Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Sunday 27 December 2015

Burl reviews I Come In Peace! (1990)

In a space-zap style, it’s Burl, here to continue my ha’-Christmas movie rundown, by which I mean reviews of movies that aren’t Christmas movies per se, but do take place around that time of the year! Ha ha, and here’s another happens-to-be-the-holidays movie, one more along the line of Cobra than, say, Trading Places! It’s Dolph versus the alien drug dealer in I Come In Peace!
As with most of the movies in this subgenre, the Christmas content is mainly crammed into the early part of the movie, as we follow a yuppie who plays carols on his in-car CD player! Ha ha, imagine the luxury! Well, the yuppie (played by Jesse Vint from Forbidden World, it should be noted) soon runs his Beemer off the road and has it blown up by a tall goony-bird alien from the planet Trenchcoat! He might be a cousin of the fellow from Without Warning, except with not quite so bulbous a head! The alien knocks down the yuppie and performs a procedure on him that will be repeated many times in the picture! It involves whipping a barbed cord into the victim’s chest, pumping in some kind of narcotic, then extruding something from the person’s brain! This particular substance is a powerful drug that’s very popular on Trenchcoat, and accordingly this alien criminal is being pursued by an equally tall alien cop!
The alien’s next stop is a drugs-deal, where he shows off one of his other weapons, a flying CD that cuts throats! Pretty soon rogue cop Dolph Lundgren, himself almost as tall as the aliens, is on the scene, and he gets teamed up with an uptight benben played by Brian Benben, and together they must overcome their mutual acrimony, battle the nefarious White Boys and figure out the mystery of the tall aliens and all the explosions that are happening around Christmastime!
Betsy Brantley, the mom from The Princess Bride, plays Dolph’s ladyfriend, with whom he bickers quite a bit! But he doesn’t bicker with her as much as he does with the benben! It’s funny: the benben gives the film’s most amusing performance, yet his character really doesn’t bring much to the narrative! I guess he was in there to provide the mismatched-partners element that was so popular at the time!
Other familiar faces include Michael J. Pollard from Next of Kin, playing, naturally, a weirdo who straddles the line between eccentric and developmentally disabled; and Al Leong, the longhair from Protocol and Die Hard, who defies all concepts of typecasting by playing not a henchman, but a luggage salesman! Ha ha! And then there’s the Terminator-like alien, who always says “Ha ha, I come in peace!” just before he puts a killing on someone! The role only requires that the actor be tall and wear painful-looking contact lenses, and these criteria are met adequately by this particular actor, who I believe is a German!
There’s not much to be said for the plot of this picture, nor for the dialogue, nor for the acting or directing; but there are many fine stunts and quite a number of explosions! If this is the sort of thing you’re looking for, it delivers the goods in sportsmanlike fashion! I give I Come In Peace one and a half benbens, which is what you would need to bring the one in this picture up to an average height! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Star Wars: The Force Awakens! (2015)

Tieww tieww, it’s Burl, here to review that new Star Wars picture everybody’s been talking about, The Force Awakens! I’ve been watching the original three a lot lately, as my young son has just discovered these motion pictures, and it was my pleasure last night to take him to the new one in the very same theatre in which I saw the original back in 1977! Ha ha, how the world turns!
Of course the theatre has been altered significantly since that time almost forty years ago – it used to be one single screen, curved screen, which was covered with a heavy gold curtain until showtime! Now it’s eight screens, and most of the charm has been stripped away along with those golden drapes, but it’s still a pretty good place to see a movie! And last night, when I looked over at my son’s rapt face, lit by the laser blasts and bright explosions coming off the screen, munching on his popcorn, I do admit to a powerful sense of nostalgia and an increased awareness of the circular motion of history!
Now, I’m not going to talk much about the plot of The Force Awakens, because it’s pretty much the same as Star Wars! Ha ha, Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford of Blade Runner fame, even brings this up many times, most notably by pointing out that the solution to the film’s major problem is the same as it’s ever been: you just fly on in and blow it up! And Chewie yawn-howls in agreement! Ha ha!
Yes, Chewie’s as great as ever, but that’s no surprise! The new characters are fine too, though not terribly exciting; C3-PO has a red arm for some reason, but is otherwise the supercilious droid we’ve always known; Artoo just stands around, mostly; and Luke – well, I don’t want to give anything away, but Luke may or may not have a beard! And speaking of things that shouldn’t be given away, as in previous pictures, everyone here is someone’s father or son or daughter or sibling, ha ha, but at least this galactic inbreeding was programmed into the series from the beginning, as opposed to being awkwardly spliced in later, as in Spectre!
The picture was shot on film, and hooray for that! The people are, in the main, real people acting on real sets instead of mannequins gesticulating before a green screen; the camera is on a dolly or on sticks, like a real movie; and there’s a general and very welcome sense of tactility, of the sort largely missing from the blockbusters of to-day! All of this comes thanks to the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, who made Super 8 and Beyond Star Trek, and seems generally to be a creation of the collective will of those cinemagoers who were born in the late 1960s or early 70s!
He does it up more or less right here, but we all know it can’t last! It’ll be back to the green screens and the motion capture and the busy, nonsensical trick effects, and fellows like myself will be more or less uninterested! My son’s interest may continue as the no-doubt double-digit sequels and spin-offs arrive, but who knows! For the moment, I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens two and a half giant pigs!

Monday 21 December 2015

Burl reviews Trading Places! (1983)

…And she stepped on the ball! Ha ha and ho ho ho, it’s Burl, here with another non-Christmas movie set around the holidays! Of course I’m talking about Trading Places, the comedy classic made by John “Into the Night” Landis! It’s not a particularly Christmasy picture, but it does have a scene in which one of the stars, Dan “The Great Outdoors” Aykroyd, inebriates himself and dresses as a dirty Santa! Then he says “Bluaaaghhhh, blargh!” Ha ha!
We all know the plot! Here we have the rough-edged but good-hearted ne’er-do-well Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy of Beverly Hills Cop fame, and the posh fancylad Louis Winthorpe III, played by Aykroyd; and we have two elderly superwealthies, the Duke brothers, who like to play hob with people’s lives! Ha ha, the plot begins when the Dukes – Bo is played by Ralph Bellamy from The Wolf Man, and Luke is Don Ameche from Heaven Can Wait – make a bet on whether, if they switch these fellows around, putting Billy Ray in the catbird’s seat and Louis in the gutter, Billy Ray will become a respectable commodities broker and Louis a criminal street bum!
There are many misunderstandings and crenulations, and characters like the kindly butler (Denholm Elliot from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), the kindly prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis from Grandview U.S.A.) and the not-so-kindly dirtytricksman (Paul Gleason, the well known meanie from Night Game and Die Hard and Welcome to Spring Break and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home) figure in; and Christmas comes and goes, and there’s a train gorilla and some crop reports, and a big final scene on the commodities trading floor!
Well, it’s the oldest tale in the book, really, and the director, young Landis, tells it in his usual straight-ahead style, with a few ingratiating looks into the lens and other trademark moves! Of course, we have to mention how unbelievably quickly Billy Ray turns from jive-talking con man to expert commodities broker, juggling pork belly futures as he used to handle discarded gutter-butts! We expect to withhold some disbelief in a picture like this, but even with that feature engaged, and an understanding of the exigencies of plot movement, it seems a bit of a quick transformation!
But there’s lots to enjoy! The cast is great, even when they’re playing the oldest clichés in the book, like poor Jamie Lee and her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold! Eddie Murphy provides one of his finer performances, if you ask ol’ Burl, and Dan Aykroyd does prep-school nimrod almost as well as he does earnest techno-drone, which is saying an awful lot! It would have been nice to see John Candy in here somewhere, but you can’t have it all, I guess! I’m going to give Trading Places three eye-rolling gorillas that were somehow not created by Rick Baker!

Burl reviews Spectre! (2015)

Ha ha and haberdashery, it’s Burl here to review the newest Bond picture, Spectre! This one has the same director as Skyfall, and is a direct follow-up to that movie! In fact, it aims to tie together the last bundle of Bond pictures, but isn’t able to do so without adding in a strong measure of goofiness!
Goofiness is certainly something Bond viewers have seen before, but never has it been so unintentional! The picture opens with Bond, still being played by Daniel “The Adventures of Tintin” Craig, on personal assignment in Mexico City! He’s got a fellow with a little ponytail in his crosshairs, and when you see that ponytail it doesn’t matter what Bond’s reasons for killing him are, because the ponytail is reason enough! Ha ha!
After some swooping helicopter excitement and a ho-hum opening credits sequence (I liked the octopus, don’t get me wrong, but the song was a real snoozer, and the rest Binder-lite!), we get several scenes of Bond being yelled at by his boss, M (now embodied by Ralph “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Fiennes). Bond goes rogue in order to follow up clues and effect the last wishes of the previous M, and he finds himself making sweet love to beautiful ladies and on the run from a bulky henchman who recalls not so much Jaws as Tor Johnson! (Ha ha, and the fight Bond has with this manmountain later in the picture, on a curiously deserted train, ends with a gag stolen wholesale from the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou!)
There’s an alpine clinic of course, and a crazy chase where Bond secures himself an airplane seemingly out of nowhere; and another chase in Rome that’s kind of subdued in a way; and a scene where Bond gets bits drilled out of his brain! Ha ha! And the lovely Léa Seydoux, well-known from Midnight in Paris, turns up as Madeline, the doctor-daughter of a previous bad guy!
It all leads, of course, to S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the criminal organization led by, of course, the cat-stroking madman Blofeld, played by Christoph “Inglorious Bastards” Waltz! Bond and Madeline are on their own against him for a while, there in the desert, but eventually the double-naught spy hooks up with Q (Ben Whishaw from Paddington) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris from Ninja Assassin) and even M, and they form a team meant, I suppose, to recall the gang from the Mission Impossible pictures! Ha ha, teams are so popular now in pictures! Well, I guess it’s a fad!
The movie goes on longer than I thought it would, and it seemed for a while as if they’d accidentally kept making the movie past the end of this one and into the next picture in the series! And there’s a revelation nearer to the end, and this counts probably as a spoiler for those of you concerned about such things, that Bond and Blofeld are virtually step-brothers, and old Blofie has daddy issues; this, we discover, is what originally set him on a criminal path! This is silly and goofy and adds exactly nothing to the story! I guess they feel they have to add some backstory and gravitas, because that’s another current trend in big-budget action, but let me be the one to say it: not necessary!
There’s a hideout and a big explosion, but then another act’s worth of adventure and intrigue after that! Ha ha, this last section is introduced with a panoramic shot showing the River Thames, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the London Eye, accompanied by a title at the bottom of the screen explaining that this particular city is called LONDON! Ha ha, thanks – never would have known it otherwise!
But anyway, this is not the best Bond picture going (not with Moonraker still in existence, ha ha!) but it’s not the worst either (see previous parenthetical comment)! It’s got some excitement, some goofiness and some goofy excitement, and plenty of exquisite styling, and so it qualifies as a night out! I’m going to give Spectre two articulated head drills and a big ha ha! Ha ha!

Thursday 17 December 2015

Burl reviews Six Weeks! (1982)

Ha ha, Burl here to review a weepie from the early 1980s! As I’ve explained before, I have a certain fascination with the adult dramas and comedy-dramas of roughly the era 1978-82 – the time frame in which we saw the release of pictures like It’s My Turn, Only When I Laugh and The Last Married Couple in America! My working theory is that I’ve retained the perplexities I felt about adult behaviours and rituals at that formative time, and am looking to these movies for some key to solving them! Ha ha, who knows if it’ll ever really bear fruit, but in the meantime I’ll keep occasionally watching pictures in this genre, just in case!
The one I’m speaking of now is Six Weeks, which I’ve had sitting on my VHS shelf unwatched for a long time! It seemed like December would be the ideal month in which to make a viewing attempt, as it’s plain from the poster and video box that this is a holiday picture! In fact, as was the case with Cobra and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, it turned out to have only a small amount of holiday content, but that’s really the ideal for movies like this!
Now, ha ha, we can see that the picture stars Moores Dudley and Mary Tyler, but in this case, the Moore is not especially the merrier! Dudley is a tiny little California politician whose British accent must be explained in dialogue several times, and, to the extent he’s well-known at all, is well-known for using humour in his stump speeches! On the way to a fundraising party being given him, he meets a precocious pre-teen girl, Nicki, whom he casually invites to drop in to the shindig after she gives him directions on how to get there! The girl arrives with her mother in tow, and of course Mary Tyler plays the mother! She seems at first to have held on to the frosty-bitch persona she used in Ordinary People, but it turns out she’s just mad at Dudley because of a misunderstanding: she's revealed to be a cosmetic tycoon in the style of Estée Lauder, Mary Kay Ash or Elizabeth Arden! She apparently has Moore money than all three of them put together, and so she believes that Dudley has merely lured her daughter to the party so he can cadge a big donation!
The daughter develops an obsession with Dudley – not a romantic one (though it’s sometimes hard to tell), but one focused on helping his campaign! Dudley’s campaign manager, played by Joe “Lassiter” Regulbuto, is all for this, but Dudley doesn’t want to do any “babysitting,” and turns the full force of his elfin sarcasm on poor Mary Tyler! However, it turns out that Nicki, as cheery as she seems, is shortly to die of leukemia, so she’s soon helping out with the campaign, making phone calls and pasting bumper stickers onto brown Datsuns! Meanwhile she and the two Moores begin spending lots of time together, forming the de facto family that the girl never knew, and prompting carefully tamped-down r*mantic feelings between the adults!
Trouble is, Dudley already has his own family, and his wife Peg, played by Shannon Wilcox from Zapped Again, is pretty resentful that Dudley is spending Moore time with these other people than he is with her and their son! This leads to many strained discussions and a few awkward, unresolved scenes! Eventually Nicki and the two Moores end up in New York city at Christmastime, where Nicki gets to live her dream of dancing in The Nutcracker! But of course there must be the inevitable sad ending!
I have to say, this picture surprised me a bit! I’m not much a fan of three-hankie weepers, and this always looked to me like the most saccharine, most manipulative thing ever! I pictured endless scenes of the girl in her hospital bed, giving out brave and life-affirming advice to the teary-eyed Moores as she inches closer to death! In fact, after her triumphant turn on the stage, she gets on the subway, twirls around the pole for a minute, then looks stricken, utters her last words – not some fleecy bromide, but a heartrending “It hurts so much!” – and drops dead! Ha ha, it’s much Moore effective than the hospital scenario so many other movies would have chosen!
The adult relationships are Moore realistic than expected also, mainly by remaining completely unresolved! Moore’s wife is still suspicious and resentful and hurt, and while the relationship between the Moores remains unconsumated, it will clearly haunt the margins of their existence for the rest of their lives, Brief Encounter-style! So it’s still not exactly my kind of picture, but it was Moore so than I imagined! Ha ha, I give Six Weeks two Ghost Story posters, which we see plastered on a construction fence!

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Burl reviews Man of Grey Testes! (1973)

Ha ha, Burl here with another review for you, an unusual drama picture that was completely unknown to me, even as a fan of John “Sunset Cove” Carradine, who has a small role in it! Ha ha, the picture’s called Man of Grey Testes, and I feel confident in asserting that it was a pretty daring production for its time!
Werner Daniels, whose only role this was, stars as Euclid, the titular Man! He sports a silky bowl cut and a fulsome moustache, and moves through the world with Tarquin’s ravishing strides, masterful in the art of love and conqueror of all he surveys! Ha ha, at least it’s that way in his fantasies! In reality, Euclid suffers from a debilitating condition which keeps him meek and mild and shy around the ladies, ha ha! The exact nature of his condition is left a secret for most of the movie, but the title certainly gives us a powerful clue!
Finally, unable to stand his meekness and solitude any longer, he visits a therapist (Carradine, of course!) and is given a species of advice that makes him bolder, though not quite up to the level of his aggressive fantasy persona! Ha ha, it’s a little like when that nerd in Desperate Moves met Christopher Lee and became more self-confident – I guess it’s true that any old horror star might have a natural talent as an alienist! Ha ha, imagine going for a session with Boris or Bela! Or George Zucco!
Anyway, Euclid uses his new-found self-possession to take a run at several ladies of his acquaintance, but a savage debouchment at the hands of a gang of Krishna bikers puts him off! Finally he makes a connection with the washerwoman’s daughter, a pretty scrubberess played by Faith “It Came From Beneath the Sea” Domergue, at least twenty years too old for the role! Ha ha, maybe thirty years too old! But they fall in love, and we are treated to an extended version of the standard 1970s love montage: buying balloons from the balloon man, sharing a hot dog, running on the beach, overlapping exposures of kissing and rolling around!
However, his terrible medical secret is hanging above the relationship like a wrinkled Sword of Damocles, and the crisis point comes when the young, ahem, “young” charwoman discovers what he has been too afraid to say! Will she be able to put aside her horror and disgust for the sake of love? Ha ha, you’ll have to watch the picture to find out!
It’s a pretty solid little movie, even if the situations are a bit on the rote side! The picture has that kind of 1970s energy that I like, raw but overstylized – you might think of it as a cross between Play It As It Lays and Between Friends, if you were looking for a point of comparison, with just a dash of Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me! Ha ha! Of course it’s meant to be a romance, but it’s really not too romantic! Werner Daniels is pretty good in the lead role, but something must have gone wrong – he’s not even credited at the beginning of the picture, and as I say, he never worked again as an actor, as near as I can tell! Oh well! The picture was difficult to track down, but well worth it in the end! I’m going to give Man of Grey Testes two and a half bowls of salad!

Monday 14 December 2015

Burl reviews Morgan Stewart's Coming Home! (1987)

Ha ha, Burl here to review a teen shenanigans picture! No, not one of those Andy Hardy things, but an apparently troubled production called Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home! Ha ha, Ferris Bueller took a day off, Parker Lewis couldn’t lose, and yes, early in this movie, Morgan Stewart does indeed come home!
Now, if Jon Cryer, whom we know from No Small Affair and Hiding Out, ever deplored his resemblance to Matthew Broderick, the feeling probably peaked around the time this picture came out! He was already thought of as the junior league Broderick; why underline it with a title like that? Ha ha, surely to biscuits he was being offered other stuff at the time; but on the other hand, maybe not! Or maybe Cryer had legitimate designs on whatever throne it was that Broderick occupied in 1987, and this was his way of saying “Ha ha, I’m coming for you, Broderick!”
Well, if that was his intention, he should have chosen a really compelling story as his vehicle! Instead we get the tale of Morgan, a likeable enough kid, a boarding school urchin as long as he can remember, with a fabulously wealthy, but distant and robotic mother, and a gormless Republican politician for a dad! One day as the Christmas holidays approach, the parents call him home, and he’s excessively, even touchingly pleased about it!
However, it turns out that the dad’s campaign advisor simply advised that Morgan come home so he can help play happy families on the hustings! We understand from the get-go that this campaign manager is a jerk, because he’s played by poor Paul Gleason, an actor we recall from Night Game and that Christmastime standard, Die Hard! It takes Morgan a long time to realize, or at least to care, that he’s just a political prop! In the meantime he meets a lovely young lady who shares his interests, but the relationship is torpedoed by his increasingly monstrous mother!
An important aspect to Morgan’s personality, and come to think of it the only one, aside from his fundamental decency, that we ever get to see, is his horror movie fandom! I remember being told of this years ago by my pal C. Milligan, Esq., who quoted a PA announcement heard in a mall scene: “Attention shoppers: come and meet George A. Ro-mee-ro, creator of the living dead!” We even catch a glimpse of Romero signing autographs, or at least a bearded actor pretending to be him!
I also related to Morgan’s horror in the heartrending scene in which he discovers that his mother has taken down and destroyed his precious horror movie posters! The same thing happened to me, though my mother did it out of cluelessness rather than malice! Ha ha, I can laugh about it now, but I was disappointed to find my splendid one-sheets for Creepshow, The Thing, The Funhouse, A Nightmare on Elm Street and so forth had been consigned to the shredder! To this day my mother insists she didn’t do it, but who else could have? I ask you, who else?
So all that, and the fact that, like Cobra, this one of those stealth Christmas pictures, is why I finally watched the movie this year! Sadly, it’s a pretty bad picture! Sure, it’s got some appealing elements, but it’s poorly written, formulaic, and in general very badly directed! No wonder old Al Smithee ended up taking the credit, ha ha! The performances are okay, I guess, but Lynn Redgrave is almost too effective as the mother: she’s so horrible, so much like one of the alien people in They Live, that her last-minute transformation into a caring mother is not to be believed!
There’s not much else to say about it: at the end the family is all lovey again, Gleason is in chains, Morgan and the girl are a couple, and, in the most unlikely of events, the dad wins his election, even after being shown up to the world as a hopeless rube! Ha ha, I’m going to give Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home one Day of the Dead t-shirt!

Monday 7 December 2015

Burl reviews Ninja Assassin! (2009)

Ding bong wao, it’s Burl, here to review a ninja assassin movie by the title of, ha ha, Ninja Assassin! It’s a title that fits this picture perfectly, as it accurately and completely reflects the subject, the carbon-copy plot and the stolid, fingerprintless low-ambition manner in which it goes about its business! For me, this movie fits into a category I like to call I Can’t Believe I Watched The Whole Thing, and quite honestly tight now, as I write this, one day after having seen it, I can barely recall a thing about it!
The great splashes of lame CGI blood: that’s one thing I do remember, ha ha! I guess it’s this picture’s signature element, because that element sure isn’t the star, a Korean pop warbler named Rain! Ha ha, the gambit of using a striking-looking non-actor to play a role in which he’s required not to emote – Rain’s ninja training requires him to feel nothing, you see – works on paper, and occasionally on screen also, with the go-to example being Arnold in The Terminator! But Rain defeats even this simple calculation with his special brand of reverse-charisma! It must be a function of the cultural and language barriers, because on some level, in some way, he must be a compelling personality, or he wouldn’t be a big pop star anywhere, no matter what he looks like or how he can sing!
But imagine for a moment that you’re making a movie with Rain playing the lead! What do you do? Well, one idea is to pack the picture with as many flashbacks as possible, so that Rain’s character, Raizo, while still unquestionably the lead, is frequently played by actors other than, and superior to, Rain! Ha ha! So that’s just what they did here!
Organized chronologically instead of in pointless parallel, the film is about a young orphan raised in the harshest boarding school ever, where the students frequently go to bed without food, and with great oozing wounds or simply extreme pain! He is taught pitilessness and how to move among the shadows and how to toss throwing stars like a baby flinging Tic Tacs! His particular specialty appears to be a knife on a long, barbed chain, such as has been seen in Kill Bill and other films! (This weapon may never have existed in prop form, so consistently is it rendered as a computer graphic!)
The school trains ninjas of course, and these enact high-priced assassinations all over the world! Ha ha! But Raizo becomes disillusioned with the ninja life when his brutal teacher, played by none other than Sho Kosugi from Rage of Honor, and a nasty fellow student, Rick Yune from Olympus Has Fallen, kill a few of his friends! As Raizo is breaking away, an agent of “Europol,” played by Naomie Harris of Skyfall, gets on the ninja case, and Raizo is forced to protect her from the shadowy ninjas, who are treated cinematically as if they were attacking monsters or ghosts!
Ha ha, I did like the use of trick effects to show the ninjas melting in and out of the shadows, but so did the filmmakers, and this device was too frequently deployed! The affectless CGI gore strove so mightily for “Whoa!” that barely five minutes in, the picture felt like a bar-boor pulling card tricks, all forced, desperate energy! It’s virtually bereft of intentional humour, but it does have a certain peculiar strain of stupidity that puts it in the same class as oddities like The Hunted, of which I was strongly reminded several times!
So it’s got that going for it, but little else! But, ha ha, it can’t be denied that I did in fact watch the whole thing, so to paraphrase Obi Wan, who is the more foolish? I’m glad at least that I wrote all this down while I still could, because I can feel the thing fading fast in my memory - it's little more than a vague smear of digital blood at this point! I give Ninja Assassin one bamboo cage, and it probably doesn't even deserve that!

Saturday 5 December 2015

Burl reviews Last Embrace! (1979)

On the other side of the trellis, it’s Burl, here with a review of what I’ve always thought of as a sort of lost-in-the-shuffle Jonathan Demme picture, Last Embrace! I guess it was a transitional picture for him, or anyway the last one before his real transitional picture, Melvin and Howard!
It’s a Hitchcock homage from the get-go, though for a good stretch it feels more like one of those paranoia thrillers from the 70s, like The Parallax View or The Conversation or Three Days of the Condor! But it soon enough settles back into Hitchcock, Junior Variety; and I must stress to you that ha ha, that is not meant as a pejorative, necessarily! Hitch himself made a few Junior Hitchcock pictures, like Psycho, which is at the same time his best, if you ask ol’ Burl!
It’s Roy Scheider time again, that good beefjerky of an actor whom we know from Jaws, Sorcerer and of course Night Game, by which time, a decade after this one, he’d somehow become less leathery rather than more! Here he plays Harry Hannan, some kind of agent for some kind of spying organization! At the beginning, apparently off the clock, he’s enjoying a tasty meal with his lady wife, when in comes a motley crew that includes Joe Spinell from Deadly Illusion and Jim McBride, the director of Hot Times! Shifty looks are exchanged, guns are pulled and in the ensuing fracas, Scheider’s wife is killed!
Well, he goes straight to a Center For Extreme Nervousness, where an always smiling doctor played by Jacqueline “Ghost Story” Brooks takes care of him for, presumably, a good number of months! He’s still pretty punchy when they release him though, and immediately gets the idea someone is trying to retire him permanently! Ha ha, not even Mandy “Princess Bride” Patinkin is above suspicion! And here comes some early quirk from Christopher Walken, playing the mustachioed agency boss whose office is behind a secret door, and whose every word and mannerism paints him as a more likely suspect!
Well, Scheider really gets discombobulated when he finds a mousy, pet-loving lady living in his apartment! It’s Janet Margolin from Annie Hall, and quite a bit of footage is devoted to Scheider’s initially antagonistic, soon-enough-romantic relationship with this lady! The Herrmann-like score from accomplished veteran Miklos Rosza, who was having a last burst of career business around this time, informs us that this romance is not likely to end happily! Ha ha!
When he’s not suffering nightmares or pulling fits, Scheider is trying to figure out who sent him the mystery note in ancient Hebrew, the very note that has served as a death notice for at least five other men in recent days! He gets help from an old boy named Sam Urdall, played by Sam “God Told Me To” Levene, and several rabbis, including one played by the mayor from Ghostbusters, David Margulies! Meanwhile, Charles Napier gets bell-tower fever, John Glover from Gremlins 2 wanders around as a drippy-nosed academic, and it all turns out to be because… well, I’ll let you find out for yourself, ha ha!
There is a point, entering into the third act, where you may believe you’ve accidentally changed to a different movie, but don’t worry! You haven’t! It’s just the big reveal, and it lets you know what’s going on without yet telling you why; and that of course is the true mystery! I’m just glad that I'm good at letting myself remain ignorant of twists before they occur, even if they’re fairly obvious!
Compellingly enough, Last Embrace might be classed as a Jewish thriller, and is therefore elementally different from the more Catholic thrillers of Hitch! And yet of course it’s ultimately a Hitchcock tribute, but in some senses rather a slapdash one! Demme is a talented director, certainly, but here he’s mainly trying out a bunch of tricks, some of which work and some of which fall flat! (To his credit, Demme doesn’t just repeat the same Hitch tricks everyone else does, like the dolly in/zoom out or the dolly-around! Ha ha, looking at you Spielberg and De Palma!) The climax involves a plodding, slow-motion chase and a final adventure that aims for North By Northwest, but falls a little south of that, ha ha! Nevertheless it’s an entertaining thriller with good performances and an unusual, if unpersuasive, story! I’m going to give Last Embrace two grumbling refrigerators!