about the town! Like everyone else, his parents don’t like him much, so they leave town and turn him over to the custody of a cute babysitter, Sandy! Jamie instantly falls in love and spends a lot of time either scheming to look or actually looking at Sandy with her clothes off! Ha ha, yes, he’s a little creep-kid!
Don’t forget that he’s got plenty of enemies around town, like the way-uptight librarian, Miss Livingstone, and her niece Abergail, and of course that nasty old bat Miss Oliphant! Naturally he dislikes Allan, the football hero who styles himself Sandy’s boyfriend! And free-punching Freddie, the bully, and his tutu-clad girlfriend! The rest of the townsfolk aren’t so much active enemies as people who view Jamie with simple disdain! Ha ha!
Also don’t forget that Jamie’s one good friend is his teddy, who both talks (in Jamie’s slightly-deepened voice) and swivels his head! And by garr, make sure you don’t forget that Jamie also knows of a pit in the woods within which dwell a gang of angry, red-eyed troll creatures, the tra-la-logs! Ha ha, yes, and naturally Jamie begins serving up his enemies, or those he perceives as such, to the toothy little wall hangings!
Ha ha, late – too late – in the film there’s a brief monster rampage, and that’s great, wish there was more! But the picture is still a must-see, frankly, for all sorts of crazy reasons! Old Miss Oliphant going into the pit in her wheelchair! The hectoring ghost of Sandy! The tape-recorder blackmail scene! And of course it is a film of mystery too: what is Miss Livingstone’s terrible secret, anyway, ha ha? She sure acts like she must have one! And hey, just why does Jamie’s mother wash him so much?
The key is to sit back and watch the film as you would some kind of issue-based TV movie, or maybe an Afterschool Special! That way, when the tra-la-logs start gorily ripping into someone, you’ll be surprised and delighted! Ha ha! Of course it’s not a great movie in most ways, but to me it has a lovely presence – though it is set and was I believe shot in the fall, to me it has the same summery Southern Ontario atmosphere as a picture like Funeral Home! And that’s an atmosphere I like a lot! It's not quite an Early Summer Classic, but it's a kissin' cousin to same!
I do enjoy weird movies like this, and I must say you’ll probably enjoy it too! It’s a clumsy-stupid movie about funny persons, its true, but it’s got a lot of charm and, like Sammy Snyders himself, a bizarre presence you’ll be pondering over for days! I’m going to give The Pit three glass bathroom doors!

Monday 2 June 2014

Burl reviews Wild Thing! (1987)

Ohhh-eee-ohh-eee-ohhh, it’s Burl! Ha ha, that was my approximation of a Tarzan yell, because today I’m talking about a picture called Wild Thing which fancies itself more or less an urban Tarzan picture! Instead of the jungle, our Wild Thing dwells in a dilapidated ghetto known as The Zone; instead of poachers his enemies are drug dealers; for a Jane he’s got a social worker (named Jane, natch!); and instead of Cheetah he’s got an old crazylady for a pal!
You can pretty well guess the whole plot from what I’ve told you already, but for the sake of fully discharging my duty, I’ll give you a bit more! Ha ha, it seems that a hippie family picks up the wrong hitchhiker one day as they’re cruising into the (unnamed) big city, and events lead to the gunfire slaughter of the parents, while their little child escapes into the urban wilderness! As fortune would have it, the little boy is found by a demented baglady, who teaches him the ways of the streets and about her own personal socio-cultural philosophies involving Bluecoats and The Company! Eventually the Wild Thing becomes a do-gooding core-area legend with blowdried hair, played by Rob Knepper from D.O.A.,and he of course does a revenge battle against the crooked cop and drugs lord who orphaned him so many years ago!
The Zone is the sort of ghetto populated by loveable eccentrics who pull together when the going gets tough – it’s a lot like the neighbourhood in The Annihilators that way! Kathleen Quinlan from Twilight Zone: The Movie wanders through all of this as the curiously detached social worker/love interest, and the rest of the cast includes the stalwart bonehead Robert Davi, from Action Jackson and Peacemaker, as the drugs lord (whom the Wild Thing eventually sends howling down some kind of shaft); Maury Chaykin from The Sweet Hereafter doing a good job as the crooked cop who finds his conscience just a little too late; Betty Buckley from Carrie and Frantic as the gooney-goo-goo baglady; and future Hollywood filmdirectors Shawn Levy (from Zombie Nightmare) and Clark Johnson (from Drop Zone) as, respectively, a local teen and a do-gooding flatfoot! Theo Caesar from Enemy Territory, a picture this one somewhat resembles, appears as a good-hearted street punk!
One of the problems with Wild Thing is that, somewhere along the line, they foolishly made the decision to go PG-13! It’s not that I’m such a great lover of movie violence, but this should have been a little grittier, I think, and higher-impact violence would have suited it! You can see the cuts too, which is always irritating, particularly in one scene where the Wild Thing uses an umbrella trap to transfix and suspend one of the baddies, and another scene where a nasty drug dealer is run through by street bums, who have mobilized themselves into a very Prince of Darkness-style impalement gang, but this time working for the forces of good!
The most perplexing thing about this picture is that it was written by none other than John Sayles, who was evidently in his genre mode at the time, as when he wrote Piranha and Alligator! But this picture mostly lacks the cleverness of those minor classics – the scenes between Wild Thing and Jane are especially clumsy, as she magically divines his life story from little more than a few grunts and gestures! The script (and the acting, and the directing) never manage to overcome the massive silliness of having a character named “Wild Thing,” whom other people on the screen are actually required to refer to out loud as “Wild Thing!” Ha ha, it’s pretty poxy!
Silliness and all, it does feel as though it might have been a pretty neat little genre picture, if only they hadn’t gone wrong with almost every decision they made! The action scenes are not very exciting either! It’s peppered, very lightly mind, with nice moments and a few good performances, but more than anything it seems a job poorly done! And yes, they use the Troggs song, but not nearly as well as they might have! I’m forced to give Wild Thing a measly one pneumatic dartgun!

Sunday 1 June 2014

Burl reviews The Sweet Hereafter! (1997)

A pleasant day to you, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here today to palaver with you about yet another Canadian film from north of the 49th! The movie’s called The Sweet Hereafter, and to many it represents a high point, perhaps the high point, in Atom Egoyan’s career!
Not to me, though! I prefer plenty of Egoyan films to this one, and all of them came earlier! Regardless, this is a pretty solid picture, though now to me, later in life, in some ways more affecting than previously! On a purely cinematic level though, less so, ha ha!
The story is told a-chronologically, though to me, watching it for a second time, the timeline was pretty straightforward! (I saw the movie recently in the company of elderly first-time viewers, and ha ha, their reaction was one of utter bewilderment!) We meet a lawyer, Mitchell Stevens, played by the very grand Ian Holm (who should probably be knighted or something, and could be, as far as I’m concerned, for Alien alone!), who swoops into a town that’s just undergone an unspeakable tragedy involving a school bus, trying to organize the victims’ parents into a class action suit!
The picture bounces around with the townspeople, sometimes in the company of Stevens, sometimes not; sometimes pre-tragedy, mostly afterwards! There are a lot of very sad people in the movie, and no wonder! They’re a complicated bunch too, and as with all small town portrait pictures, some pretty grim secrets are revealed! But on the whole, the big scenes you would expect to find with a setup like this are largely avoided, for which we should be grateful, and the closest the picture comes to the sort of thing any other director would have copiously included is the scene in which Bruce Greenwood, of The Malibu Bikini Shop, threatens to beat Holm bloody!
Other townsfolk include young Sarah Polley, whom we know from Blue Monkey, and whose character harbors the biggest, almost most unlikely secret of all; Alberta Watson, famed from The Keep, and who here indeed “keeps” a motel; Earl Pastko of Heads, who plays a bearded hippie; and of course Maury Chaykin from Wild Thing, who thinks he knows everything about the town, but hasn’t got a clue what’s happening beneath his very nose, ha ha! And then there’s Gabrielle "Timecop" Rose as the bus driver, who I think gave one of the very best performances in the picture! She also gives its biggest, and only, laugh line: “You heard what Abbott said!” Ha ha!
While there are some aspects of the picture that feel stilted, or that try too hard in a self-consciously understated way, or that seem unintentionally parochial, the bus crash itself is handled masterfully! Technically the picture is excellent, and ultimately Egoyan’s policy of low-key understatement is the right one, even if it invites some nearly cartoonish “90s indie film” moments!
It’s got really fine performances, a clever construction and a miasma of sadness you’ll find difficult to shake off, and all of that adds up to a picture you may not wish to see twice, but will be appreciative if you do! I’m going to give The Sweet Hereafter three stenographer’s cones!