Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 29 January 2015

Burl reviews That Guy Dick Miller! (2014)

Ha ha, hello! Yes, it’s Burl, and I’m here to review a documentary about my favourite actor, Mr. Dick Miller! It’s marvelous and amazing to me that such a movie even exists, so I do have to admit that, for me, this picture is starting with a distinct advantage right off the hop, and complete objectivity is nigh impossible!
On the other hand, I know quite a bit about Dick Miller, so any ninety-minute movie which attempts to present his life and career also operates at a disadvantage, since I’ll inevitably, and through no real fault of the film or its makers, think to myself “Ha ha, why didn’t they mention that fascinating aspect of Dick Miller’s life or career?” So maybe these two preconditions cancel one another out! Ha ha, it’s impossible to say, but caveat lector nonetheless!
As anyone reading these reviews will surely already know, Dick Miller was born in the Bronx in 1928, and spent many years trying out different careers before relocating to Hollywood in the early 1950s, where he eventually met Roger Corman and began acting in pictures like Apache Woman (his debut, in which he played both a cowboy and an Indian, ha ha) and Gunslinger and It Conquered the World and, of course, the mighty and unassailable A Bucket of Blood!
He eventually branched out from the Corman fold, though never very far! At a certain point he just figured his career was over, because Corman wasn’t directing movies anymore and Miller himself had become both middle-aged and thick about the middle! But, after a few fallow years, Miller was taken up by a group of younger directors who had long admired his work and were glad to give him a career renaissance! Joe Dante is the most closely linked to Miller (Piranha, Gremlins, Explorers, etc. etc. etc.!), but Jonathan Kaplan and Allan Arkush certainly did their bits too; and other Corman fans, people like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino, also hired him! Ha ha, he’s had quite a career!
That Guy Dick Miller covers all of this, and reasonably well! There are plenty of familiar and interesting faces interviewed, along with, of course, Dick Miller and his firecracker of a wife Lainie! Ha ha! The picture relies a little too heavily on jokey sound effects and kooky little animations, and the tone is breezier than I believe it should be! Ha ha, there’s something about telling a person’s life story that ought to invite at least a few moments of serious consideration, but this is for the most part hagiographic goofballitry, with but a precious few moments of introspection salted in!
Still, it’s all very well done, with terrific interviews, sharp cutting, some great archival material and plenty of well-chosen clips! And the subject matter simply can’t be beat! If I, Burl, would have taken a different approach, is that really something I should blame on the picture? Well, in my own review column, I suppose I can! But let me tell you this: whatever this movie’s petty deficiencies, it’s got more Dick than any movie since A Bucket of Blood, and that makes up for just about anything! I’m going to give That Guy Dick Miller three gag phone calls!

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Burl reviews Paddington! (2014)

Ha ha, here am I, Burl, to review a movie about a bear! Yes, I went to see it with a very young person, and I think he enjoyed it! I myself didn’t mind the movie overmuch, and I’ll be happy to tell you why!
I remember being fond of the books when I was young, so I had some familiarity with the source material! Here we have a young bear who has arrived in England from Darkest Peru, and he finds himself on the platform of Paddington Station in London, alone and without friends! Ha ha, fortunately for this bear, a family takes him in, christening him Paddington of course, and provide all the marmalade he can eat! The bear, you see, is addicte*d to marmalade!
All of this is covered by the movie, and there is in addition much fleshing out of the family and their various small problems which the bear inadvertently helps them overcome by way of his innocent kindness! Father, once a wild-eyed hippie, is now an overcautious bore! Mother is unable to control her emotions! Sister is terminally embarrassed by her family, and Little Brother flirts too readily with danger!
But the bear is also a bumbler, and this fuels a number of scenes, principally one in which he destroys their bathroom and floods the home! But no grave matter: the housekeeper has this sorted overnight! The thrust of the plot involves Paddington’s search for the explorer who had many years earlier tendered the original invitation to Britain, and the pursuit of him by a lady taxidermist, clearly modeled on Cruela DeVille, who harbors a maniacal desire to stuff and mount him! Ha ha!
Like all fantasy films made in Britain, this picture features a stellar cast of people who would be familiar to someone who, unlike me, has seen any of the Harry Potter pictures! Ha ha! The tweedy paterfamilias is played by Mr. Stink himself, Hugh Bonneville; the mother is Sally “Godzilla” Hawkins; the housekeeper is an unrecognizable Julie “She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas” Walters; and Jim Broadbent shows up of course; and the meddlesome next-door neighbor is Peter Capaldi from Local Hero! The mad taxidermist is a titanium-haired Nicole “Stoker” Kidman, and the bear himself is voiced well but unmemorably by Ben “Skyfall” Whishaw!
This is one of those pictures in which chronology means nothing: it takes place in the present day, more or less, but the pith-helmeted explorer is straight out of the 1930s and the parents were apparently living in the 1960s when they had their young children! I always enjoy this conceit, and I did again here! There are a number of funny visual gags – one in particular, involving the taxidermy and a wall, is good for a hearty laugh – and some clever script material too! The tone is very nicely achieved and maintained!
But the plot is pretty rote and the climax desultory, and lots of things are borrowed from other sources! Still, it’s an enjoyable kids’ picture, and it moves quickly and looks nice! I’m happy to give Paddington two and a half pneumatic tubes!

Friday 23 January 2015

Burl reviews Deadly Illusion! (1987)

Ha ha, hi, Burl here to review a very calrissian movie! Of course I’m talking about Deadly Illusion, which features everybody’s favourite slickster, a man we know from Fear City and Number One With A Bullet, Billy Dee Williams, playing for us the role of Hamburger! (We never learn his first name, but I assume it’s Mac!)
Hamburger is of course a private gumshoe (and part-time punching bag) in New York City, because this was Larry “A Return to ‘Salem’s Lot” Cohen’s second attempt to make a Mike Hammer movie without getting fired from the picture! Sadly he failed, got canned halfway through, and the rest of the movie was directed by the fellow who did The Hero and the Terror! Yet we mustn’t worry, for there’s still a good deal of that special Cohen mixture of impressive run-and-gun city street action and a dedicated, loony incoherence!
After a scene in a license bureau featuring a crazed Joe “Sorcerer” Spinell, the plot proper is kicked off by a rich guy who asks Hamburger to kill his wife! This anti-uxorian tosses Hamburger a big wad of cash, so the ‘burger says sure! Instead, though, he makes sweet love to her, then declares his earnings “the easiest twenty-five grand I’ve ever made!” Ha ha! But his gal Friday, Vanity, doesn’t like that much, and when the wife turns up dead anyway and it's revealed there was some sort of Chinatown-style imposter situation where Hamburger is concerned, a punch-happy cop, apparently Hamburger’s childhood bully, also becomes involved!
The cop sets a deadline by which Hamburger must solve the case or else become the chief suspect himself; but the deadline, though frequently mentioned (Friday at 10 o’clock, ha ha!), is not the slightest factor in the climactic act of the picture! The actual plot is a bit of a confusion: for a while there seems to be two of everybody, and I was never too clear on what was the goal of these impersonations! Frankly, the picture gets more muddled as it goes along, achieving the narrative confusion found in studio pictures like Blue City! Less clear still was the meaning behind the scene in which Hamburger fights an elevator!
John Beck, Pov himself from Paperback Hero, plays one of the fake guys, or maybe he’s the real version! Another version takes a header out a window, but maybe after all that was Pov! Ha ha, the movie isn’t quite the confusion I’m making it out to be, but it was late when I watched it, and I was sleepy! But even had my wits been totally about me, I’d have had difficulty with the bungled third act! Ha ha, it’s a real dowager empress of a denouement!
Well, who knows why old Larry was canned from the picture, but whatever the case I think it would have turned out much better, or at least weird and confusing in a more interesting way, if he’d been allowed to finish it up! Billy Dee has charm of course, and there are entertaining moments scattered throughout, like the scythe-vs. chair fight or the clever domestic disturbance-based escape, but ultimately it’s a pretty disposable little movie! I’m going to give Deadly Illusion – an apt title, ha ha! – one and a half toppling hot dog carts!

Monday 19 January 2015

Burl reviews Wise Guys! (1986)

Holy cannoli, it’s Burl, here to review a mobster picture made in the mid-80s by none other than Brian DePalma! This is a movie I’d never seen before, but of course I’d always been curious about it, because), ha ha, it’s a DePalma picture, and I’m compelled to see each and every one of those!
It’s a comedy too, which seemed to confuse people at the time of its release! It confused me too, but I soon realized DePalma was an old hand at comedy! He made a bunch of them at the beginning of his career, after all, including the great Phantom of the Paradise, and you could say with some justification that many of the more outré sequences in his later suspense films, particularly in such works as Body Double, Raising Cane, Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale and Passion, deliberately edge into the chucklesphere!
Danny DeVito from Ruthless People and Junior and, of course, The Van, plays Harry, who would be the very lowest man in the Newark crime organization he works for if not for the presence of his neighbor, co-worker and best friend Moe, played by Joe Piscopo from Dead Heat! Their organization is godfathered by Dan “Commando” Hedaya, and his brutal enforcer is none other than famed NRBQ manager and song subject Captain Lou Albano!
Well, in a series of boneheaded moves as quick as they are inevitable, Harry and Moe find themselves in deadly dutch with Hedaya’s gang! The boys hudzel down to Atlantic City in Captain Lou’s pink Caddy, looking for protection from Harry’s mob retiree uncle! The uncle is stone dead however, so they must turn to hotelier Harvey Keitel, whom we know from Mean Streets and The Grand Budapest Hotel! But is Harvey friend or foe? Only an unlikely but still satisfying climactic doubletwist will reveal the truth!
DePalma was on a bit of a gangster kick at this time in his career – he’d recently made Scarface, and directly after this would make one of his biggest hits, The Untouchables! Carlito’s Way wasn’t that far down the line either! But very little of the style he put into all those other films is present here! There are a couple of tricky-tricky camera tricks, sure, but I was disappointed that this wasn’t what I’d hoped for: A classic 80s comedy gene-spliced with a classic 80s DePalma movie! A reasonable hope, I think!
But I still enjoyed the picture! DePalma rounded up a top-flight gangster cast: in addition to the names already mentioned, there are appearances by such stalwart gangster mugs as Ray Sharkey, Frank Vincent and Tony Mufano! And though it’s not often funny in the traditional sense, I found it a pretty funny movie much of the time! Captain Lou in particular delivers the goods! DeVito and Piscopo bring everything they learned from their earlier gangster comedy Johnny Dangerously, and I’m pleased to report that Piscopo was not as irritating a presence as I’d expected him to be! His character actually has a sort of arc!
In short, Wise Guys is worth a look, but it’s no lost classic! It’s an oddball entry in the DePalma filmography, and feels exactly like a little palate-cleanser shoehorned in between bigger projects, kind of like After Hours was for Scorsese! I’m going to give Wise Guys two and a half pairs of the strangest pillow cases ever seen!

Saturday 17 January 2015

Burl reviews Inherent Vice! (2014)

Hi, Burl here to tell you about a mistake I made! “Ha ha, but Burl," I hear you saying, "I thought you were infallible!”  No, Burl makes mistakes, rest assured, and one I made recently was reading Inherent Vice just before seeing it! I think to properly appreciate the movie, I should have read the book a half-decade ago, when it came out, and watched the movie with only a fuzzy recollection of the story, and therefore a good deal of confusion on the plot points and dialogue, as clearly intended by the filmmaker!
Instead, owing to my very recent read of the book, I had a fairly good idea what was going on at any given time, and my viewing, I believe, was thereby compromised! This does not mean I didn’t enjoy the picture, however! It was nearly as amusing and entertaining as I’d hoped it would be, with nearly the immersive period quality and pictorial brilliance I’d, I felt reasonably, expected! You’ll notice the qualifiers! I assume some raggedy edges were left by design, but some frayed fringes seemed, well, accidental!
It’s a shaggy-detective story, which of course is a subgenre I like! From The Long Goodbye and Night Moves, through The Big Fix and up to The Big Lebowski, the peaks of this style are hard to beat, and I’ve mostly avoided the (no doubt copious and profound) valleys! Here, in the newest jewel of the shaggy-detective crown, we have Doc Sportello, hippie shamus, and his plunge into mystery with disappearances and murders swirling about him; and all of it somehow connected to the Golden Fang, which is at once a boat, an international hero*n syndicate and a generalized representation of the baneful forces arrayed against nature’s children!
Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, and Josh “Goonies” Brolin, in one of the film’s most uproarious performance, essays the role of his cop nemesis, “Bigfoot” Bjornson! Many, many other characters are trotted out through the long running time, including an addled dentist played by Martin Short from ¡ThreeAmigos! and Innerspace; a chronically tractable surf-sax player played by Owen Wilson of Midnight in Paris fame; a construction baron embodied by Eric Roberts from Runaway Train and A Talking Cat?!?; and a receptionist played by Maya Rudolph from The Way Way Back! And unfortunately I knew who all of them were and was able to keep them straight in my mind through the whole picture, which is not as it was meant to be! No, I should have been confused by this kaleidoscope of characters and clues and events, and by this confusion made malleable and porous, and thereby infected with the spirit and atmosphere, and copious doobiesm*ke, of the picture!
Oh well! A few dodgy performances and some clumsy or anachronistic bits of dialogue aside, I enjoyed the movie! It was clearly made on a budget, but they made the most of it, and the period details are pretty well arrayed! It shares with Withnail & I a shocked wistfulness for an era suddenly past, along with a hearty cynicism for the decade just beginning! As the first Thomas Pynchon book to be made into a movie (no, that miniseries V doesn’t count!), Inherent Vice holds up its end of the deal, and it makes me feel groovy to give it three descendents!

Friday 16 January 2015

Burl reviews The Slayer! (1982)

Booga-booga-boo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, you know, there’s something about supernatural slasher movies that I sort of veer towards, despite feeling generally lukewarm on Freddy type things! Stuff like Deadly Blessing and The Outing and even Ghost Dance hit a sweet spot I’d be just as happy if I didn’t have! Ha ha, you know how it is!
The Slayer is a picture some people are really fond of, but me, I’m maybe halfway there! It’s got a thicker atmosphere than most pictures of its type, and some nice location work and better acting, and all of that goes a long mile with a movie like this! But, outside of a couple of squishy gore scenes, there’s not a whole lot else to it, as we shall see!
The picture concerns an artist who’s been having bad dreams her whole life! In them, a skeletal goop creature visits brutal pokings on her friends and family, and even on her pets! She’s woken from one such dream by her husband so that they can go meet her brother and his wife; this quartet will then take a small plane (piloted by Michael “Deadly Prey” Holmes, in the picture’s worst performance) to Georgia’s sandy Tybee Island, where one-by-one they will wander off into the dark and stormy night to become goopy skeleton fodder!
I confess a real soft spot for these East Coastal locations, particularly the ones located south of Chesapeake Bay and north of Florida! The Mutilator, shot somewhat to the north of where The Slayer is set, had a similar half-buried-beach-fence vibe, and that was what I liked best about that picture too! But while The Slayer predates the Freddy pictures with its manifested dream-killer, it doesn’t do much with the concept! Frights are in short supply, but there is certainly no dearth of scenes involving people wandering around calling the names of other people who’ve gone missing!
There are some effective moments of murderin’ though! The trap door scene looks pretty painful, and the rubber head they used for when the good-natured old jasper gets a paddle upside his melon does a quick deflation that provides some real amusement! There’s a mean pitchforking and a hook-dragging as well, and the whole thing ends with one of the farthest-back “the horror is yet to come” temporal resets ever attempted!
It could have used more pep, and a little more of the goopy skeleton, and a little less moping around, but The Slayer, being brief and marginally atmospheric, is still worth a look! I’m going to give it one and a half underused movie theatre locations!

Monday 12 January 2015

Burl reviews Gone Girl! (2014)

Ha ha, Burl here with a review of one of the newer movies! It’s something from last year, so it’s not that new; but I ought to admit that I actually watched it last year – recently, but still last year, in the second-run movie house! The picture is Gone Girl, and it’s a movie I purposely refrained from reading much about before seeing it, because I figured it would be more pleasurable letting the plot just happen!
I think I was right, and for that reason, reader, tread carefully if you plan to see the picture but haven’t yet! I’ll do what I can to preserve your innocence, ha ha! It’s not that the movie has plot twists – nothing that happened was all that surprising – but sometimes it’s nice to let the movie just do its thing in its own time!
I will say that this is essentially a flatland reworking of some troubled-lady neo-noir like Body Heat or Basic Instinct! Ha ha, the man-patsy character is present and accounted for in the form of Ben “Dazed and Confused” Affleck as Nick! The lady of confusion is Amy, played by Rosamund “Jack Reacher” Pike, and one day Nick comes home to find her disappeared from the house under suspicious circumstances!
Well, pretty quickly he becomes the object of police suspicion, and indeed there are some circumstantial factors which would cause anyone to look askance at this bum-chinned suburbanite, not least that he’s Amy’s husband! How on point this factor is becomes clearer as the movie goes on! But in the meantime there’s a sense of our hero being drawn into a whirlpool of forces smarter and more determined than himself! Ha ha!
All sorts of things happen, and the movie proves to be less about marriage and interpersonal relationships, its nominal theme, and more about the role public opinion plays in determining the path of justice, and the role tabloid culture in turn plays in forming public opinion! Its ultimate thesis is ‘Ha ha, people are idiots,’ which makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it!
There’s room in the picture for one blood-soaked scene of gruesomeness, and there are also some scenes of minor suspense, but a lot of it is just Nick putting the pieces together while the cops, street neighbours and Amy’s rather dislikable parents all give him the hairy eyeball! (Amy’s dad is played by David Clennon from The Thing, though here his head doesn’t split open like a flower and try to gobble up the other characters, ha ha!)
The picture is engaging while it’s on, but is ultimately just a trashy melodrama in evening dress! If you give a thought to the plot behind the plot, right down to the money belt buckled so carelessly it can be dislodged by a round of mini golf, it all falls to flinders! On the other hand it looks nice, features fine performances throughout and has a weirdly Windham Hill-flavoured musical score that I liked but didn't like! It’s altogether a slick bit of pro moviemaking, and for an afternoon at the second-run picture palace, it did the trick! (But if Inherent Vice had been playing somewhere near me at the time, I’d have gone to see that instead!) All told, I figure on giving Gone Girl two robot dogs! Ha ha, woof woof!

Thursday 8 January 2015

Burl reviews The Best of Times! (1986)

Hut! Hut! It’s good ol’ Burl  here with a review of a forgotten foot-ball picture of days gone by! Now I’m not the best judge of sports movies – generally, I find they’re more formulaic than any slasher picture, and not as interesting! (There are notable exceptions of course, and these include Slap Shot, Caddyshack and Ed, which is about an ape playing baseball!)
Though it is admittedly a pretty cinematic sport, foot-ball scenes, like the sport itself, have never interested me much, and I even find the last scenes of M.A.S.H. a little tedious! Nevertheless it was with a certain strange keenness that I recently watched my VHS tape of The Best of Times, which crosses a foot-ball movie with a mid-80s eccentric-townsfolk comedy!
What was the source of this keenness? I find it difficult to say! Perhaps it was simply that I’d watched the movie years and years before, perhaps when it had been newly-released to home video, yet could remember very little about it! Watching it again would perhaps be a bit like filling in a two-hour blank spot of my youth, for whatever that’s worth! Ha ha!
The picture begins with Robin “Club Paradise” Williams narrating a short history of the town of Taft, California! Taft is apparently the losingest town in history, with its losing streak typified by the canvas-bounce of an immediately-pariahed boxer named Kid Lester; but their most painful and consistent losses are in foot-ball to the larger urban centre of Bakersfield; and the single most egregious of these losses was the one in November of 1972, when Williams’ character Jack Dundee fumbled a great pass thrown him by super-quarterback Reno Hightower! Reno was crippled in the ensuing sack, and the dropped pass, which naturally would have won the game had it had been completed, has been the source of Jack’s obsessive regret and humiliation ever since! Post-game, Taft sank into an even deeper mire of apathy and torpor, and Reno Hightower grew up to look like Kurt “The Mean Season” Russell and become a genial local van painter!
The plot of course it that Jack wants to relive the day of his dreadful abasement, but do it differently this time! And of course that plot meanders along mostly as you think it would, except none but the most cynical of us could have predicted that so much time would be taken up by the men’s conflicts with their wives, and their joint efforts to make reparations! Pamela “Junior” Reed is Mrs. Reno, and Holly Palance from The Omen, much prettier than her dad, plays the role of Mrs. Jack!
She’s kind of a Veronica Lodge type, though not as monstrously self-involved, and her rich daddy, who is also Jack’s employer, is played in fine sadistic form by Garry himself, Donald Moffatt, reuniting with Kurt Russell from when they were in The Thing together! He actually gets more funny bits in the movie than Williams does if you ask me!
So it’s overlong, a bit boring in places and pretty bland to look at – for a foot-ball movie it manages a remarkable lack of atmosphere! It’s also not terribly funny, which is unfortunate! So much emphasis is put on the depression suffered by Taft and her townsfolk that it starts to feel a bit Grapes of Wrath! And I don’t recall The Grapes of Wrath being too terribly uproarious!
However, I do like eccentric-townsfolk pictures; and this one has a dandy cast of oldsters playing the town’s moose-lodge grandees! There are marvelously familiar faces like Dub “Creature From Black Lake” Taylor, R.G. “The Beast Within” Armstrong and M. Emmett Walsh from Fletch! And present-day Kid Lester, who returns incognito to watch the big game, is played by Hugo Stanger, a man who began acting so late in life that even in his earliest roles he was playing “Old Man At Mansion” and “Grandfather!” His elderliness is apparently so striking that in the credits he’s not called Kid Lester, which is his character’s name, but Old Man Lester!
Well, I watched it, and having achieved closure I can now put The Best of Times in the rearview mirror and cruise on ahead into a golden sunset of opportunity! In the meantime, I give The Best of Times one and a half bellowing mooseheads!

Thursday 1 January 2015

Burl reviews The Shop Around the Corner! (1940)

Ha ha and a happy New Year: it's Burl here, catching up on my movie reviews! For example, here I am reviewing The Shop Around the Corner, a picture which takes place in the days leading up to Christmas, and which I watched in the days leading up to Christmas; yet here I am only just reviewing it now! Ha ha, go figure!
The Shop Around the Corner is of course a picture brought to us by Ernst Lubitsch, who of course also gifted us with films like Eternal Love and Heaven Can Wait! (My very favourite, though, is Design for Living!) This story was later remade into a late-90s email picture called You’ve Got Mail, which I’ve never seen, and so I can only imagine how a tale involving the employees of a small Budapest department store was adapted into a fin-de-siècle rom-com!
The store in question is Matuschek’s, owned and operated by the fearsome Mr. Matuschek, who is played by the Wiz himself, Frank Morgan! Ha ha! His longest-serving employee is the decent and efficient, but slightly officious, Alfred Kralik, played by a young Jimmy Stewart! Of course we know Stewart from many pictures, including but not limited to Rear Window and Thunder Bay! A young lady, Klara Novak, played by the tragic Margaret Sullavan, comes to work at the shop, and she and Alfred take a gradual dislike to one another! But, ha ha, it turns out that aside from being co-workers nurturing a mutual antipathy, they are anonymous pen pals who’ve fallen in love with one another in written form!
The situations that follow never get as artificially complicated as they would if the picture had been made later or by less skilled parties! There is, thankfully, none of the door slamming and bedclothes-hiding that drag down pictures like Madame Satan! But Alfred becomes aware of the full picture long before Klara does, which seems a bit unfair, and this climaxes in a scene in which he finally reveals the truth in an almost sadistically drawn-out way! In her shoes, I might have just clobbered him and stalked out, ha ha!
The Lubitsch Touch is in evidence here, but sporadically! The picture spins its wheels quite a little bit in the second half, I’m sorry to say, and too often the characters come off as shrill clobberbabies! The acting is skilled all around, however, and the little community of the departments store workers is effectively drawn!
I enjoyed the picture, because how could I not, and the Christmas Eve conclusion is in general quite heart warming, if a little aggressively capitalistic! I’m going to give The Shop Around the Corner two and a half musical cigarette boxes!