Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 23 February 2015

Burl reviews Vacation! (1983)

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, it’s Burl here taking a ride on the Vacation kick! Ha ha, holiday road! Yes, you’ve got to know that I’ve just watched that famous film Vacation, or as it’s more formally known, National Lampoon’s Vacation! It’s an 80s comedy film I’ve always mildly enjoyed, and this time around I mildly enjoyed it once again! Ha ha!
I think on the whole Christmas Vacation gets more love from the people, but I prefer this installment myself, in part at least because of the summery setting! But I’m also fonder of this one because I enjoyed it as a youth, and never bothered seeing the Christmas one until much later, ha ha!
Anyway, the plot is pretty straightforward: family man Clark W. Griswold takes his lady-wife and two children on a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in order to visit Walley World, the famous amusement park, but encounter many difficulties along the way! Ha ha, that’s it! But it’s not a narrative-driven picture, after all, and never claims to be! It’s a film of moments, some of which are funny, some of which are lamely xenophobic or ethnocentric! But it has a carefree tone throughout that keeps it pretty fun, and also features the multi-headlighted Family Truckster, a made-up car, which is something I always like to see in a movie! Ha ha, this particular auto is a bit more benign and a bit less resilient than The Car, but not much!
Chevy Chase, a.k.a. Fletch, plays the dad of course, and Beverly D’Angelo of The Sentinel is his lady-wife! These two did of course stick through the whole series, but, ha ha, the kids changed every dang time, because of, you know, puberty! Here the small fry are Anthony Michael Hall, well-known for his role in Out of Bounds, and Dana Barron of Heaven Help Us! Everyone in the family does a terrific job, particularly Chase, and it’s easy to see why he was such a popular comedy star even if he did many terrible movies and nobody liked him much personally!
Frankly there’s a pretty great supporting cast too, with lots of fine comedy cameos! Randy Quaid of The Paper appears as the famous Cousin Eddie, who later got his own spin-off movie which I will never see; Norval Jones himself, Eddie Bracken, plays the Disney-like Roy Walley; James Keach, looking very much like he later would in Moving Violations appears as a motorcycle cop; Imogen Coca is an ornery granny; Eugene Levy from Armed and Dangerous is the car salesman who sells Chevy the Family Truckster, and John Candy from Summer Rental plays a Walley World security guard! It’s a pretty impressive aggregation of 80s talent, with a few underused old ringers tossed in!
It’s a sunny and likeable picture that could have gone a bit deeper maybe, plumbed the depths for laffs a bit more! Still, the uncomplicated style of director Harold “Caddyshack” Ramis suits the material well, ha ha, and the movie is ultimately a painless way to spend 96 minutes! Ha ha, I’m going to give Vacation two flattened moose snouts!

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Burl reviews Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai! (1999)

Ha ha, yo yo, it’s Burl here! Yeah, here to review a Jim Jarmusch picture from the late 1990s! Yeah, yeah! It’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai! And as you may recall from my review of his most recent effort, Only Lovers Left Alive, I have a history of seeing Jarmusch pictures in slightly extraordinary circumstances!
I saw Ghost Dog at a film festival, at what must have been one of the premiere screenings in North America! My man Jim was there, and he’d brought along none other than Henry Silva, whom we know from such pictures as Alligator and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold! Silva came on stage and mugged like crazy, ha ha! I think there were a couple of other actors there as well, and maybe The RZA, who did the score for the picture! Ha ha, I can’t quite remember! Anyway, it was a nice event, and Jarmusch and his actors were all clearly pretty excited to unveil the movie to an audience!
Forest “The Last Stand” Whitaker stars as Ghost Dog, a mysterious hit man who takes out hoods at the behest of other hoods, and follows a bushido code, and lives a monastic life on top of a tenement, and not incidentally keeps pigeons! He has an ice cream man friend with whom he chats daily despite the two not understanding one another’s language, and he also befriends and makes reading recommendations to a precocious young girl in the neighborhood!
Due to an escalating series of misunderstandings, this taciturn hoodrat also battles the mob! Ha ha, it’s pretty amusing to watch Ghost Dog take his vengeance using such techniques as shooting up through the drain of a bathroom sink! Then he invades their country home and does a real number on those goodfellas!
There’s a solid cast featuring a great gallery of gangster faces! This bunch of mutts includes Victor Argo of Mean Streets, Richard “Barton Fink” Portnow, Cliff “Angel” Gorman and John “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” Tomey! There are also appearances by Gary Farmer from Demon Knight and Isaach de Bankolé from The Skeleton Key (he plays the ice cream man), so that’s nice, ha ha!
I can’t say I thought as much of the movie this time around as I did after that initial festival screening! (That’s often the way with festivals!) It’s still an enjoyable picture, but not in the top echelon of Jarmusch pictures as far as ol’ Burl is concerned! I still much prefer Dead Man and Down By Law, for example! Outside the festival bubble and the 90s indie atmosphere which spawned it, Ghost Dog often seems too mannered and silly! But it is also frequently funny and consistently entertaining, and Jarmusch does provide the genre goods, so you can’t fault it overmuch! Plus it’s got some terrific cinematography from the reliable Robby “Repo Man” Müller!
Just about any Jarmusch picture will get a recommendation of some degree from me, and so it is with Ghost Dog! I’m pleased to offer this fine movie three rooftop boats!

Burl reviews Dante's Peak! (1997)

Ha ha and mountain peaks, it’s Burl, back again! I thought I’d take you all the way back to 1997, the Year of the Volcano! Ha ha, that was one of those times when two very similar movies opened within a month or two of one another, and in this case it was volcano movies! This one, Dante’s Peak, opened first, in February, and then Volcano, a movie about a volcano bursting up from beneath the streets of Los Angeles, came along in April! Ha ha, of course I went to see both of them!
Dante’s Peak is the more conventional disastershow of the two, perhaps, but also the simpler and more solid picture! It’s pretty straightforward: essentially a heavily embellished version of that Art Carney picture St. Helens: Killer Volcano! Here we are in the pretty little town of Dante’s Peak, where the camera tilts so often up to the menacing matte painted mountain behind them that you get a sore neck in sympathy! Ha ha! Anyway, it’s of course time for their yearly Mountain Daze or whatever, and an expert shows up to proclaim danger and doom, but fails to convince the ambitious mayor, who is played by an actor called Hamilton! Ha ha, sound familiar? It’s Jaws, but with Linda Hamilton instead of Murray, and a volcano instead of a shark!
Like the shark, the volcano even manages to claim a few early victims, notably the couple skinny-dipping in the hot spring who get boiled like sausages when magma burbles into their pool! Yikes, I’ve thought of that every time I’ve dipped a toe into any geothermal pool ever since! Anyway, there’s volcanologist Pierce “The World’s End” Brosnan, his goofy gang of geological scientists and his rather stuffy boss Charles Hallahan, well known from The Thing! There’s also a crabby grandma! There’s a lot of bickering over whether the mountain will blow or not, and the consensus of everyone but the experts is, don’t worry about it! Enjoy Mountain Daze, ha ha!
When the mountain does blow, there’s a pretty impressive run of both destruction and improbable events! Some of the supporting cast meet their demises: Hallahan is swept into a river with a last little Wilhelm Scream, and granny is dissolved in a lake! At another point, Brosnan's truck drives under water! Ha ha, just because he was at that time playing James Bond shouldn’t mean everything he touches became a spy gadget! There really is a tremendous amount of stale Hollywood cheese in this movie – Like Pompeii, it’s a scrupulous throwback to 1970s disaster movies, missing only the large celebrity cast and soap-opery subplots found in movies like When Time Ran Out (which I admit is a key aspect of them)! But, although Dante’s Peak occasionally matches the sadistic showmanship of those earlier movies, generally speaking when the movie isn’t dumb, it’s derivative, and it frequently manages both simultaneously!
There are some compensations! Peter Jason, whom we know from Streets of Fire and Dreamscape and Brewster’s Millions and Prince of Darkness, appears as a crabby townsman, and he’s an actor I always like to see! The craftsmanship behind the camera is generally fine! And I guess there is a certain pleasure in having these old disaster movie beats trotted out with such punchclock precision!
I remember it fondly for some reason, probably because I vaguely recall the experience of seeing it in the theatre! But I can’t recommend it on general terms, I guess! I’m going to give Dante’s Peak one and a half pyroclastic clouds!