Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 31 May 2016

Burl reviews The Secret of My Success! (1987)

Hi, it’s Burl here with a secret – ha ha, The Secret of My Success, that is! Yes, I’ve finally taken the leap and watched this Reagan-era Yuppie office-tower comedy, in which I previously had very little interest! I didn’t suddenly develop an interest, we should note; it was more that an opportunity to watch the picture came along, and I took it!
There were many boardroom comedies made in the 80s, as befits the business-friendly attitudes of the decade! We had Big Business, Head Office, Beer, and a few others as I recall, none of which I ever bothered to watch! Ha ha, I guess it’s just not my genre! But as Roger Ebert and others have pointed out, The Secret of My Success belongs equally to the same category as the glossy Universal boardroom comedies of the 1960s, which usually featured Tony Randall! Ha ha, this picture is a Universal product as well, so I guess it makes sense!
Michael J. Fox, perhaps best known from Teen Wolf, plays Brantley Foster, a corn-fed youth with a business degree from the local cow college! He leaves the farm for New York, where he has a genuinely soul-wrenching time of it – unexpected tribulation in a breezy genre like this, ha ha – until one day he convinces his hard-bitten third uncle twice removed, a nasty capitalist played by Richard Jordan of Dune and The Mean Season, to hire him on in the mail room of the vast company he runs! But after he espies a junior executive Princess Di simulacrum essayed by Helen Slater from Ruthless People, Brantley decides he’s got to move up in the company! He takes over an empty corner office and, through a deft  combination of memo-sending and rapid changes of clothing, assumes the role of Carleton Wisecracker, the newest grey flannel suit in the building! Ha ha!
What follows are mild variations on sex farce routines, with Carlton/Brantley beginning an affair with the boss’s lady-wife and constantly changing his clothes in the office or the elevator, while also trying to evade his tough mail room boss (played by Christopher Murney from Maximum Overdrive)!  Brantley/Carlton has a mail room pal played by John Pankow from To Live and Die in L.A., and, though I spent the entire movie waiting for him to appear, we do eventually get a touch of Fred Gwynne! There are also about a million montage sequences set to the worst songs the decade had to offer! I mean really awful, stinky songs, of which 'Walking on Sunshine' is probably the best, which should tell you something!
Montages aside, it’s entertaining enough in a mindless 80s way, and Fox, while asked to do plenty of the smirky, cocksure, ain’t-I-a-stinker fiddlefaddle typical of the young male leads of that decade, maintains his Edmonton charm! It’s a harmless movie precisely because the fulsome support it gives to its desperate ladderclimbing hero, and its prostrate fealty to the executive class (bad apple Jordan aside), are so outrageously transparent! Nothing unexpected either happens or doesn't happen in this picture, and whether or not that sounds like a recommendation depends on you! Ha ha, I give The Secret of My Success one and a half bodybuilder poses!

Monday 30 May 2016

Burl reviews Alien 3! (1992)

This is rumour control, ha ha: here are the facts! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review the first feature from David “Gone Girl” Fincher: Alien 3! I saw this one in the movie theater of course, and remember thinking that it was a curiously grubby affair, and a decided, even egregious, change from the thrills we well recall from Aliens! I watched it again more recently, and it’s still a rusty barnacle, ha ha!
Sigourney Weaver of Ghostbusters returns once again as Ripley, who awakes after a crash landing to find that both Newt, the little girl she spent the entire previous picture rescuing, and Hicks, her good Marine friend, have been unceremoniously killed by the impact! She’s not exactly back home though: she’s stuck on a prison planet, or at least the remains of a prison planet, where only a small fraction of the prisoners have been left behind at their own request! Ha ha, this was a Troubled Production that went through a number of iterations before the Fincher version came out, and back when the movie was supposed to be a Vincent Ward picture, it was a gang of space monks living on a planet made entirely of wood! Ha ha, I’d sure like to have seen that version!
So we have prisoners instead of monks, but they’re a highly religious bunch who’ve taken vows of celibacy, so we’ve essentially got monks anyway! Charles S. Dutton from Mimic is one of them, as are Paul McGann and Ralph Brown from Withnail and I; Charles Dance from For Your Eyes Only is the resident doctor, and Brian Glover from An American Werewolf in London and Jabberwocky plays the warden! The alien shows up too of course, having reborn himself from a dog, so he’s more doggy-shaped than in previous installments! Ha ha!
Of course he puts a biting on the various prisoners, who are pretty resentful of Ripley for bringing it to their world! Naturally Lance Henrikson from Pumpkinhead and The Horror Show appears playing the human model for the android he achieved his fame with in Aliens (the human version is just another slimy executive of that nasty troublemaking corporation, it turns out), and there’s a climax that echoes not just that of Revelations 19, but of Terminator 2 as well! Ha ha!
The picture certainly looks good, all brassy and dirty and grim thanks to the camerawork of Alex “The Keep” Thomson; the acting, too, is strong, with Glover a particular highlight; and there’s are occasionally moments that recall the terrific original! But it’s not as atmospheric as it would like to think it is, and the narrative is a real sauce! Plus, I find it curiously forgettable somehow: I remember seeing it, but not that much what actually happens in it! Ha ha, it’s not scary either! So I’m going to give Alien 3 two instances of rumour control!

Thursday 26 May 2016

Burl reviews The Serpent and the Rainbow! (1988)

Good day, it’s Burl! How did you sleep last night? Ha ha, you dreamt of me, and of the grave – I know, because I was there! No, not really, I’m just doing some of the scary lines spoken by the villain in The Serpent and the Rainbow! To me he’s always been an unusually effective villain, at least until he transforms into Freddy Krueger near the end! We should recall that Krueger-like faces pop up in so many Wes Craven pictures – this, the Nightmare movies, Deadly Friend, Shocker, probably others – that one assumes he carried a terrible childhood memory of burn wards, along the line of Griffin Dunne’s trauma in After Hours!
Anyway, The Serpent and the Rainbow is quite simply one of Wes’ best! Bill Pullman from Ruthless People and Spaceballs plays a scientist who’s on the trail of a marvelous anesthetic, which he suspects might be the same thing used by voo-doo doctors as a zombification powder! He makes his way to Haiti, which had at that time only recently rid itself of Baby Doc Duvalier and was still in the grip of poverty and desperation, with, as we now know, worse yet to come! Craven’s portrayal of the country is surprisingly gritty and earthbound; it seemed to me at the time almost documentary in its realism! Ha ha, but what did I know: now I can see that, while leagues ahead of most 1980s horror in its attempt to ground its terrors, the picture is still in many ways pretty cartoonish!
Despite not being quite right for the role, which is itself pretty unbelievable, Cathy Tyson from Mona Lisa gives a solid performance as the pretty lady doctor who serves as Pullman’s guide through the brutal politics and strange witchdoctory of Haiti! Even better is Zakes Mokae, known from his appearance in The Island, who plays the evil houngan, who heads up the secret police on the side! Ha ha, altogether a dangerous individual, and the ever-snarling Mokae oozes forth every bit of threat innate to this excellent character, and bathes in it! Ha ha, he’s terrific! We’re also lucky to have Paul Winfield, from The Horror at 37,000 Feet, Damnation Alley, The Terminator and Blue City, in the cast, and Brent Jennings from Fear City and Michael Gough from Top Secret as well! Ha ha, I also liked the guy who played the reanimated hoodoo victim in the graveyard – the secret hero of the picture if you ask me!
The hallucination and dream sequences, Wes’ specialty of course, can occasionally be silly (the long arms! the angry chair!) or over-familiar, but they can be pretty compelling too; and the special effects required to pull off these sequences are for the most part excellent! Ha ha, poor Pullman is really put through the ringer in this one, and there’s one part in particular that’ll have the menfolk crossing their legs for days! It’s still a pretty unique horror picture, and one that has aged very well, even if it has still never really found its audience! I give The Serpent and the Rainbow three prune-faced brides!

Sunday 15 May 2016

Burl reviews Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Burl here everybody, spiraling back to the year 1980, when disco dancing was on everybody’s mind and the curiosities of the 1970s – pet rocks, roller coasters, disaster movies and Evel Knievel – were quickly losing their lustre! The last big Irwin Allen disaster picture, When Time Ran Out, came out that year, and so did Caddyshack, Airplane and The Empire Strikes Back; but all of these had been out in theaters for some time by the dates upon which the story of Everybody Wants Some!! is purported to take place (August 28, 29, 30), so the characters have probably already seen those movies, especially the Yoda picture! Ha ha! But they meander about so much that we would hardly be surprised if their peregrinations took them to the cinema, and the camera stayed with them in something approaching real time!
Yes, Everybody Wants Some!!, the newest effort from Richard Linklater, is a “spiritual sequel,” apparently, to the great Dazed & Confused! Ha ha, as a fan of that picture, I certainly was happy to rush out and see this new one, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint! It doesn’t match the standard set by Dazed & Confused, mind you, or even the remarkable Slacker; but few films could!
Instead of high school and junior high school students running around on the last day of school, we’ve got college students on the last weekend before the first day of school! Our everyman quasi-protagonist is Jake, who carts around a box of records as he meets his new roomies in a university baseball house! Ha ha, I didn’t know they had those either – I certainly don’t recall hearing of such accommodations in my happy college days! I don’t even know if my school had a baseball team, ha ha!
But apparently they are real, because that’s where Linklater lived when he went to college! And these houses were full of hyper-competitive guys wearing moustaches, whose judgment skills have not quite caught up to their expansive senses of self-worth! But of course lessons are learned and characters are built, a little tiny bit anyway, over the course of the weekend descried in this picture! Some of the characters are more appealing than others, and though they're all nominally members of the same social caste, which is to say jocks of high standing, within that group there are all manner of sub-types and stratification! Ha ha, there's even a stoner!
Now speaking of that, I saw this movie under pretty optimal circumstances: in the movie palace with a couple of buddies, a dose of wig-tightener and a smuggled-in king can! Ha ha! And, watching under these conditions, what really struck me about the movie was the fair play it employs with its characters: no one, not even the preening superjocks or the maniacal, violence-prone jerk, is all bad, and nobody else, even the wide-eyed naïf representing the writer-director, is all nice! Everyone gets their chance at being a dick or a Decent Dan, ha ha, and the movie is better for it! We get to see these adaptable lads at a country bar, a punk show, an art school party and even, briefly, on the baseball diamond!
It was altogether a hugely enjoyable experience at the movies, I must say, but only time and further viewings will tell whether this is a movie with staying power! I do look forward to those future viewings, however, and in the meantime give Everybody Wants Some!! three and a half duck-feet necklaces! Ha ha!

Thursday 5 May 2016

Burl reviews C.H.U.D.! (1984)

Hi, Burl here with a review! Ha ha, I’m still playing catch-up, so I’m going to review movies as though the chuds were on my tail! Yes, it’s true, I watched C.H.U.D. again recently, and was reminded of the times I watched it as an adolescent and appreciated the mid-low-level New York horror rung on which it sat – lower rungs of course being occupied by movies like Basket Case and Street Trash and Troma films, and the higher by, oh, I guess The Sentinel and stuff like that! Rosemary’s Baby would be at the peak of this ramshackle pyramid I’m attempting to describe!
What I’m talking about are not only budgetary considerations, but a level of street grime that renders the horror sort of realistic in a Big Apple sort of a way! C.H.U.D., which largely takes place among the street people and soup kitchens of the city, as well as beneath it in the sewers, achieves a very tangible level of grot, which is probably its most valuable asset!
It’s a story of monsters, ha ha! These entities, with their lighbulb eyes and obvious halitosis, lurk in the sewers, tragic mutations created thanks to the radioactive waste stored beneath the streets, which renders ordinary subterranean hoboes chudlike! Above grade we find a photographer played by John Heard from Too Scared to Scream and Heaven Help Us, and an activist for social justice played by Daniel Stern from Get Crazy and It’s My Turn, and a cop called Bosch, played by Christopher Curry from F/X! There’s also the terrific Kim Greist, from Brazil and Manhunter, as the photographer’s ladyfriend!
There’s an almost Jaws-like quality to the relationships between the trio of males! Heard is our Roy Scheider, gaping around at the strange new waters he’s navigating; Stern, the hippie street preacher, takes the part of the sharp, likeable younger man, bearded and iconoclastic; and Curry is the blustering captain! Dotting the film also are such familiar faces as John Bedford “Trading Places” Lloyd, Frankie ”Maximum Overdrive” Faison and Jon “Miller’s Crossing” Polito! Ha ha, even John “Matinee” Goodman shows up at the very end, only to become chud-chow pretty quick!
But the real stars of the picture are the piranha-mouthed chuds! They don’t actually spend much time on screen, these old boys, and it might have been nice to spend a little more time with them! At the same moment, while I’m strangely fond of the creatures, I don’t blame the director for trying to cut around them!
A little more pep in the direction, and in general, would have been nice, and the atmosphere is undeniably one of actors slumming; but this is in many ways a superior iteration of the 80s rubber monster genre, close kin to The Outing, Rawhead Rex, The Kindred and Pumpkinhead! I’m going to give C.H.U.D. two half-bums!

Monday 25 April 2016

Burl reviews Hush! (2016)

Ha ha, quiet everybody, it’s Burl, here to review a new-style slasher picture called Hush! It’s a bit more refined than your typical 80s-era hack-‘em-up, but shares some real similarities! Ha ha, for example, both this picture and Friday the 13th part 4 feature corkscrew deaths, ha ha; but in contrast to the Jason movie, this picture really skimps on the spaz-dancing!
The situation here is that a lady novelist with hearing issues is living alone in a house out in the woods, with only her fluffy white cat (who seems marked for death from the outset) and a pair of neighbours, with whom she is friends, and her indecision as to how she should end her latest thriller!
All of this is interrupted by brutal murder and mayhem! First to go is the neighbor lady, and her demise demonstrates the mean-spiritedness of this particular slasher-murderer! He wears a mask at first, the usual creepy featureless mask that we’ve seen in pictures like this since Halloween, but he removes it soon enough to reveal a face in need of a shave, ha ha! And with his crossbow and set a’ steak knives he clearly means business! Still, of course, our deaf lady Maddie is not going to take all this lying down, and, as in Misery, she will use everything in her writer’s toolkit to defeat the bearded menace! (But unlike in Misery, that will not include actual items in the toolkit, such as a typewriter, ha ha!)
The movie is not badly done, and there are some solid suspense scenes! Of course her hearing impairment is a factor, but not as much so as I’d thought it would be, and the incorporation of new technologies is not as clumsily done as in most modern horror pictures! There’s nothing really stellar here; no new ground broken; and while clearly that wasn’t the intention it might have been nice of the movie to give us a little something to remember it by! It’s the kind of movie that invites the application of the word “exercise,” like something that would be pulled off by the more talented students in the film school if their end-of-semester assignment was to demonstrate rote suspense! As such I will award Hush two unexpectedly hale and hardy pussycats! Ha ha!

Saturday 23 April 2016

Burl reviews Raw Deal! (1986)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here, neither drinking nor baking, but trying to play catch-up on all the reviews I haven’t written lately! For example, it’s now time to look at a slightly oddball Arnie picture that I rewatched some weeks ago and should have reviewed back then, but didn’t! Anyway, better late than never, ha ha! Today’s picture, Raw Deal, hasn’t survived in the cultural memory banks as well as other Arnies of the era, like Commando or Predator, and perhaps the reason for this is that it’s so resolutely unmemorable, seemingly by design!
But all these attempts to be a normal action-drama upend the narrative and make Raw Deal one of the stranger pictures Arnie made in the 80s! For one thing, he’s given a scene of domestic drama to play, and it comes off more like a skit from Saturday Night Live! Ha ha, that’s the one where his drunken, resentful wife throws a cake at him, and he advises her not to drink and bake!
Ha ha, she’s drunken and resentful because Arnie, who used to be an FBI agent, was forced to resign and become a smalltown sheriff in a place where everybody only talks about agriculture! The scene ends tenderly, with Arnie carrying his passed-out wife to bed and then sipping on a whiskey; but when Arnie’s friend Hyarri comes knocking with tales of Chicago gagsters who must be stopped, the muscleman doesn’t hesitate to fake his own death-by-megaexplosion and take on a new identity in order to embed himself in the Windy City underworld!
From then on he assumes the persona of Florida sharpie “Joseph P. Brenner,” eager to work for badman Patrovita, of the Chicago mafia! Ha ha, perhaps to make up for the fact that, as played by Sam Wanamaker, Patrovita is not a particularly memorable villain, there is a tripartite hierarchy within the mob gang: Patrovita; his right-hand man Rocca (played by Paul “The End of August” Shenar), and Rocca’s right-hand man Max, as essayed by Robert Davi from Wild Thing! Schwarzenegger sports an expensive lifestyle suit and pulls a bit of a Yojimbo, pitting the Patrovita gang against a rival enterprise! He meanwhile keeps in touch with Hyarri (played by the terrific Darren McGavin from Hangar 18 and A Christmas Story) and embarks on a chaste romance with a lady gambler played by Kathryn Harrold from Into the Night! A couple of actors from Lassiter, Ed Lauter and Joe Regalbuto, figure in to all this as well! Ha ha!
Anyway, there’s some action and plenty of gunfire, and a scene in a transvestite bar, but on the whole it seems meant as a step up on the classiness scale for Schwarzenegger: an action-drama rather than the pure action pictures he’d theretofore made his stock-in-trade! They hired a real director for the thing (John Irvin, who brought us Ghost Story) and a big deal crew (Alex “The Keep” Thomson was the cinematographer; Anne V. “In the Line of Fire” Coates the editor)! But, though it has a few good bits of dialogue and some durable if unexciting performances, it’s also rarely exciting or thrilling or funny, features an intolerable musical score and is generally unmemorable! In those ways, and also with the Chicago setting, it reminded me strongly of Next of Kin, ha ha! I give Raw Deal one and a half guys from the dress shop!

Monday 28 March 2016

Burl reviews The Towering Inferno! (1974)

Snap, crackle, pop, it’s Burl, here to review that most burnt sienna of movies, The Towering Inferno! Ha ha, I saw this on TV a number of times as a kid, and though it was no Snowbeast or Curse of King Tut’s Tomb or This House Possessed, it was and is an artifact of the time with powerfully Proustian capabilities!
Of course there was no mistaking this for the TV movie it sometimes seems, for whatever reason, desperate to imitate! Ha ha, it sometimes seems like the world’s longest episode of Emergency! (That was at one time my favourite show, by the way! Still like it!) The production values are obviously, even to a kid, much larger than any TV production, and the cast of high prestige! It was the presence of Fred “Ghost Story” Astaire that most impressed me when I was young, because, thanks to my mother’s specific thespian enthusiasms, which she seems to have inherited unchanged from her own mother, I imagined that Astaire (along with Bette Davis) must be the biggest star in the history of the world!
Of course I also knew of Paul Newman and William Holden: they were after all the stars of When Time Ran Out, the subsequent Irwin Allen disaster extravaganza we all know and admire! And Steve McQueen was from The Blob, don’t forget! Faye Dunaway from The First Deadly Sin; Richard Chamberlain from Bells; Robert Vaughn from Starship Invasions; Don Gordon from The Beast Within; and Cluny Brown herself, Jennifer Jones: all of these and more were familiar and impressive faces! Ha ha: as anyone who talks about this movie says, what a cast!
The soapy stuff bogs it down a bit, as it must – as seems to be its job, ha ha! But the fire scenes are impressive, and the celebrity deaths, which frequently seem random (particularly incidents featuring Jones and, separately, Vaughn) have a certain impact! You won’t soon forget the rather blundersome demise of Wagner, who boasts of his fleet feet, then catches afire immediately he attempts to run through a burning room! It’s all rather horrific, I must say!
But the fire is eventually put out by way of enormous water tanks conveniently placed on the roof of the building, and this plan, it seems, ought maybe to have been thought of earlier! No matter! The firefighting tactics used in the picture seem fairly realistic, not just because of all the fireman advisors listed in the credits, but because they’re so frequently unspectacular! They spray water at fires, sure, they do that a lot; but they also trudge up endless stairs and wait for things to happen! McQueen, of course, gets to keep his cool throughout, and gets a chance to lecture Newman, and extract from him a plea for help! Ha ha, no wonder old Steve asked specifically, or rather demanded, to play the part of the fire chief! And then he demanded that another big star be given the architect role, so he could be filmed talking down to them! Ha ha, McQueen, you rascally Machiavellian!
Anyway, it’s a quality picture and its extreme datedness is mostly superficial! It pushes all the buttons it means to with expert fish-stick fingers, but is nevertheless a movie I look back on every year of late around the Academy Awards, as reassuring proof that fundamentally cheeseball pictures collecting Oscar nominations is not a new phenomenon! I give The Towering Inferno two and a half breeches buoys!

Thursday 3 March 2016

Burl reviews No Man's Land! (1987)

Hi, it’s Burl, reviewing this picture as quickly as possible! Ha ha, I’ve got a number of movies queued up and ready for review, but this one, which I watched just last night, bounded to the head of the pack simply because if I don’t do it now, I’ll forget everything about the movie and won’t be able to tell you a thing except that, despite the fact that it features two actors who would famously do the loop-de-loo later in life, it’s totally forgettable!
And it most certainly is that! I was working in a video store when this one came out, and recall seeing bits and pieces of it on the video store TV! My impression was that it was one of those high-style 80s movies like Less Than Zero or To Live and Die in L.A., where the pastel clothes and the neon lights and the swimming pools and blinding white walls overwhelm just about everything else in the movie! (I’ve never seen Less Than Zero, but I quite like the Friedkin picture, just for the record! Ha ha!)
No Man’s Land turned out not to be that! Well, there are a few moments of 80s style, and those were the moments that had conned me so many years before, I guess! But mostly it’s pretty flat, like a TV movie, which makes sense because it comes from a mostly-TV director! (They say TV shows are more stylish now, but ha ha, I wouldn’t know!) There’s not much suspense in the suspense scenes, if indeed there were any suspense scenes, and the car chases were determinedly unthrilling!
I guess ultimately it’s a people picture! We follow a young rookie cop played by D.B. Sweeney from Eight Men Out as he’s recruited by Lieutenant Randy Quaid from The Wild Life and The Paper to investigate a Beverly Hills-based Porsche-theft ring! Quaid believes most fervently that trust-fund slickster Charlie Sheen, from Due Date, is the maestro behind not only the car thievery, but the murder of the previous undercover man assigned to the case! Ha ha, wasn’t he lucky to immediately find another young cop with an aptitude for repairing Porches!
Sweeney gets a mechanic job at the dealership owned by Bill Duke from Commando, but quickly becomes pals with Sheen, and quickly after that becomes sed*ced by Sheen’s party-boy lifestyle (though Sheen claims to “hate drugs” – ha ha, he can’t quite sell that line!) and his lovely if personality-free sister! Meanwhile, many, many Porches are stolen and driven around – ha ha, there seems to be hundreds of the things on every street! Of course it eventually all comes to a head, secrets are revealed, and then there’s gunfire, end of picture!
Now, I said this was a people picture, and as such the most interesting aspect about it is some of the relatively subtle characterizations, particularly where Sweeney is concerned! He doesn’t become a Sheen doppelgänger, which would be the easy way to go, but rather becomes his own, rougher sort of slickster! Sweeney doesn’t do a consistently great job of dramatizing the bifurcation he’s feeling, but, despite often seeming like a poor man’s Spader, he’s not bad! Sheen is not bad either, and a mini-gallery of character actors, including Quaid, Duke, M. Emmett Walsh from Blade Runner and Grandview U.S.A. (who gets a big credit at the beginning but disappointingly is in the movie for all of a minute near the end), Claude Earl Jones from Impulse and George Dzundza from Salem’s Lot (who was in No Mercy, No Man’s Land and No Way Out all in a row, ha ha), keep the acting generally strong! Only the sister lets the side down, I’m afraid!
It’s overlong and often dull, and could have used a great deal more style and pep! I’m likely to forget quite soon that I ever watched it, which is not a great sign! Whatever curiosity I developed about this picture back in my video store days is now satisfied, and I give No Man’s Land one crooked cop!

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!