Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 29 December 2014

Burl reviews Earthworm Tractors! (1936)

Ha ha, vroom, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about earthworm tractors! And what’s the picture called, you may ask? Of course it’s called Earthworm Tractors, because that’s what it’s all about! Yes, they made a whole movie about earthworm tractors, and along with all the earthworm tractors, they managed to stuff a little comedy and romance in there too, ha ha!
Strike that, a lot of comedy, both successful and merely attempted! The star is everybody’s pal, Joe E. Brown, whom we all know best from, let’s face it, The Comedy of Terrors! (And also from Some Like It Hot, ha ha!) In one notice I read, Brown was described as having  “a mouth like a satchel,” and that image stayed with me through the whole of Earthworm Tractors, with me thinking that at any moment Joe was going to pry open his enormous piehole and pull out some Western Union correspondence!
The plot involves Joe E. Brown as Alexander Botts, who, as he proclaims about ten thousand times, considers himself “a natural-born salesman!” But he’s just selling doohickeys, which impresses neither his putative fiancée nor his would-be father-in-law-to-be (who is played by that old familiar face Olin Howland, famed from Them! and The Blob)! Ha ha, so Botts goes off to find something bigger to sell, and settles on earthworm tractors! But because he’s a thoroughgoing idiot, the captains of industry who run the earthworm tractor factory are dubious about hiring him on, and the more so when Botts takes as his target the most notoriously unlikely earthworm tractor customer in the whole Midwest, Mr. Johnson!
Mr. Johnson is played by Guy Kibbee, whom we all know from Captain Blood, and my, he and Joe E. Brown were a pair of daring actors! The escapades of this picture require both thespians to ride an earthworm tractor as it trundles up, down and over all manner of obstacles, and the likelihood of one or both of them being bucked off and churned up beneath the tractor’s metal treads seems dreadfully high!
But soon Botts is romancing Mr. Johnson’s daughter and pulling his house around with an earthworm tractor (a comic highlight!) and generally causing all manner of earthworm tractor-based mayhem, while incessantly flapping his pouch-like anterior orifice! Ha ha! The climax involves Botts and Johnson riding an earthworm tractor through a blasting quarry, with all kinds of explosions and hair-raising near-misses on offer!
The stunt work in this picture is pretty impressive, especially for a little low-budget comedy! Joe E. Ross appears to have been quite a competent earthworm tractor pilot, too, and really a very gifted physical comedian! Ha ha, his salesman mannerisms, as when he strokes his lapels, are priceless! And many of the earthworm tractor gags are funny too! It’s a disposable goofshow of course, but I quite enjoyed Earthworm Tractors, and I’m going to give it three sinking tuffets!

Saturday 27 December 2014

Burl reviews Black Christmas! (1974)

Agnes! It’s Burl! Bleaughaughauughrragagag, snort, snort, pretty pretty! Ha ha, no, I haven’t gone mad – I’m just imitating one of the shocking telephone calls in the classic proto-slasher Black Christmas!
I watch this one nearly every Christmastime, ha ha, and it never gets old! Well, some things about it are old, like the rotary dial telephones and the many minutes it takes to track the origin of a call! And the many marvelous innovations which were hoary clichés only a decade later are, I suppose, technically old, but the engaging way in which the picture plays out ensures a fresh and robust experience each time!
It is, at heart, a movie about a very crazy person killing off sorority girls one by one, but these young ladies are not the simple dingbats usually found in such stories! They’re highly individuated humans, and even the not-so-pleasant ones (the haughty scold, the angry souse) are real, and one feels sad when the screeching maniac puts a poking on them!
The sorority house is closing up for the holidays, and only Jess and Barb and Phyl and a couple of others are around! Jess is having boyfriend problems – the young fellow with whom she cavorts, a stringhair played by the Paperback Hero himself, Keir Dullea, is an intense weirdo with issues of control! Ha ha, could he be the kill-crazy knife-o-path? Maybe, or maybe there will be a finale drenched in grim ambiguity!
It’s a spooky picture, and maybe one of the two best, scariest slasher pictures ever produced! The other of course is Halloween, but this one runs neck-and-neck for sheer goosebumpery! Bob “Porky’s” Clark made the movie, and I’d call it the best Christmas picture he ever made, even though A Christmas Story is a marvelous creation as well! His cinematographer, Reg Morris, did am A-1 job of giving some real Christmas-light-and-snowball atmosphere to it all!
The cast really is top flight too! John Saxon, who was a cop in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Blood Beach, here plays a cop, ha ha! Another cop is played by Doug McGrath from Back Down the Road! Then you’ve got the co-eds in peril, Olivia “Escape 3000” Hussey, Andrea “Club Paradise” Martin, Lynne “Strange Brew” Griffin and of course Margot Kidder from Sisters, all of whom are terrific, especially Kidder!
If you’ve never seen Black Christmas, well, you should do so and quickly, and thence make it an annual tradition just as I have done! It’s got lots of laffs and plenty of old-tyme shivers, so I give Black Christmas four king cans of 50! Ha ha!

Thursday 11 December 2014

Burl reviews Down the Road Again! (2011)

Ha ha, eh, it’s Burl, here to review not a revered Canadian classic, but a sequel to same! I’m sure we’ve all seen the vaunted 1970 picture Goin’ Down the Road, about those two Cape Breton chuckleheads making their way to Toronto so they can drive up and down Yonge Street howling and whooping! Ha ha, and if we haven’t seen that, we’ve seen the SCTV version of it, with John Candy and Joe Flaherty arriving in Toronto seeking doctorin’ and lawyerin’ jobs! Whoo-eee!
Well, if it turns out you’ve seen today’s picture, Down the Road Again, the forty-years-later sequel that takes up the adventures of Pete and Joey once again, I’d be pretty surprised! I don’t think too many people saw this one when it came out! And to tell you the truth, I’m not quite certain why it was even made!
But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, ha ha! Now, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Goin’ Down the Road, but I recall that it ends with Pete and Joey trying to rob a Loblaws, failing, and then hightailing it West, with Joey leaving his new bride and their soon-to-be-born child behind! Ha ha, shame on you Joey! The new picture begins shortly after Joey’s death (the actor, Paul “American Nightmare” Bradley, died for real back in 2003 or so), and we see the news brought to Pete, who is, as ever, played by Doug McGrath from Porky’s, and is now a retired postie in Vancouver! Along with the news come Joey’s ashes and a series of letters asking Pete to perform a series of tasks! These include refurbishing the Chevy Impala which had originally ferried the duo from their Nova Scotia home to Toronto, then driving from Vancouver to Toronto so as he can tell Joey’s abandoned wife Betty that he’s sorry, and thence on to Cape Breton for the scattering of the ashes! Ha ha, it’s a lot to ask an old tired postie, and Pete shakes his head plenty and says “Oh Joey, you ol’ son-of-a-bee!”
Pete makes the drive to Toronto in jig time, drinking Timmy’s all the way, and then has a bit of a job making any rapprochement with Betty (played by Jayne Eastwood from My Pleasure Is My Business), or her friend Selina (Cayle Chenin from Love in a 4 Letter World), or her daughter Betty-Jo (Kathleen Robertson)! But pretty soon he’s on the road again, now with Betty-Jo in the car, en-route to Cape Breton; and Joey, who keeps very busy for a dead guy, ha ha, has got some profound and life-changing surprises in store for his old pal there! These are centered around an old lady called Annie (Tedde Moore from Rolling Vengeance) and her lawyer son Matt! I could reveal the nature of their relationships, but I’ll let you figure it out yourself! Ha ha, shouldn’t be hard!
Don Shebib, who brought us Rip-Off and the original Goin’Down the Road, directs again, and he’s made a kind of sleepy, good-natured old-guy movie that has the same appeal you might find in an episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross! It’s a mellow movie, and despite all the potentially melodramatic incident with which the back half is loaded, it remains an out-of-time laid-back hoser-cinema right to the end!
There’s a sort of point-form quality to the picture, and watching it, you feel you’re being told about its events from a two- or three-person remove, rather than seeing them yourself! Ha ha, it’s kind of weird, but not unpleasant, though it does keep one at an emotional remove from the story! Doug McGrath, once described by a critic as “an actor who practically reeks of sex,” is good as the gentle-natured, constantly bewildered Pete, and he’s probably the best reason to watch the picture! All the actors are fine, actually, but I do think they could have stepped a little closer to the water when finally scattering Joey’s ashes! Ha ha, in the end, when all is said and done, I guess I’ll give Down the Road Again two dingle-balls, eh!

Sunday 7 December 2014

Burl reviews Gremlins! (1984)

Doot-doot-doot-doo-doo-doo, it’s Burl here, humming Jerry Goldsmith’s marvelous theme from Gremlins! Yes, that’s the picture I’m reviewing for you now, because I just saw it very handsomely projected on 35mm film at a movie theater in Hollywood! And yes, in case you were wondering, Dick “Gunslinger” Miller was in attendance, ha ha!
Now, I hardly have to tell you the plot of this very famous 80s movie, do I! Well, for those who are not “hep,” here you are: an inventor finds a weird puppet creature in a Chinatown shop run by Keye “Dead Heat” Luke, and brings it home to his curly-haired manchild son Billy for a Christmas present! (Ha ha, yes, it’s an Xmas movie!) The creature, named Gizmo, is cute and sweet-natured enough, but spill some water on him (as Corey “Friday the 13th part 4”Feldman is quick to do), and mean versions of the little fellow pop out of his back! Then all you have to do is feed them after midnight and they turn into little dragon monsters: agent of chaos who turn the reasonably placid little backlot world of Kingston Falls into a nightmare puppetscape beyond comprehension! Now it’s up to Billy and his young l*dyfriend Kate to stop the menace any which way they can! Ha ha!
Now, after Piranha and The Howling and a short segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie, this was Joe Dante’s first adventure in big-ish budget Hollywood feature filmmaking, and he didn’t waste it! He was able to assemble one of his typically marvelous casts, sticking people like Harry Carey Jr. (from Exorcist III), Jackie  Joseph (from Get Crazy), Glynn Turman (from Out of Bounds), William Schallert (from The Man From Planet X) and Kenneth Tobey (from Strange Invaders) into the margins! Ha ha, Chuck Jones is in there too, as are many references to past Dante works! All of this helps give the picture a comfortably cinematic feeling, as opposed to anything approaching a realistic one; and this in turn helps Dante achieve that perfectly 80s humour/horror balance that led to the picture becoming so successful! (Ha ha, as we know an expensive and much-loved Gremlins 2 came along some years later!)
Other familiar faces include Judge “Beverly Hills Cop” Reinhold, Belinda “Matinee” Balaski, Jonathan “Armed and Dangerous” Banks and Robby the “Hollywood Boulevard” Robot! So the picture has that going for it, and that’s a lot! It’s an enjoyable romp, but clunkier than I remembered – the script, with its undercooked characterizations, seems patently from the hand of a first-timer, and it seems like it could have been scarier and more exciting than it actually is! But the kitchen scene with Billy’s mom, where she massacres the gremlins without pity or hesitation, is marvelous, and it still delights and mystifies me that the studio gatekeepers allowed Kate’s grisly, Gahan Wilson-inspired Christmas story to pass through unscathed!
It’s all very quaint now, but still nifty and enjoyable; and after all it gave Dante the career he’s enjoyed since, so we must grant it that! Plus: a substantial role for Dick Miller, which is a prize beyond value! I give Gremlins two and a half eerie Johnny Mathis Christmas carols!

Burl reviews Sabotage! (2014)

Hi, and a big ha ha to you today! You know, occasionally I think to myself “Hey! The old Schwarz is making movies again, ha ha! I should check them out!” This is the same impulse that led me to watch The Last Stand some time ago, and more recently I viewed another neo-Arnie picture, Sabotage!
Well, you’re certainly asking “Ha ha, Burl, does Arnie recapture his glory days in this picture, the crazy, hazy days of Commando and Total Recall?” Answer’s no! He’s trying here for extreme grit and bottle-green heartache, for pain and murderous obsession, and to get within the mind of a man whose family was kidnapped, tortured and killed by Mexican drugsmen! Perhaps if the movie wasn’t so fixated on its cast of meatheads and their terrible grooming habits, it might have worked as a tragic character study, or else a violent mystery, but it doesn’t! Really you just wait for these characters to meet their makers, moments which, in several cases, can’t come soon enough!
Arnie runs a team of hard case DEA police clods who, in the opening scene, geniuses that they are, bust in to a drugs-den and steal many dollars! This scene, like several others in the picture, involves the team making their way down hallways and around corners, shooting people and then shouting “Clear!” Ha ha, it gets a bit repetitive! But anyway, being a real gang of Einsteins they misplace the stolen money and are immediately suspected of the theft by their bosses!
They’re placed on administrative leave, and use the time to become even more ugly and unpleasant! Eventually they get their badges back, but almost immediately begin getting killed one by one! Is it the drugs gang taking their revenge, or is it a traitor within the ranks! Ha ha, in either case, whoever is behind the killings, you want to pin a medal on them!
A lady police cop played by the Olivia Williams from Maps to the Stars gets mixed up in things, and even puts a kissing on the Schwarz at one point! You can really see her screwing up her courage before she does! But we (and Olivia Williams) are spared the subsequent scene of sweet lovemaking!
The movie falls apart as it goes on, defying logic more every minute through the third act! That’s because it was meant to have a completely different ending, I later found out, and one supposes it made a lot more sense! Ha ha and dog cookies, it sure doesn’t now! It’s a pretty unpleasant movie besides – it seems to go out of its way to be grotesque and horrible! A typical scene, for example, has Arnie pouring a glass of scotch and rewatching the family torture tape sent to him by the reeba-reeba gangsters! Ha ha, yikes!
It’s got some moments, and Arnie’s not horrible in his role, but in the end the movie really does fall apart as spectacularly as the bodies of its many casualties! Ha ha, I’m going to give Sabotage just one of Arnie’s stinky cigars!

Thursday 4 December 2014

Burl reviews Heat! (1987)

Hello and hello, it’s Burl here! It’s December now, and that means it’s okay for Burl to knowingly watch a Christmas-set action movie! Ha ha, remember Cobra? That was a stealth Christmas picture, and so is this one too! “This one” is of course Burt Reynolds’s Heat, the third and last of Burt’s one-word-title series of 85-87! Stick and Malone are the others, naturally!
Heat comes with a curious pedigree: the script is by William Goldman, and the picture was supposed to be directed by none other than Robert Altman! Altman dropped out (though at least one Altman actor, Neill "O.C. & Stiggs" Barry, remained in the cast) and was replaced by the fellow who did Death Valley, Dick Richards! But Heat was a case of perpetual miseries for Dick, it seems – Burt put a punching on him for some reason, and then later he (Dick that is) fell off a camera crane! Ha ha, Mr. Richards, those things have seatbelts for a reason! Anyway, he never directed a picture again after that!
Heat was clearly a Troubled Production, and that troubledness shows up most clearly in the ramshackle plotting! Burt is an invincible warrior with one of those anti-gun action-man codes (I always appreciate that, ha ha!), and a line in poking people with “edged weapons;” but he’s also a problem gambler with a self-destructive streak and a simple dream to visit Venice! To say that these two aspects sit ill with one another is to gravely understate the case!
Burt, playing Nick Escalante, works out of a dingy Las Vegas office which he shares with Howard “Rubin & Ed” Hesseman, of all people! The nature of their partnership, if indeed they are partners, is obscure, but Burt’s specialty seems to be helping nerdy little guys gain self-confidence! Ha ha, it’s easy to imagine he has his own little comic book ad showing the tribulations of a wimp at the beach!
His latest little nerdy guy friend is played by an actor I’ve always liked, Peter MacNichol, who was good in Dragonslayer and the best thing about Ghostbusters II! His character, Cyrus, wishes to learn the secrets of bravery, and Burt tries to teach these to him as he also joins a vengeance-battle against a spoiled-rotten mafia son and his enormous bodyguards!
There’s not much action in the picture, outside of a violence fight or two; though the climax has some Novelty Henchman Deaths you’ll enjoy, ha ha! But there’s also some gambling here, and Diana Scarwid, much better here than she is in Strange Invaders, plays a sympathetic dealer who watches Burt win and then promptly lose a fortune! I usually hate such scenes, but this one isn’t too bad, mainly because of how pathetically Burt plays it! (I don’t mean his acting is pathetic, but the character, ha ha!)
I don’t want to rank Heat with the other Burt One-Worders, but if I did it would probably be at the bottom! It’s occasionally entertaining, and has a few bon mots, but mostly feels like the work of people aggressively on autopilot! Burt’s character is slippery and undercooked – he’s portrayed as a kind-hearted softie in one scene, and next thing you know he’s playing for only one team, that’s Team Escalante! But if you’ve seen Malone and Stick, and you’re a completest by nature, you’ll want to see Heat! I award it one and a half kneecap blowouts!