Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 30 November 2015

Burl reviews Night Game! (1989)

Ha ha, strike 3, it’s Burl, here to review a curious movie that’s about a maniac murderer whose crimes are tied in with the fortunes of the Houston Astros baseball team! Yes, the picture is called Night Game, and it features none other than Roy “Sorcerer” Scheider as the leathery Galveston cop / baseball fan who’s on the trail of the burly, remorseless killer!
The air of oddballness begins with Scheider, who is getting ready to marry a lady half his age (a pixie-cut Karen Young from Heat), whose mother he used to date in high school! So that creates a few conflicts, especially one involving a TV set that doesn’t get Channel 8! Then you’ve got the strange effect these murders have on the community: they seem to encourage rather than prevent the town’s young blonde women – the killer’s established and well-publicized preference of victim – to go out walking at night in desolate areas! Ha ha, one victim in particular is so silly in her every reaction that when she steps on a nail and is subsequently hook-slashed to death, one feels mainly a sense of relief that such a character will be seen no more!
There’s an awful lot of departmental politics on hand, too! Ha ha, there’s the grumpy chief who perpetually has a headache; he’s played by Richard Bradford from The Mean Season, a picture this one somewhat resembles! Then there’s a mean jerk played by a master of the form, Paul “Die Hard” Gleason; his filmography being what it is, he wouldn’t have to do a thing to persuade you of his obnoxiousness, but instead he seems to give double the effort! Ha ha, you want to see him catch a punching, and he does!
Frankly the picture sports too many subplots and, as a result, many more characters than any ninety-five minute thriller should have! The killer, who turns out to be a hook-handed ex-ballplayer driven mad by his own misfortune – though why he acts out his madness in just this way is left a mystery – is a bulky sad-sack played by Rex Linn from Drop Zone, and is unmemorable enough that even the other characters seem to forget about him for great stretches of the picture!
But ha ha, I hear you say, what about the suspense scenes? Given that the picture’s producer, George Litto, worked several times with Brian De Palma, producing some of that director’s finest thrillers (Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out), you might expect some special care was taken there! But nope, they’re pretty rote: flat and none too seat-clutching! The killer’s murder weapon, his hook-hand, is pointlessly held back as a late-picture surprise (despite being explicitly part of the Rolling Thunder-style promotional artwork), so we are even largely deprived of the eccentricity this might have offered!
The interesting locale, Galveston, is underused, but not completely wasted! We get some nice looks at the Gulf beaches and piers, and of course there are many aerial shots of the not-far-away Astrodome! Ha ha! The baseball stuff seems a little arbitrary, despite the lead character’s obsession with the sport, and Pino Donaggio’s saxophone-heavy score must rate as one of his worst! Altogether, along with such pictures as The First Deadly Sin and The Banker, Night Game is a fairly desultory attempt at a psycho-thriller featuring an unusual weapon, and I give it one and a half microwave ovens bigger than a large TV set! Ha ha!

Thursday 26 November 2015

Burl reviews I Wanna Hold Your Hand! (1978)

Ha ha ha ha, it’s Burl here to talk Beatles! Well, actually, to talk about a Beatles picture that’s not so much about the Beatles as it is about some fanatical young adults trying their best to see those mopheads as they make their big American TV debut on the Ed Sullivan show! Yes, it’s Robert Zemeckis’s first picture, I Wanna Hold Your Hand!
Zemeckis and his writing partner, Bob Gale, were Steven Spielberg acolytes back in the mid-Seventies, and I guess pals! So Spielberg became an executive producer for the first time and helped the young fellows make this picture! Then of course he selected a number of the cast members buffet-style, for his next picture, 1941! Ha ha, 1941!
Nancy Allen, from Strange Invaders and RoboCop, effectively takes point in this ensemble, and delivers one of her better performances along the way! Her character finds her way into the Beatles’ hotel room, where she has an erotic encounter with one of their guitars, ha ha! In fact, her arc takes her from an upcoming marriage to the world’s most boring fellow to a realization that the Lads from Liverpool are what she needs to achieve the full bloom of her womanhood! Ha ha! Meanwhile, Bobby DiCicco from The Supernaturals and Number One With A Bullet plays a greasemaster who resents the moptopped eclipse of the music he prefers to see on the popular charts! Marc McClure, well-known from The Vagrant, plays a timid nerd who finds his courage in a bottle and commits egregious acts of drunken driving!
Wendie Jo Sperber, whom we know from Moving Violations, and who always brought her A game, plays a fan so delirious in her Beatle love that she passes out and misses the whole show, but, ha ha, doesn’t mind because she’s satisfied simply having been in the same building as her idols! Susan Kendall Newman from Slap Shot plays a young lady who thinks the Fab Four might be a dangerous influence on the larger population of young ladies, but becomes a convert by the end! Theresa Saldana from Defiance plays a goodhearted shutterbug whose gesture of kindness toward the nerd keeps her from seeing the show, but leads to a far greater reward! And of course Eddie Deezen from Desperate Moves appears as the world’s biggest platonic male Beatles fan! Best of all, however, is an appearance from the great and wonderful Dick “The Long Ride Home” Miller, who plays a hotel security guard with a peculiar fixation on lamps!
Well, as might be expected from a Zemeckis picture, there’s a lot of craziness, but since it was a pretty low-budget picture, it’s kept relatively small-scale! Still, there are many impressive crowd scenes, and the period detail is persuasive! But there may be too much detail – the movie’s middle section, intercutting the kids’ adventures in and around the hotel, gets kind of repetitive and seems to go on a long time! Ha ha! It’s an entertaining picture, but never gets really great, or really exciting, or really funny! But it’s frequently a little bit of one or more of those things, and with the generous dash of Miller it offers, I declare the picture to have been well worth watching! I give I Wanna Hold Your Hand two and a half lamps that are on!

Thursday 19 November 2015

Burl reviews They Live! (1988)

Attention, sleepers, it’s Burl here to let you know just what’s really going on! Ha ha, the movie I’d like to talk about today is John Carpenter’s marvelous mini-epic They Live! Now, we know that for years, Carpenter flung great movies at us like throwing stars – Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Prince of Darkness, to name only just a few! All terrific! And do you know what? They Live is another terrific one!
But it’s a severely compromised terrific one, ha ha! For one thing, there simply wasn’t the budget to stage the large-scale revolution the movie seems to be angling towards! It’s not just a budget issue though, but, I regret to say, a third-act failure of momentum and imagination!
However, there’s so much that’s good about the picture that it still remains one of my favourite Carpenter movies, and that’s saying a lot! It’s as class-conscious as genre movies get, and probably more relevant today than ever before! Ha ha, one cringes to imagine what the special glasses would show on your computer screen; but on the other hand, it probably wouldn’t have to be too different than what we see already! Ha ha!
I’ll back up a bit and describe the story for those who for whatever crazy reason have never seen this movie: an unemployed construction-drifter arrives in Los Angeles and discovers, by way of a special pair of sunglasses, that the world is not what it seems! In actual fact, the world is black-and-white and is completely run by skull-faced aliens, who occupy positions of wealth, power and privilege while disguised as ordinary humans! No less an authority than George “Buck” Flower, wearing a tuxedo for perhaps the only time in his film career, informs us that there are no countries, no borders, that the aliens are “runnin’ the whole show!”
None of this feels particularly unlikely – it’s as good an explanation as any for the massive income inequality and rampant oppression we see in the world today! For most of the movie, Carpenter does a fantastic job of doling out the situation in spooky little nuggets of paranoia: a ranting street preacher shut down by cops; helicopters circling menacingly; a bearded explicator straight out of Dawn of the Dead appearing on TV, trying but failing to convince his viewers of the truth! We get dropped into the story much as our burly hero does, and are every bit as unsettled!
Carpenter really did a great job casting this thing, because everyone, actors and wrestlers alike, is terrific! Rowdy Roddy Piper does a marvelous job appearing baffled and mind-blown; Keith David, from Roadhouse and The Quick and the Dead, is marvelous as ever; Raymond St. Jacques makes an excellent street preacher (though it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the resistance movement to host his heat-score rantings right in front of their secret headquarters, ha ha!); Peter Jason from Streets of Fire, Dreamscape and Brewster’s Millions does solid work; Sy Richardson from Repo Man shows up as another resistance fighter; John Lawrence, the angry sheriff from The Pom Pom Girls, plays the television beardsman; Meg Foster from Masters of the Universe uses her bright blue eyes to good effect; John Goff from Alligator and Maniac Cop makes an appearance as a frowny businessman alien; and then of course there’s our man Flower, who had a fine role in Pumpkinhead, but may be best known from his role as the skeezy plumber who turned out to be the heroine’s father in Teen Lust! Why the aliens would feel the need to recruit a drawling stewbum into their ranks remains a mystery, but this is truly a film of mysteries!
Ha ha, and I haven’t even mentioned the big alleyway battle, which I won’t because it’s been well-covered elsewhere! I’ll simply say that, flawed though it is, They Live is a terrific paranoid thriller whose reach exceeds its grasp! Well, there are certainly greater sins than that! I’m going to give this fine motion picture three and a half hours long, which is the running time it deserves! Ha ha!

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Burl reviews Clouds of Sils Maria! (2014)

Eh bien, ha ha, c’est Burl! I’m here with a recent French picture, Clouds of Sils Maria, which comes from Olivier Assayas, the fellow who brought us Irma Vep! I really should watch Irma Vep again one of these days – I had a fine time seeing this one by myself in the movie house when it was released those many years ago, then walking home in the rain humming “Bonnie & Clyde” to myself the whole way! Ha ha, memories!
But it’s Clouds of Sils Maria I’m here to talk about today, and this picture is something of an echo of that earlier Assayas joint! Juliette “Godzilla” Binoche, who apparently provided the original idea for the picture, stars as an aging superstar actress taking part in a tribute to the writer of Maloja Snake, a play about the romantic power dynamics between an older and a younger woman! This is the play that made Binoche’s character a star many years earlier when she played the ingĂ©nue role! Ha ha!
But things have changed and continue to quickly change! The venerated playwright kicks the bucket, the tribute becomes a memorial, and Maria, our older actress, is offered the older-lady role in a new production of Maloja Snake! She holes up in the stunning mountaintop aerie owned by the late playwright and begins running lines with her personal assistant Val, played by Kristin Stewart of American Ultra! Of course the relationship between Maria and Val mixes and blurs with that of the characters they’re reading, and this is further complicated by the troubled young starlet, played by Chloe Grace-Moritz, who is cast in the younger role!
So you can see there are a lot of games going on in the situations and even in the casting, ha ha! Some of them work and others fall flat, or are a bit too obvious, but one gets caught up in the scenario nonetheless! Of course aging and the perceptions that come with it are major themes, and one offshoot of this is the curiously hefty amount of screen time given to scenes of Val trying to convince Maria that blockbuster Hollywood pictures can contain the same thematic and emotional weight as any rarified art film or theatre play! Ha ha, and I guess this is what leads to a mysterious disappearance late in the picture!
The phenomenon alluded to in the titles of both the film and the play-within-the-film provides one of the picture’s strongest moments! The Maloja Snake is a ribbon of low-drifting cloud that winds its way through the mountains near the playwright’s lovely home, and though the characters don’t see it, we do, and it’s a pretty good trick effect too, I must say!
The movie has a few longeurs, and I can’t say I wanted these characters as my new best friends, but the picture is engaging and the acting strong! It also appears to have been shot on film (by Yorick Le Saux, who also shot Only Lovers Left Alive), and it looks great! It’s of course a picture in the tradition of Persona and Cries and Whispers, but I don’t think it quite rises to the level of those marvelous classics, its high-altitude location notwithstanding! Ha ha, I’m going to give Clouds of Sils Maria two and a half pairs of granny panties!

Monday 2 November 2015

Burl reviews Cannonball! (1976)

Vroom vroom and hello, Burl here with a movie review for you! Today I’m talking about a star-studded movie that dramatizes the famous illegal cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run! Ha ha, so is the movie in question The Cannonball Run? No, it’s the earlier, altogether more satisfying Cannonball!, directed by famed beardsman Paul Bartel!
David Carradine from Armed Response plays Coy Buckner, our hero, whom we meet as he’s waking up from a terrible dream! He’s about to embark on the great race, driving a gaudy red Trans-Am of course, and a series of mixups and confusions ensure that his goofy buddy Zippo (played by Archie Hahn from Protocol and Innerspace) and his grand amour (Veronica Hamel from When Time Ran Out… and A New Life) will be traveling in an exact copy of the same car!
Meanwhile we have A Couple Of Crazy Kids In Love, played by Robert Carradine from Mean Streets and The Pom Pom Girls and Massacre at Central High and Number One With A Bullet, and Belinda Belaski from Piranha and Gremlins; a vanful of ladies led by Mary Woronov from Get Crazy and Black Widow; a psychotic hillbilly played by Bill McKinney from Looney Tunes: Back In Action, who’s riding with country music star Gerrit Graham, from Class Reunion and The Annihilators and of course Chopping Mall; a flamboyant German played by James Keach from Vacation and Moving Violations; and a portly moustacheman, played by Carl Gottlieb from Jaws and Into the Night, who simply loads his Chevy Blazer into a plane and flies to New York!
So you can see that there are a lot of familiar faces amongst the racers! On top of that, it seems the race organizer is none other than the legendary Patrick Wright, who was in Roller Boogie and If You Don’t Stop It… You’ll Go Blind, and directed Hollywood High! And best of all is Dick Miller, from Apache Woman and Carnival Rock, playing Coy’s brother Benny Buckman! Ha ha, Benny is placing all sorts of bets with a mobster played by director Bartel, which leads to a weird scene in which Miller is savagely beaten by thugs as Bartel serenades him with quasi-Cole Porter tunes of his own composition! There’s an even weirder scene too, in which Bartel’s mobster has a confab with a pair of Mafiosi played by Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone! Ha ha, odd!
And while we’re talking cameos, we ought to mention that the directors of Hollywood Boulevard, Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, appear as a pair of small-town car nerds, and the director of The Slams, Jonathan Kaplan, shows up as a gas station attendant, and the director of A Bucket of Blood, Roger Corman himself, appears, sitting behind a tiny desk in a tiny office in the role of the Los Angeles district attorney! Whew!
There’s more to the picture than cameos, though: there’s car crashes! Lots of them, all accompanied by huge fireball explosions! They must not be too terribly hot though, because after a climactic sequence in which dozens of cars collide and erupt into infernos of metal and flame, we are told that seventeen people have been admitted to hospital as a result! Ha ha, this after we’ve seen that one of the people involve in the pile-up was shot in the head and another had a car fall on him!
Cannonball! isn’t a great picure, but it has that 1970s New World Pictures charm, some terrific humour (Bartel’s singing mobster and Gerrit Graham’s performance being highlights) and that astonishing cast! I enjoyed it thoroughly, and will champion it over any Burt Reynolds nonsense any day of the week! Ha ha, I give Cannonball! two and a half flaming ballcaps!

Sunday 1 November 2015

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street! (1984)

Ha ha and hello! It’s Burl with an olde-tyme favourite, which I watched the night before Halloween, thinking “It’s time to revisit this old bean, now that Wes “Deadly Friend” Craven has departed us! Too early, it seems!” Of course the picture I’m talking about is the original, home-grown A Nightmare on Elm Street!
Now I was never a big huge fan of the Fredster, though I certainly enjoyed seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 at the cinema, and  I guess A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 had some laughs sprinkled like cheap birdseed throughout! A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 is another picture I saw in the cinema, though now I can’t remember the first thing about it, except that it was pretty silly! Ha ha, and I always thought this one, the original, was a pretty good movie!
And I still think so, though one of its lapses in logic seemed to me now such a cromite that I found myself puzzling over it for a while! Now, I’m not here to pick apart the film’s logic, it’s only this one thing I’m going to mention! But really, a maniacal janitor killed twenty kids in the neighbourhood within fairly recent memory, and none of these teens has ever heard about it? I call faddle!
Anyway, the rest of it is perfectly logical, ha ha! The murderer in question, Fred Krueger, was released on a technicality, and the neighbourhood parents tracked him down and had a little fry-party! Then, some years later, Fred gets up the mojo to start appearing in the dreams of the neighbourhood’s surviving kids, and proves himself able to administer fatal pokings from beyond the veil of Phobetor! Yikes! Watch out, kids!
Well, poor Nancy is the hero of the piece, and I say poor Nancy not only because she’s run through the wringer in the course of the photoplay, but because she’s played by Heather Langenkamp from Star Trek Into Darkness, who, I’m sorry to say, has never struck me as a very good actress! Luckily her dad is an iron-nosed cop played by John Saxon from Fast Company and Blood Beach and Welcome to Spring Break and Black Christmas, and that makes up for a lot! Ha ha! And her mom is Ronee Blakely from A Return to Salem’s Lot, which is kind of an odd casting choice if you ask me, but it works out reasonably well!
Nancy’s pals are Tina, played by Amanda Wyss from This House Possessed, Rod, essayed by Nick Corri from Gotcha, and Johnny Depp from Private Resort! They’re all fairly doomed, and it’s up to Nancy to take the fight to Fred, and to make a series of elaborate booby traps in about two minutes! Ha ha, she has exploding lightbulbs and swinging sledgehammers – the works! And it all seems to do the trick, except for the producer-mandated nonsense-shock ending! Ha ha, you can almost hear that producer whispering "Remember Carrie?" in poor Wes's ear!
I like to watch these things as though I’m just seeing them for the first time, and Fred Krueger was not the Catskills boogeyman he later became, and it’s just another low-budget 80s horror picture! That’s easier said than done of course, but the upshot this time around is that I was impressed with the movie, and found it imaginative and effective! It’s still goofy and not really that scary, but beneath all that the movie has a seriousness of purpose that endeared me to it! There are some fine moments throughout, like Nancy’s schoolroom dream and the death of her pal Tina! The trick effects are superb, and it’s altogether very well put together! Ha ha, I give A Nightmare on Elm Street three telephone tongues!