Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 29 February 2016

Burl reviews Beginning of the End! (1957)

Fss fss, it’s Burl here with another giant monster movie to review! This is one of the big bug pictures of the 1950s, but I’m not talking about one of the great ones, like Them! or even Tarantula! No, this is Beginning of the End, and while I’ve always kind of admired the apocalyptic promise of the title, the picture itself sits down on the lower rungs of the genre!
It comes from Mr. B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon! We certainly know of his ways, ha ha! He liked to make things turn big and then rampage! Of course his filmography is more varied than people think – look at Necromancy or The Big Bet, or his mad bomber picture, The Mad Bomber! But mostly he liked big things on the rampage, much as Charles Band has a strange obsession with things that are but wee!
Now here we have a picture about giant grasshoppers ravaging the Midwest, and our hero is a government entomologist played with marvelous stolidity by Peter Graves from Number One With A Bullet! It seems that one night a young couple are nibbled right out of their Lovers’ Lane automobile, and then shortly after that it’s discovered that an entire town has been destroyed by fiends unknown! Graves and a lady reporter (poor, doomed Peggy Castle) get on the case, and with stunning rapidity Graves deduces that some grasshoppers must have eaten the growth hormone he and his deaf plant scientist buddy have developed in order to create giant melons! So, yes, it’s a pretty direct rip-off of Tarantula!
The deaf fellow is eaten up pretty quickly, and the scene is notable for the fact that the actor, on being confronted by the giant grasshoppers, wildly pantomimes fear but, because he’s deaf, is apparently unable to utter any sort of sound! Soon the Army is fighting the bugs too, but they get overmatched, and it’s back to the drawing board! By this point, of course, Morris Ankrum from Giant from the Unknown is involved! Soon the hoppers hit Chicago, a heckuva town, and it looks like there’s no other choice but to drop nuclear bombs on the ol’ Windy City! But wait! Graves has a crazy idea that just might work – play a grasshopper love song on a barge in the lake and let them all swim out to their doom! Ha ha!
Well, we all know about the special effects here! It’s actual grasshoppers crawling around on picture postcards of the Wrigley Building! But really, that’s not quite fair, because there are some trick effects that work perfectly well, and even manage to give the impression that facing down a giant grasshopper in real life would be terrifying! You know, in my high school science class I did a research project entitled “Do Grasshoppers Have Lips?” The conclusion I came to was definitely yes, they do, and ha ha, I can tell you that I wouldn’t like to see those lips smacking in my direction!
It’s a silly little picture of course, sitting in the mid-lower range of the Big Bug genre, but that’s a genre I like, so I had a fine time watching this one! I’m going to give it two polygraph machines!

Burl reviews Return of the Living Dead part II! (1988)

From beyond the other side of the computer screen, it’s Burl, here to review a zombie picture! Here’s another low-budgeter that I saw – snuck in to see, actually – at the theater, back when such things having a theatrical release was more common! The picture is Return of the Living Dead part II, and it’s the sequel to a picture I like very much! Ha ha, you guessed it, Return of the Living Dead! But is the sequel its equal? The short answer is ha, ha ha ha, ha ha no!
But it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, either! Usually I harbor an inordinate fondness for even junky pictures I managed to see in the movie theater while under age (Deadly Friend is another good example), but this one I felt was terrible even then! Moreover, I remembered it as being essentially gore-free: unpardonable in a zombie picture! Watching it now, it has a certain slickness which it wears well (the photography is courtesy of Robert “Inherent Vice” Elswit), and there are more gruesome moments and, yes, for lack of a better word “gore,” than I’d thought!
But, ha ha, it’s still pretty bad! It begins with a group of kids, two bullies and an everykid, who discover an Army barrel containing not just a zombie but the 2-4-5 Trioxin gas which creates them! The everykid, who’s being played by Michael Kenworthy from The Blob, is locked in a mausoleum while the bullies open the barrel and get themselves sprayed in the face by the chemical! Meanwhile two grave robbers, played by James Karen from Time Walker and Thom Matthews from Friday the 13th part 6, are roaming the same graveyard, and they too get a few lungfulls of Trioxin!
Of course those two fellows were in the first picture, and here they are again, mystifyingly playing entirely different characters! Ha ha, of course they couldn’t have played the same characters, since they all got nuked at the end of the first installment! I guess this, rather than any attempt to maintain a standard of quality, was how they chose to bring a sense of continuity to the series! And again, they spend much of the movie dying and dead, and either not realizing that or not accepting it! They do an awful lot of wailing about it too, which gets old very quickly!
Suzanne Snyder from Weird Science is in the picture too, and a few other characters, and everyone is running around a tract home neighbourhood trying to elude the zombies, and later the Army, who, as they always like to do, have quarantined the town! There are some pretty good trick effects thrown in there, and one imagines a constantly stressed and exhausted makeup effects crew; but on the other hand there are lots of dumb gags! Some are, if unoriginal, at least acceptably dumb, like the severed hand giving the finger; others are so dumb as to cause wincing and shaking of the head, like the dancing Michael Jackson zombie!
It’s almost aggressively forgettable, which may be its greatest sin! Too bad, since it comes from the director of the most assuredly unforgettable King Frat! See that one when you get a chance! But know this: you may already have seen Return of the Living Dead part II and just don’t remember! Ha ha! I give it one and a half Army truck driver doobies!

Sunday 28 February 2016

Burl reviews Big Trouble in Little China! (1986)

Ha ha, this is ol’ Burl talking at you from the Pork Chop Express, here to tell whoever’s listening that John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, the picture he made right after Starman, is still one of the most enjoyable movies the 1980s ever produced! And, ha ha for a guy like Burl that’s saying a lot! Yes, I remember going to see this one in the theater with my good pal Carnee! We watched it, then, as the lights came up and the end credits scrolled, Carnee and I just looked at one another and without a word settled back in our seats to wait for the next screening! Ha ha!
And guess what! Just the other day I saw it in the theatre once again! Ha ha, that’s right, it was screened along with a bunch of other elderly movies (including The Dark Crystal), and I was there! It was legitimately fun to see the gosh darn thing with an audience – a far bigger audience, I might add, than I saw it with in its original flop release! Ha ha! 
Of course it’s the story of hapless tough-truckin’ hombré Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell from The Mean Season, who gets mixed up in the subterranean craziness of San Francisco’s Chinatown! Along with pals played by Dennis Dun and Victor Wong from Prince of Darkness, and an overly spunky gal played by Kim Cattrall from Porky’s, Jack sets forth to rescue a comely maiden with green eyes from the ancient cursed wizard Lo Pan, essayed by James Hong from Blade Runner! Ha ha, that was a plot rundown for any poor fools who haven’t seen this picture! Let me assure you, it’s worth it!
Now, this is a king-fu fantasy picture, and while it didn’t break any new ground with the fight scenes, and I’ve always thought they could stand to be more kinetic, they’re fun and well-done! With the exception of Kim Cattrall, who seems to be trying on a spunky 1930s screwball heroine persona (the better, perhaps, to snag a role as Indiana Jones's next girlfriend), the performances are perfect for the job! Special mention must be made of Russell, who walks the perfect line between the Duke and a dunce! Victor Wong is also a pure-d delight in the role of Egg Shen, tour bus driver, San Francisco Chinatown! Ha ha!
It’s a shame this picture failed at the box office! But on the other hand, maybe it’s not! Perhaps this is part of a select coterie of pictures, among whose number I might include The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Lifeforce and other big-budget goofnugget-supremes, which are terrific on their own and could only be injured by the existence of some lame attempt to recreate their particular magic in a sequel! I used to want someone to make Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League, but now I’m not so sure! Anyway, John Carpenter doesn’t have a great record of sequelizing his own stuff anyway – just look at Escape From L.A.! Even Halloween II’s no great shakes!
Well, this picture has its faults, but while I’m watching it I hardly notice them! That’s because it’s just so gosh darn marvelous an experience! It’s got pretty 80s trick effects from the gang who provided Ghostbusters with the same; it’s got laffs, action, and monsters; and it spends plenty of time knocking out the props from under its putative hero, who doesn’t actually do very much that’s particularly heroic! Ha ha, during the climax he shoots his gun at the ceiling and is knocked out by the falling masonry that results; so really the picture is pointing and laughing and kicking sand at the whole concept of the tough-guy hero, which is a-okay by ol’ Burl! This is a perennial good-time picture and a personal favourite, and I give Big Trouble in Little China three and a half six demon bags!

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Burl reviews Innocent Blood! (1992)

Ya pastrami, it’s Burl, here to review a John Landis horror picture I’d somehow never before seen! Ha ha, I guess this movie, Innocent Blood, is really the only other full-length Landis horror movie besides An American Werewolf in London, and it’s kind of a mystery why I didn’t go see it back when it first came out in 1992! I was going to see lots of movies back then, mostly at the budget cinema, and as a horror-loving Landis fan it’s inexplicable that I gave it a pass! Just one of those things, I guess! Now that I think of it, I was living in another city at that time and probably didn’t have much disposable income! Not like now, ha ha, ha ha, ha!
Well, I’ve finally caught up to the picture! I’d always assumed it was a fairly lightweight mock-horror picture, without much, you’ll pardon the expression, bite, ha ha! But turned out to be stronger meat than I’d supposed, featuring plenty of nudity and a decent helping of gore! Ha ha, a pleasant surprise!
It seems that a French vampiress is living in Pittsburgh for some reason (perhaps it’s  the same reason a British vampire is living in Detroit in Only Lovers Left Alive!), where she tries to live a low-key existence by preying exclusively on criminals! This backfires when she puts a non-fatal biting on good old Robert Loggia, whom we know from Psycho II and Armed and Dangerous and orange juice commercials; he’s a brutal capo who is at first totally confused to find himself a vampire, but eventually realizes it might just be a good way to conduct his business!
 Our pretty hemogobbler, wishing to rectify her mistake, hooks up with undercover cop Anthony LaPaglia, from Betsy’s Wedding, and chases after old Loggia! But Loggia puts a biting on several of his underlings, figuring that by such a strategy he’ll soon be the ruler of the underworld in more ways than one, ha ha! He first bites his lawyer, Don “Toy Story” Rickles, but this ends in Rickles’ spectacular demise in a hospital when the curtains are opened to let in the daylight! Linnea “Witchtrap” Quigley plays the screaming nurse!
There are plenty of director cameos of course, this being a Landis picture! We see Sam “The Quick and the Dead” Raimi (a better actor here than he was in Indian Summer, ha ha!), Dario “Opera” Argento, Michael “Fletch” Ritchie and Frank “The Dark Crystal” Oz! And there are plenty of other familiar faces: David Proval from Mean Streets and Vice Versa; Kim “The Club” Coates, Marshall “Stand By Me” Bell, Angela “F/X” Bassett, Luis “The Limey” Guzmán; and, in the role of the cowardly paparazzo, Tom “Creepshow” Savini! Everyone in the movie is watching other movies: vampire pictures of course, of both Universal and Hammer varieties, but also The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Phantom of the Rue Morgue (the clip used includes that great skylight gorilla jump, ha ha!) and even Strangers on a Train!
I was indeed gratified that the movie delivered the goods, along with many incidental pleasures! On the other hand, at nearly two hours in length it’s absurdly overstretched, and it feels it! There’s a great deal of dialogue and incident I would classify as “dumb,” though, ha ha, I hate to be so negative! And I can’t say that Anne Parillaud, the vampiress, is very effective in the role! But in the end the good stuff just barely outweighs the bad, and while it’s no classic, it’s an enjoyable time at the movies! Had I seen in in the theater back in 1992, I’d have probably liked it even better! I give Innocent Blood two trademark Landis wildcat roars!

Monday 22 February 2016

Burl reviews The Dark Crystal! (1982)

Clik-clik-clik, it’s Burl, here to review a Muppeticious movie from the early 1980s! Ha ha, back around Christmas of 1982 I saw this picture in the theater with my little brother, and I seem to recall him literally hiding under his seat for a good part of it! The picture is The Dark Crystal, and I had a chance to see this one again in the theater again just recently, this time with my young son! He’s just four, but had no trouble with the scary scenes at all, and wait until I tell my brother about that! Ha ha!
The movie is all puppets all the time, except for a few location long shots where it’s people dressed up as puppets! But most of it is in the studio, in the muppety alien world designed by Brian Froud and ruled by the evil Skeksis, who are a bunch of ragged gooneybirds! Some distance away live their counterparts, the Mystics, a race of gentle bignoses who, ha ha, spend the best part of the movie trudging! And then we have the heroes, humanoid youths of the Gelfling race named Jen and Kira!
Jen, apparently a male Gelfling, is informed that his destiny involves a journey and something to do with a chunk of crystal, but the specifics of his mission remain maddeningly vague! He’s on his way to the Skeksis castle, to do he knows not what, and in constant pursuit are the huge beetle bugs that act as the Skeksis’ soldiers! He meets up with a squishfaced old wizardress named Aughra, whose resemblance to Yoda is surely coincidental despite her being performed by co-director Frank “An American Werewolf in London” Oz! Ha ha! Well, the nonsense plot eventually comes to a climax, and the crystal does its thing, whatever that is! Beams of light and so forth, ha ha!
Jim “Into the Night” Henson, the other co-director, brings a muppety goodness to the whole affair while not shying away from unpleasantness! There’s lots of ugly stuff in the picture, particularly when it comes to the Skeksis! There’s some felted silliness also, no question, but it’s got a gritty fantasy flavour that really works while the picture is running, but, at least for me, and apparently for my son, doesn’t encourage repeat viewings!
The look of the thing is the real draw, with its photography by the great Oswald Morris (his last film!) and the fantastic sets! Ha ha, Aughra’s laboratory, with its big spinning universe thing, is a particular delight! There are some fine voice talents too, like Billie Whitelaw from Night Watch and Hot Fuzz, Barry Dennen from The Shining and Trading Places, and, would you believe, none other than Thick Wilson from Sex With the Stars and Bullies! Ha ha, Thick Wilson!
The picture is an achievement, that’s for sure, but there’s something unappealing and unmemorable at the base of it! It’s sort of generic, I think, in a number of crucial ways! All these puppets and all this wonderful craftsmanship should have been in the service of a story that really pushed some boundaries! But it doesn’t! In the end, I’m going to give The Dark Crystal two toothy fuzzballs!

Burl reviews Deadpool! (2016)

Ha ha and hello, it’s Burl to review the new smash hit! Now I’m not the biggest fan of the superhero movies, and in fact you might more properly say I’m not a fan at all! Deadpool, the movie under review today, while very definitely a standard-issue superhero picture in most ways, at least takes the trouble to make fun of the genre and its irritating sense of self-importance, so I have to say I enjoyed it much more than, say, The Avengers! (I tried to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and couldn’t even make it through the first shot before shutting it down! Ha ha!)
Deadpool is a superhero I was previously unfamiliar with, though he looks a little like Daredevil and a bit like Spider-Man! His shtick, apparently, is to repeatedly insist that he’s not a superhero at all while all the time looking and acting exactly like one! He’s also a real killer! He shoots people with his popgun or else puts a poking on them with his swords! But who is this superhero, you might ask? Well, this movie presents us with his full tale of woe!
Apparently he’s a sardonic fellow named Wade Wilson, an ex-supersoldier who hangs out at a fight club and does tasks for people which resemble the good deeds done by Repairman Jack in the book series of that same designation! His best gal is a L*dy of the Night and his best pal (played by T.J. Miller from Our Idiot Brother) is evidently an escapee from Secret Window-themed improv comedy group!  But of course all this is not flashy enough for the superhero genre, so first Wade has to get the dread disease cancer, then have this affliction cured by some sort of nonsense process offered him by obvious bad guys! This involves various forms of torture, after which, hey presto, he’s a superhero! It’s explained that he’s now essentially invulnerable, but on the downside he looks a little like Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs!
So his mission now is revenge on the people who turned him into an ugly superhero, and he’s meanwhile got to dodge two minor members of some superhero club who would like him to join! For some reason he lives with a blind lady played by Leslie Uggams from Poor Pretty Eddie, and all these two do is insult one another! Ha ha! Eventually it all comes to a climax – a typical but relatively low-key climax for this sort of thing – at a shipyard!
Now, this is a pretty entertaining picture, with lots of funny jokes and stuff, but it’s got lots of problems too! It supposes itself to have a sturdy emotional core, with the love story and the hero’s idea that having a face like a griddlecake is an impediment to that love! But the characters, when they’re together, speak like improv comedians, and there’s not an ounce of sincerity between them! In no ways did they or the bartender pal character ever seem like real people! The flashback structure just makes the movie seem like it’s spinning its wheels narratively, and the repeated fourth wall breaking, while occasionally clever in the moment, is neither innovative nor sufficiently cutting! The action scenes are merely okay, and scattered rather parsimoniously through the picture! Ha ha!
With all that said, I enjoyed it a lot more than most of the other superhero pictures I’ve seen in the past decade! The big silver guy was pretty funny, and his uptight remarks perfectly timed! But I think as the series of films progresses they will necessarily become more and more generic even than this one: overtaken and subsumed into the silly universe within which all these pictures apparently exist! I guess he’ll team up with Bat-Man next, or Spider-Man, or just stick with the big silver guy and his moody consort! I don’t pretend to know! For now, I give Deadpool one and a half Negasonic Teenage Warheads!

Sunday 21 February 2016

Burl reviews Nothing but the Night! (1973)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here with another tale of dark doings amongst the rocky crags of Blighty! This one is not only from the same director as Doomwatch, it was largely shot in the same place, though here it’s not meant to be Cornwall, but the mid-northern reaches of Scotland, on an island called Bala! The picture is called Nothing but the Night, and it was the first, last and only picture produced by Christopher Lee’s sort-lived Charlemagne production company!
Lee, whom we know from Desperate Moves, Starship Invasions, The Gorgon and so many others, is investigating a series of accidents and suicides which he believes to be murders! Ha ha, we know he’s right, because we see these crimes taking place, though we don’t see anything more than the giallo-like black gloves of the perpetrator! In the meantime, a very special orphanage becomes the epicenter of the mystery after a bus driver spontaneously conflagrates and the bus crashes into a ditch!
All of this has to do with the group of elderly trustees who run the orphanage, and one young girl in particular who’s suffering from terrible nightmares! Ha ha, a hypno-doctor played by Peter “Star Wars” Cushing puts the girl into a state, then declares that her nightmares seem to actually be someone else’s memories! This girl is not herself an orphan – her mother is a murderess played by a perpetually disgruntled Diana Dors, whom we all know from Swedish Wildcats! Dors becomes the prime suspect in another murder, and the next thing we know she’s crawling around the island, taking forever to get nowhere!
You may well be wondering just what’s going on in this crazy plot! Well, the reveal of what’s actually happening is one of the best parts of the picture, so I’m not sure if I should give it away! I’ve alluded to it already, so we’ll leave it there I suppose! Other strong points this picture has to offer include the dingy 70s British atmosphere and the strong cast! Not only do we have Cushing and Lee, here playing buddies rather than arch-enemies, but also such merriweathers as Michael Gambon from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou playing a super-competent cop, and Fulton McKay from Local Hero as an islander!
On the debit side we have a plot that meanders much too much, and spends a lot of time with the disagreeable Dors, whose character adds little to the narrative and less still to the mystery! Nevertheless, I was in the right mood to be pulled in and to enjoy the incidentals while wondering where the plot would go, and while the revelations are pretty raggedy, there’s some strong imagery in the last act that sort of carries it through!
It would be pretty fun to have a Bleak Early 70s British Craggy-Coast film festival, into which you’d program this picture, Doomwatch, The Wicker Man, Tower of Evil and probably others! I wonder how Nothing but the Night would stand up against those others! On its own, I think I’m going to give this compelling but bumbling picture one and a half terrifying tug-o’-wars!

Sunday 14 February 2016

Burl reviews Best of Enemies! (2015)

Ha ha and bon mots, it’s Burl, with a review of a documentary that presents us with the full story of the non-friendship between Gore "Shadow Conspiracy" Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.! The picture is called Best of Enemies, and like any decent doc it manages to give us a nice, polished version of not only that story, but of the situations and events that surrounded it!
Ha ha, and that’s a pretty appealing prospect for ol’ Burl, since the times in question – it’s the late 1960s, we’re talking about here – and the political and social events occurring within them are of special interest to me! I also once met a fellow whose job was to cat-sit Vidal’s felines! Yes, this poor soul had to go live in Gore Vidal’s spectacular Italian cliffside villa, of which we get glimpses in this movie, and live there for four or five months at a stretch, his most onerous duty to feed the great man’s cats while Vidal was off living in New York or somewhere! Ha ha, pretty sweet deal!
I can’t say I have any such tenuous connection to Buckley, which suits me fine because frankly I never much liked the guy, ha ha, and probably wouldn’t have cared for his catsitter neither! So I’ll happily admit my sympathies were overwhelmingly with Vidal in the great tête-à-tête featured in this picture! And of course the contretemps in question happened over a series of debates during the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968, during which the ABC network, unable to cover the conventions the way the other more monied networks did, hired these two high-toned palaverers to debate the issues of the day!
Their debates mainly ended up as exchanges of erudite trash-talk, ha ha! Vidal was better at this, though Buckley, despite merely being smart and not the towering intellectual giant he believed himself to be, manages many full-throated runabouts that demonstrate a quick wit, but never, unless I blinked and missed it, a great deal of depth! Ha ha! I guess that’s the pitfall when you’re trying to mount an intellectual defense of an ideology that by its nature resists such defense!
Of course this all leads up to the famous blowup which took place in the ninth of the ten scheduled debates, held in Chicago while police and protestors engaged in a full on, if rather one-sided, war on the streets outside! Buckley found himself pushed just that much too far when Vidal called him a “crypto-Nazi,” and instead of responding with a passionate rebuttal explaining just exactly why he wasn’t a crypto-Nazi – and I for one would have been curious to hear such a rebuttal – growled “Ha ha, listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered!”
Well, this insulting, threatening utterance was the climax of the debates, and framed the relationship between the two men for the rest of their lives, and not incidentally helped father a terrible era of insult journalism which we still suffer today! Ha ha, it’s really too bad! But this is an entertaining picture, and does a nice job setting the context , and remains even-handed in its treatment of the protagonists! The set-up is a bit laborious if you already know anything about these guys, but that’s to be expected I guess! And it maybe goes a bit hard on milking the drama of the Buckley’s meltdown, but that’s equally to be expected! The only other major problem is that we have to look at and listen to that patrician reptile Buckley a lot more than I’d have cared to, but that’s part of the price of the ticket, ha ha! I give Best of Enemies three collapsed ceilings!

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Burl reviews Interiors! (1978)

Uht uht uht, it’s Burl, here with a movie that is not Woody Allen’s funniest, but turns out to be a pretty accomplished piece of work nevertheless! Ha ha, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because the word on it was (I thought) pretty bad! But most of the contemporary antipathy for it came from, I believe, a Dylan-at-Newport sort of reconfiguring a percentage of the audience felt was being forced on them! There were more than a few resentment-fuelled reviews out there, I think!
But the picture certainly has been reassessed with the wider view offered by the many years that have passed since its summer-of-’78 release! I finally saw it for the first time the other night, and it seemed at once like an earnest, beautifully-appointed drama in the Cheever style! You might call it the Cheever-Ross style, though these characters are as Anglo-Saxon as can be! It’s an extension of the Hall family from Annie Hall – or a regression, given that the family in Interiors is just the sort of family the Hall Family were parodies of!
The family in question is a well-off bunch consisting of three sisters, Renata (Diane Keaton from Harry and Walter Go To New York), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt from D.A.R.Y.L.) and Flyn (Kristin Griffith from King of the Hill)! The parents are Arthur (E.G. Marshall from Creepshow, ha ha) and Eve (Geraldine Page from The Rescuers), but they’re not together for long, as Arthur has decided that he’d like to go off on his own for what he calls a “trial separation!” Ha ha!
This causes shock waves through the family, but none more destructive than to the fragile Eve, whose bland, ascetic interior designs provide the literal half of the title’s meaning! She’s a lady with a past full of emotional turmoil and suicide attempts, and the departure of Arthur, who clearly means it to be permanent, inches her ever closer to the deep end – to the deepest end, in fact! The daughters, who are varying degrees of self-centered, meanwhile deal with their own tribulations: a creative block for poetess Renata; creative unfulfillment for actress Flyn, and a total lack of talent coupled with enough self-awareness to realize that for Joey, who is also the one tasked with keeping a resentful eye on Eve!
Two of the ladies also have husbands, ha ha! Renata is coupled with a bearded novelist who is wrestling with his own creative demons and a monsterous dose of self-pity; this fellow is played by the late Richard Jordan, whom we recall from Dune, The Mean Season and The Hunt for Red October! Joey is married to Sam Waterston from Crimes and Misdemeanors, who seems relatively problem-free aside from the mutual dislike he shares with flaky Eve!
Ha ha, the finality of Eve’s marital crisis is confirmed when Arthur brings home a lady he intends to marry, a bright-eyed widow played by Maureen Stapleton from Summer of ’42 and The Money Pit! This is a fascinating character who could easily, too easily, have been made a caricature, but Stapleton’s performance resists this most impressively! In fact all the acting is excellent, as is Allen’s Ingmar Bergman-like direction and Gordon Willis’s bleak beachside cinematography! The writing, on the other hand, sometimes verges on the edge of parody, or at least some sort of experiment by which a Bergman picture has been transplanted to New York and environs! These are some pretty self-involved people ha ha!
Finally, however, I enjoyed it a great deal more than I expected to! It fits into that category of pictures into which I also placed such salamanders as The Last Married Couple in America and It’s My Turn, though this is altogether better! I give Interiors two and a half signs of strain!

Saturday 6 February 2016

Burl reviews White of the Eye! (1987)

Well howdee and hucklebucks, it’s Burl, here with a movie set in America’s great Southwest! The picture is White of the Eye, and it’s a movie I remember seeing when it was newly out on video, and thinking was very stylish indeed; but I was never quite sure if I really liked it much! Well, looking at it again, as I did just last night, I find a movie that’s occasionally very silly, but is strange and intense and certainly very watchable!
We’re in the sunbleached suburbs of Tucson, where bored, wealthy wives wave their petals back and forth like desert flowers, and a madman killer, whom we see only as a pair of legs and a huge eyeball, is picking them off in ritualistic murders that hearken back to Manhunter! (Ha ha, this movie was shot before the Michael Mann picture came out, so I’m certainly not calling copycat!)
In the meanwhile we get deep into the story of Paul and Joan White, played respctively by David Keith from Firestarter and The Great Santini and Cathy Moriarty from Matinee and Raging Bull! Paul builds and installs audio equipment (Ha ha, I wonder if his business card reads “Paul White, Audio Consultant!”), and, as a series of grainy flashbacks tell us, he and Joan met when Joan and her disco-loving boyfriend (played by Alan Rosenberg from Stewardess School and Miracle Mile) pass through town on their way from New York to Los Angeles!
Well, the police, led by dogged inspector Art Evans – a familiar face from Fright Night and Die Hard 2 and Class Reunion and Into the Night – start moving in on Paul, believing him to be the killer due to his truck tires, which are so much talked about in the pictures that eventually characters are begging other characters to stop talking about the tires already! Ha ha! And I’m going to drop a spoiler here, so if you don’t want to know the movie’s twist, best stop reading! But it’s a twist so expected that, for me, it hardly even counts as one! (Though that may just have been one of my rare moments of plotguessing prescience!)
Anyway, the upshot is that Paul, despite apparently in possession of a perfect alibi due to his supposed affair with lusty customer Alberta “The Keep” Watson, is in fact the madman killer! The whole last act, where he paints his mouth red and, as his little daughter says, puts on a bunch of hot dogs (ha ha, it’s actually dynamite) and chases his terrified wife around, is pretty crazy, and I would say that David Keith, despite being no Keith David, and despite being the worst actor in Firestarter by a long chalk (and that’s saying something), does a pretty good job being Mr. Loonytunes!
The whole crazy thing was directed by Donald Cammell, a fascinating, tragic figure who only got to make four movies in his whole career, or maybe three and a half because he co-directed Performance; or maybe even just two and a half because he took his name off the last one, Wild Side; and then killed himself about ten years ago! Of course we’ve all seen Demon Seed, and that’s a pretty good picture in its way, but so is this one! It gets goofy, like when Paul uses his mystical moan to determine where the speakers should go in a room, but mostly it’s a strangely realistic portrayal of an extremely unrealistic situation! All the acting is good, and I particularly liked Marc Hayashi, from Chan Is Missing and Angel, in the role of an Asian good-old-boy deputy! A very likeable character, ha ha! In fact all the cops are strangely likeable in this picture!
It looks great and pulls off some marvelous, harrowing sequences, but on the other hand I found the musical score intrusive and unappealing, and there were some slow and repetitive bits! On the whole it felt like a fancypants version of The Ghost Dance! So, not quite a masterpiece, but a very unusual work of 1980s horror! I’ll give White of the Eye two and a half piledrivers!

Monday 1 February 2016

Burl reviews Doomwatch! (1972)

From a remote island it’s Burl, here to review an early-70s movie about a mainlander travelling in his official capacity to a small, hermetic island off the UK coast in order to solve a mystery involving (among other things) a missing girl, and met by what appears to be a conspiracy among the unsociable residents of that island! Ha ha, no, it’s not The Wicker Man I’m talking about today, but Doomwatch!
Within the world of the movie, “Doomwatch” is the name of an organization mandated to keep tabs on any globe-threatening environmental outrages, and their adventures were chronicled in a BBC television series of that same handle; this movie was their first and only leap to the big screen! I’ve never seen the show, so I’m not sure how run-of-the-mill the situation here is, but if it’s typical then I guess it was an environmentally conscious X Files type of thing!
Ian Bannen from Gorky Park and Ghost Dad plays an investigator sent to Balfe, which I initially heard as “Barf,” and which turned out to be an island off the Cornish coast populated exclusively by the world’s most unfriendliest people! Judy Geeson, who later went bonkus in Horror Planet, lurks in the background as one of the island’s friendlier faces, a schoolteacher of relatively recent arrival! Bannen is there to test the local waters and wildlife for long-term effects from an oil spill, but discovers something else going on: almost everybody on the island is slowly turning into Rondo Hatton! They’re also getting violent, a la Impulse, and all this acromania is because of something in the fish!
Initial suspicion falls upon the Navy, who keep a cordoned-off area nearby and seem lately to have been dumping stuff! Ha ha, but Admiral George Stevens, the celebrated actor known for his role in Endless Night, assures Bannen that it’s nothing to be worried about, just barrels of nuclear waste, perfectly harmless! The wry baritone of Stevens’ great voice is persuasive, so Bannen searches for another culprit, which he eventually finds! Meanwhile he’s forced to spiral his own James Mason-like voice up into increasingly higher registers by way of pleading with the recalcitrant islanders to let him help them! Ha ha, after some close calls with a gang of the resident acromaniacs, there’s a very bittersweet ending indeed!
I do like the “small town of weirdos” situation, and like it better still when it involves a remote, rocky island! So the picture had that going for it! Unfortunately I went into my viewing of the film expecting that movie about the turtle monsters who suck out people’s bones! You know the one, Island of Terror! Anyway, once I realized no bone-sucking turtle monsters were forthcoming, I was pretty bummed and didn’t enjoy the picture as much as I might have! That’s not the fault of Doomwatch of course, but, ha ha, what can you do! Anyway, Doomwatch is intelligently done and has its heart in the right place, but it also could have used a bit more pep and a dollop of style! Still, I’m going to give it two sloped brows and eventually forgive it for not being Island of Terror! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Die Hard: With A Vengeance! (1995)

Blammo, it’s Burl, here to review a mid-90s action spectacular! Of course it’s Die Hard: With A Vengeance, the third in the series that was theretofore comprised of Die Hard and Die Hard 2, and ought to have stayed that way as far as I’m concerned! I recall seeing this one in the movie theatre, but couldn’t remember if it was any good or not! Well, now I’ve got my answer: not really terrible, but frankly not much good either!
The script was originally something else, not a Die Hard movie at all, and that really shows! Bruce Willis, perhaps best known from The First Deadly Sin and Moonrise Kingdom, once again stars as John McClane, the dipsomaniacal officer of the law previously seen on multiple occasions happening to be in the vicinity of major terrorist/burglar activities! Here he is again, in the middle of it all but for the first time not entirely by coincidence! Ha ha, just mostly!
It seems the stars of Moonlighting, Willis and Jeremy “Dead Ringers” Irons, are together again for the first time, ha ha! Irons plays a Gruber number two, the brother of the fellow Alan Rickman played in the first one, and is pretending to seek revenge for the time Willis tossed his brother off a roof! It all gets started right away, with an explosion in New York, a phone call from the perpetrator, and the bleary-eyed McClane preparing to undertake that caller’s demand! And, ha ha, that task and a bisection-by-wire that takes place later in the story were all that I could remember from my previous viewing!
Anyway, he has to wear a terrible sign in Harlem, and there makes the acquaintance of Samuel L. Jackson from Exorcist III and Django Unchained! The two jolly pals go on a merry adventure masterminded by Irons, which includes more explosions, or threats of explosion that don’t follow through; crashing subway cars; harrowing Central Park cab rides and many narrow escapes! Ha ha, the very last narrow escape our true-blue friends endure is particularly unbelievable, as they hop off a boat that is in the process of exploding with the force of a Nagasaki bomb!
Cops played by actors as varied as Graham Greene from Seattle’s Loch Ness: The Lake Washington Sea Monster and Colleen Camp from Track 29 are backing Willis and Jackson up as best they can, and indeed by the time of the truck-stop anti-climax, they come through!
It’s curiously forgettable as an action picture – somehow the action scenes, as competently handled as they are, just don’t stick! Maybe they’re too silly and unbelievable, like the time McClane outruns a wall of water in his dumptruck and is fired out a manhole like a balding, unshaven jack-in-the-box! Ha ha! But watching it now, the movie seems curiously if pointlessly prescient! The picture’s now all-too-familiar imagery includes buildings blowing up in New York and citizens running from billowing clouds of dust and debris; its themes touch on race relations and the dispiriting likelihood of black people being shot by police! Ha ha, there’s even a Donald Tr*mp reference! It was all very up-to-the-minute, almost disconcertingly so!
As I said though, even with all that and some sharp dialogue and performances, it’s a curiously forgettable movie! It’s much better than the Die Hards that followed it of course, but not a patch on numbers one or two! I give Die Hard: With A Vengeance one and a half toilet bugs!