Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 29 June 2019

Burl reviews Smile! (1975)

Hey, it’s Burl here with a review of another great Michael Ritchie picture! Like The Bad News Bears, this one concentrates on, and dissects in sublime, satirical detail, one of Americaland’s favourite competitive pastimes! The picture is Smile, and the subject, ostensibly, is beauty pageants!
But like so many Ritchie films, the real subject is middle-class America! Ha ha, as the picture begins we find ourselves plunk in the middle of Santa Rosa, California, which is hosting the Young Miss America statewide finals, featuring winning girls from all across the state! The town is in a tizzy, and we follow some of the young ladies and a number of the townsfolk through a week of life’s rich pageant! Ha ha, the approach is Altmanesque, or you might say it was if the key Altman films of this sort had come out earlier; but can you imagine, this picture and Nashville were shooting at exactly the same time in the summer of ’74! So is Smile Altmanesque, or is Nashville Ritchie-esque? Ha ha, both, neither!
Our biggest star in the film is Bruce Dern, well known from Django Unchained and so many other films; but he’s not exactly the main character! Well, he’s close, but the focus is mainly on the girls, and in particular a girl called Robin, played with great appeal by Joan Prather from The Devil’s Rain! Robin is the one who can’t quite get into the pageant spirit, and for this reason she seems the most sensible and intelligent characters!
There are plenty of familiar faces among the other girls! Annette O’Toole, who has always struck me as extraordinarily beautiful, is excellent as a girl who knows a few pageant tricks; and we also have such pretty and talented lasses as Melanie Griffith from Fear City, Caroline Williams from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Maria O’Brien from Protocol, Colleen Camp from Track 29, and Denise Nickerson, Violet Beauregard herself from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory!
There are terrific performances from the townsfolk too, especially that of Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 herself, as a housewife who takes on organizational duties with an almost supernatural fervor! We also get Geoffrey Lewis from ‘Salem’s Lot as another organizer, Dennis Dugan from Night Moves as a janitor’s assistant, and three horny kids who seem like the prototypes for any number of 80s teen sex comedy gangs! Ha ha, that redheaded kid was a particular laff-riot!
Dern’s character is a local car salesman and clubman, an eternal optimist and a true believer in the pageant and its principles! There’s a scene in the middle of the picture in which Dern and his aging fratboy clubmates have a big party in the woods, in which they dress in sheets for some reason - not KKK sheets, but only just - and smash eggs on each others’ heads, and watermelons on their own! Frankly it looks like the absolute last sort of party I’d ever want to attend, and that of course is the point! The picture looks at middle class amusements and mores with the same acid eye of someone like John Cheever!
The movie is shapeless in the best 1970s way, frequently very funny, and has a nice little punchline! Ha ha, and the punchline undercuts what I was seeing as a certain naïveté or willful blindness in its attitude, so I was glad of that! Maybe it wasn’t the most realistic look at the exploitation angle of these contests, but that’s okay! Ha ha, it doesn’t have to be everything! Smile was great just as it was, and I give it three wooden feet!

Burl reviews It Happened Here! (1965)

Sieg ha ha, it’s Burl once again, and I’m here to review a movie on a pretty somber subject! That’s right, it’s a What If picture, and, as usual, the question is What If Those Horrible Nazis Won? The movie is called It Happened Here, and it’s a British semi-amateur production that took almost ten years to make!
Ha ha, the story behind the making of it is one worth telling! The picture was made by the famed historian and reconstructurist Kevin Brownlow, who became something of a legend to me around the time he was working so hard on Abel Gance’s Napoleon! He co-directed it with Andrew Mollo, whose devotion to accuracy in war costuming is known across the world! And these two worthies were but teenagers when they began this project! (Ha ha, Mollo was the brother of John Mollo, the famous costume designer, who also was obsessed with period military garb! Ha ha, two of them in one family!)
Brownlow and Mollo weren’t old and grey when they finished it, but they must have felt it at times! With a star whose age visibly fluctuates over the decade-long shoot; stylish work from the very talented cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who later shot The Empire Strikes Back and many David Cronenberg pictures, like A Dangerous Method; and a little post-production financial and logistical help from friends, they finally completed and released the movie in 1965, and it got plenty of attention!
The shooting conditions certainly informed the storytelling, which is episodic and sometimes appealingly choppy! Our main character is Pauline, a nurse, whom we meet in an England that has been beaten and occupied by Hitler’s armies! After a partisan attack on German soldiers claims a number of Pauline’s friends, she ends up in London and decides to tread as central and apolitical a path as she can! She joins the Immediate Action group (“a name that sounds like a laxative,” one of the more sympathetic characters opines) and engages in nursing work - a job that eventually turns nightmarish!
Pauline, played by a non-actor also called Pauline, has a compelling face and an accent that, when the poor sound recording allows, gives charming hints of her Irish background! The style of the film, and the way the action scenes, and Pauline’s reactions to the horrors of fascist occupation, are presented, are impressionistic and decidedly modern; one can’t be sure at which points the talents of Brownlow and Mollo end and the exigencies of a paltry budget begin! The movie has a few professional performers in it, notably Sebastian Shaw playing an antifascist doctor! Ha ha, if he looks familiar it’s because he would go on to play the unmasked Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi! And yes, John Mollo designed that mask, and yes, he based it on German army helmets! Ha ha, and so the wheel turns!
It Happened Here has a newsreel authenticity to it (little wonder Suschitzky went on to shoot Peter Watkins’ The War Game, ha ha!), but this verisimilitude tips into creepiness when we realize that Brownlow and Mollow found some genuine Oswald Mosely-style British fascists to play some of the collaborators, and spew some of their actual loathsome views! Others are merely actors who are frighteningly good at pretending to be people who’ve embraced the twisted cross and all that comes along with it!
Of course there is much sad relevance to our situation today! A number of European countries, and our fair neighbours to the south with their loopy, pan-fried president, seem engaged in flirtatious dances with, or indeed outright embraces of, this troublingly inhumane ideology! More and more we hear something close to the rants of O’Brien from 1984 coming from the lips of authoritarian goofballs! And while this picture has an ostensibly happy ending, it’s a barbed one, both for our character and for the future of humanity! “The appalling thing about fascism is that you’ve got to use fascist methods to get rid of it,” says Shaw’s doctor. “We’ve all got a bit of it in us. It doesn’t take very much to bring it to the surface.” And therein lies the message of the film, and its warning! It’s an extraordinary work in many ways, and I give It Happened Here three and a half boots stamping on a human face - forever!

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Burl reviews Ghoulies! (1985)

Ha ha and bottombiters, it’s Burl! I’m here to review a movie that’s no doubt most famous for its apparent fealty to Gremlins and its crudely evocative VHS cover, depicting what looks like a miniature green Tor Johnson goblin arising from the bowl of a toilet! Ha ha!
Well I can assure you that I was in no way seduced by this video box cover, for you see friends, I had already seen this movie during its theatrical run! Yes, it’s true - along with such abercrombies as Saturday the 14th, Time Walker and Deadtime Stories, this stands as one of the lowest-rent pictures I ever had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen!
Directed by Luca Bercovici, an actor who was in Parasite, the movie tells the story of Jonathan, who was rescued as a baby by a wizardly old caretaker from the clutches of his diabolist father, who wanted to sacrifice him in a ritual, and now, twenty-five years later he’s played by Peter Liapis from Starhops, and has inherited his dear old dad’s mansion! The caretaker-sorcerer, played by the excellent Jack Nance (well-known from all his work with David Lynch, like Dune, and then of course many other fine pictures like The Blob), disappears for the bulk of the movie, but occasionally pops up on the soundtrack to narrate the proceedings!
In tow are Jonathan’s girlfriend Lisa Pelikan, who had trafficked in this sort of thing before, in the Carrie rip-off Jennifer, and a whole group of his jerky friends! These boxwines are played by the likes of Ralph Seymour, an 80s fixture in pictures like Fletch, Surf II, Killer Party and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure; Scott Thomson from RoboCop; and TV fixture Mariska Hargitay! Ha ha, one can hardly wait for the ghoulies to appear and shred these klingfields!
But one must wait, for the ghoulies only pop up intermittently, and are in no sense the main antagonists of the story! Ostensibly the bad guy is Jonathan’s father, played by British softrocker Michael Des Barres, but for my money the picture’s biggest jerk is Jonathan himself, who, upon discovering his black magikal patrimony, dons robes and begins muttering incessantly in a cod-Latin style, and becomes a liar, a scoundrel and a complete chowderhead! Meanwhile his pals roam the house, giggling and occasionally engaging in the worst white-guy breakdancing ever committed to film! Yes, even worse than that depicted in Graduation Day!
Jonathan conjures up first the ghoulies, then a pair of tiny, steel-helmeted helpmates played by Tamera de Treaux (who did some time in E.T.’s costume) and Peter Risch (the cigar-chomping, serape-wearing midget from Malibu Hot Summer), and finally the old man himself, who rises from the grave zombie style! Ha ha, he briefly assumes the form of Bobbie Bresee, from Mausoleum and Armed Response, in an attempt to seduce one of the lummox houseguests! After a few scenes of the friends finally being attacked, then doing the worm around the house and being wrapped in sheets, the whole thing concludes once Jack Nance reappears and engages Des Barres in a wizard battle straight out of The Raven!
The ghoulies and other trick makeup effects come courtesy of the late John Buechler, a hard-working trick effects man who somehow always managed to make his creatures look vaguely like himself - ha ha, the monster in Cellar Dweller is a pretty good example of that! In Ghoulies it’s the little green ghoulie which most resembles its creator, while, as mentioned, also calling to mind the facial features of Tor Johnson! But Buechler is let down by both his budget and the poor direction, and the creatures come off as stiff afterthoughts! They sure aren’t scary!
I will say there is one effective moment involving a big clown doll, and then a subsequent scene involving the clown doll that isn’t effective but is certainly entertainingly goofy! In its best moments, which are few, Ghoulies actually reminded me of the low-budget The Demon Lover or the recent horror picture Hereditary, both of which were a lot scarier! In the end, which is of course where the ghoulies will get you, and where the movie itself seems to have originated, ha ha, I give Ghoulies just one single eye zap!

Friday 21 June 2019

Burl reviews My Favorite Brunette! (1947)

Hi there all you mugs, and happy summer solstice! It’s Burl here to review a film noir comedy, a spoof of the genre that came out as noir was still in its fairly early days: yes, it’s a Bob Hope picture called My Favorite Brunette!
Of course we know Hope from Son of Paleface, and here he plays baby photographer Ronnie Jackson, a chatty coward who harbors dreams of becoming a real private eye! He tells his tale in flashback from death row, and it goes as follows: his office is connected to that of a genuine private dick, who is played in surprise cameo fashion by a just-leaving-town Alan Ladd, the wee actor who may or may not have been in Island of Lost Souls, ha ha! When the beautiful Dorothy Lamour, well known from Creepshow 2, walks into the detective’s office, Ronnie Jackson takes advantage of Ladd’s absence to step into the role of detective himself! (Lamour’s character is called Carlotta, which immediately puts the viewer in mind of Vertigo!)
Immediately Ronnie becomes embroiled in a kidnapping case, and soon finds himself facing down a gallery of classic nogoodniks! These include Peter Lorre (from Muscle Beach Party), Lon Chaney Jr. (from House of Frankenstein), John Hoyt (from Desperately Seeking Susan) and Ann Doran (from Them!)! Hope dispenses great zingers all the while, and there are comic set pieces as when Lorre moves an important piece of pseudo-evidence all around the room, in hopes that the incompetent, unobservant Ronnie will find it and thereby be mislead! Ronnie and Carlotta take a detour to a bughouse, where Ronnie must act loco! Ha ha, he doles out plenty of funny business here! And others dole it out on him, as when a cop threatens to punch Ronnie in the nose so hard, it’ll look like other people’s noses!
Then we come to the events which lead to death row! A professor is murdered, and the evidence points to Ronnie! Of course, the knife-waving Lorre is the real killer, and he’s part of a conspiracy that operates much the way James Mason and the boys did in North By Northwest! They take over a big house whose owners are away and make it their lair, then when Ronnie escapes their clutches and comes back with the police, they’ve changed everything around to make it look as though Ronnie’s a crazy man! Ha ha, Hitch went to see this one, that’s for sure, or Ernest Lehman did at least!
It’s a funny picture, but the great thing is, it’s also a genuine noir! It was photographed in reasonably moody chiaroscuro by Lionel Lindon, who had already shot both Road to Utopia and The Blue Dahlia, so he was well qualified for the gig! Peter Lorre does well by the comedy, but works hard to convey a genuine menace, and he succeeds! Hope spends the whole picture calling him names, like “gremlin” and, most often, “cupcake,” and it just makes Lorre more and more angry!
Unfortunately there’s not much of a payoff - we never even learn if the bad guys (whose plot I confess I never really understood) were caught or not! But that’s okay, because at the end we get another comedy cameo, this one from Der Bingle himself, who plays the executioner disappointed that he doesn’t get to pull the switch on Hope! Ha ha!
In the end, My Favorite Brunette is a fine evening’s entertainment, the more so if you’ve got an appreciation for Bob Hope’s tiger growl! I give it three McGuffin maps!

Thursday 20 June 2019

Burl reviews Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome! (1985)

Vroom vroom, it’s Burl, here to review one of those Mad Max pictures that we all love so well! Now, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not the best of them, and in fact is almost certainly the worst! It’s certainly the most off-brand, as there’s hardly any car racing in it at all, relative to the other entries at least!
But for all that, I’m fond of the picture! Certainly the scenes in the thunderdome itself are dynamic and exciting, and what chase material there is toward the end is darned enjoyable! Plus we have a dynamic performance from Tina Turner, looking great in a chain mail dusset, and a fine twilight appearance from the great and small Angelo Rossitto, from Smokey Bites the Dust and The Dark!
The problem really is that the movie engages too freely in this trend known as “world building,” and while this is always assumed to be a positive and worthwhile effort in series pictures, I don’t myself believe it necessarily is, and moreover I feel it can be a real drag on the stories they’re trying so hard to expand upon! I prefer Max and his world to be a sort of abstraction, I think! He and his stories should be simple and suggest much!
I guess what it comes down to in this case is that, whereas the gangs in Mad Max movies (headed by The Lord Humongous in The Road Warrior and The Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road) usually claim to be a civilizing influence while in fact operating as neo-fascists, Turner’s Aunty Entity, and her pop-up city of Bartertown, genuinely are a step forward in this post-apocalyptic wasteland! This undercuts their menace a great deal, as does, incidentally, the picture’s PG-13 rating!
The movie opens with Max caravanning across the desert when suddenly Bruce Spence (playing a post-pockyclypse aeronaut just as he did in The Road Warrior, but a different post-pockyclypse aeronaut) swoops down out of nowhere and steals all his stuff! Max ends up in Bartertown, meets Tina and the Master Blaster (which is Rossitto piggybacking on a big guy’s shoulders), and some terrific side characters played by Frank Thring and Edwin Hodgeman! After his big thunderdome fight, Max busts a deal and faces the wheel, which decrees that he be gulaged out into the wasteland! Ha ha, this involves plunking him on a horse and sticking a Big Boy mask on his head for some reason! Anyway, he comes across a civilization of children who live in a verdant crevasse, then comes into conflict with the Bartertownians again, which leads to the final chase, and Angry Anderson hanging off a speeding train and dodging ironbars! Ha ha! 
On this most recent viewing of the movie, which I watched with my son, I was not as scornful of the kids as I had been previously! Before I’d considered them no better than Ewoks, but now, with a child sitting beside me, I could appreciate their power and how desperately they cling to storytelling as a way to maintain their humanity! I especially liked the 2.35:1 ratio portable frame they use to help dramatize their origin story!
So it’s no action classic like Road Warrior, and it tries too hard to situate Max in a plausible environment (the plausibility of which is undercut by the array of pointless, arbitrary accoutrements that would in truth be low priorities for apocalypse survivors), but Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome has on the other hand a wealth of entertaining details, a terrific score from Maurice “Dreamscape” Jarre, fantastic photography from Dean Semler, a nice dollop of wit, and some miniature model work at the end! I give it two and a half Angry Andersons!

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Burl reviews Mission Impossible II! (2000)

Ha ha and sportscars, it’s Burl here, reviewing a John Woo picture I don’t think about very often! It’s called Mission Impossible 2, and, well, I’ll say it up front: it’s not very good! Certainly I would say it’s the weakest of this series of actionblasters!
But they’re not strictly actionblasters, are they! No, these are spy pictures, and by design are meant to have as many whispered conversations and meetings with the boss as they do car chases and wild stunt-leaps! So John Woo, a director of uncommon technical skill, may not have been the man to hire for this one, as his heart just doesn’t seem to be in the non-action material! Maybe there was studio interference involved - ha ha, there usually seemed to be on Woo's American pictures!
Here we have that Tom “Edge of Tomorrow” Cruise again, not the clean cut teen agent he was in Brian De Palma’s opening installment but now a longhair who likes free climbing cliff faces! Ha ha, his employers - personified here by Anthony Hopkins for some reason - send him a message by sunglasses and soon he’s on the case again, chasing a rather generic bad guy, a rogue agent who will unleash a deadly viral plague upon the world unless he is paid - now get this - £37 million! Ha ha, calling Dr. Evil! I have a feeling the countries of the world would get together to pay this strangely modest and specific sum rather than send out their best agent on a risky, nay impossible, mission!
But be that as it may, Ethan Hunt, mister spy boy, is on the case! Not only must he face down the rogue agent, but his lieutenant, who is depicted, if I read the performance right, as sporting a powerful if resentment-frosted crush on his boss! That touch somehow seems borrowed from the Hong Kong action movie casebook, though I can’t remember where exactly I saw the dynamic before! Ha ha, maybe in Last Hurrah for Chivalry! Hunt must also sneak in somewhere to steal something, as he so often must, and he's also asked to dodge an awful lot of pigeons!
At any rate, the action scenes here, replete with Woo-ian touches as they are, bat about .500 for me! The script, by Robert Towne of all people (though based on a story written by others), salts in a bit of Churchillian sexism for Hopkins to excrete for no particular reason except maybe that Towne was arguing with his wife that week! There’s a sort of deflated quality to the story, and meanwhile, like visits to the stations of the cross, the narrative dutifully brings us at intervals to a point where Cruise can ride a motorcycle through an explosion or something along that line! It’s all decidedly ho-hum!
Things improved after this one, though not mightily, with Mission Impossible III, then hit a higher level of entertainment with the next three installments! The fact is, except for some goofy transitions and all those birds, this picture is pretty machine-tooled, and doesn’t have a tenth the appeal of something like Hard Boiled! I give Mission Impossible II one and a half flapping birds!

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Burl reviews Eddie Macon's Run! (1983)

Watch out, here he comes… and there he goes! Ha ha, it’s Eddie Macon’s Run, and it is I, Burl, here to talk about it! This is a chase picture, mainly, and for me was one of those movies that I was aware of thanks to the ubiquity of the VHS box, but never had any interest in seeing… until now!
In fact I can’t claim any real interest in seeing it, but, having spotted the tape lurking in my basement, I watched it anyway! The picture was an early effort from Jeff Kanew, who later gifted us with Gotcha!, and Kanew wrote and edited it as well! Ha ha, kanew believe it! I guess the mastermind behind Revenge of the Nerds was once a sort of auteur!
He began a relationship with Kirk Douglas (well known from The Fury and Out of the Past) on this picture too, which he would continue later with Tough Guys and I think some kind of Kirk tribute documentary! Ha ha, it must have been pretty great to be a filmmaker who became friends with Kirk! And Kanew uses him pretty well in Eddie Macon’s Run!
John Schneider, well known from The Curse and of course for essaying the role of that shine-runnin’ Bo Duke, plays the title character, a fellow who’s been thrown in the pokey for doing virtually nothing beyond having put a punching on John Goodman, from C.H.U.D. and Matinee, who plays a nasty man entirely deserving of it! He’s chased by cops and pulled over and railroaded right into slam, and away from the family he loves so well! Immediately he escapes and is re-caught by a professional chaseman played by Douglas, but not before he smites Douglas a sound clobbering upon the pate! Now Eddie Macon is facing a nickel’s worth in the pen, and boy howdy he doesn’t like it!
Now, all of this background business is delivered throughout the picture in the form of flashbacks, which is too bad! Eddie Macon’s major escape occurs right at the top of the picture, which initially cheers the viewer - ha ha, she thinks, here is a picture that begins right away! Then the flashbacks start popping up and the heart sinks, for we know this flashbackery will continue until the proto-story is told! But front-loading all this background would have been bad too, of course; much better would have been to find the most economical way possible to deliver the necessary information and get on with the chase itself, which after all is the topic of the picture, and even of the picture’s very title! We don’t need to be persuaded of Eddie Macon’s relative innocence, or have it laboriously spelled out for us, because Schneider’s performance is sufficiently solid and goodhearted to meet that need!
Aside from Kirk and John, the picture features performances from a pair of slasher movie ladies: Leah Ayres from The Burning and Lisa Dunsheath from The Prowler! The former is Eddie Macon’s beloved wife, who sets out a backpack full of escape supplies for him! The latter plays a member of a demented ranching family, which also includes menacing tallmen Tom Noonan from Wolfen and F/X and Jay O. Sanders from Hanky Panky and JFK, who-all capture Eddie and attempt to lynch him right in the middle of their living room! Ha ha, this is quite a sequence all right, and serves as a nightmarish centerpiece to the picture; quite at odds with the rest of it, frankly! Ha ha, but I was glad it was in there!
Finally Lee Purcell, whom we know from Necromancy and Mr. Majestyk, shows up to play Jilly Buck, who becomes Eddie’s last-act guardian angel and helps see him to a happy ending! Kirk does his bit too, of course, but only after a car flip scrambles his molecules! Ha ha, the chase at the end is okay, and the rancher scene is pretty unsettling, but otherwise the picture is not as thrilling or exciting as it would like to be! The performances are fine and we all want Eddie’s run to be successful - and it is literally a run, as Eddie's preferred method of escape principally consists of jogging - but in the end there isn’t a whole lot of hossmeat to the picture! It comes in, does the job, and takes its leave with a courtly bow and a curt “good day!” I give Eddie Macon’s Run two games of Gorf!

Monday 17 June 2019

Burl reviews The Dead Don't Die! (2019)

Everyone dial Z for zombie and join me, Burl, in a little chat about Jim Jarmusch’s latest picture, The Dead Don’t Die! Yes, that’s right, Jim Jarmusch made a zombie movie, ha ha, but in a way you might say that, with their slow paces and barbiturated acting, all his movies have been zombie movies! By the end of this picture, I was convinced that it was a vehicle for Jarmusch to make this very same comment about his work!
Somehow it still seems a novelty for Jarmusch to be making such an unadulterated genre picture, but he’s been doing it for quite a while now! Westerns with Dead Man, samurai movies with Ghost Dog, vampire pictures with Only Lovers Left Alive - ha ha, many’s the time Jarmusch has taken an established form and bent it into his own shape! But the Jarmusch pictures I like best, Down By Law and Mystery Train, are their own thing, and maybe that explains why I wasn’t so much taken with The Dead Don’t Die!
He’s never made a movie quite so arch as this one, and I’m afraid that’s not meant as a compliment! The story - well, not story, but more a sort of portrait - is of a small town overwhelmed by zombies which are presumably part of a worldwide plague unleashed by the earth having been shaken off its axis by polar fracking! Bill Murray, who is well-known from Meatballs, and previously dealt with the undead in Ghostbusters and Zombieland, is the low-key town cop, and his deputies include Adam Driver from Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis, and Chloë Sevigny from Gummo! They drive around the town as things get stranger and the zombies more plentiful, and Sevigny is the only one who reacts at all realistically, and she therefore seems quite out of place in this town and more especially on this police force!
As all this happens, the picture’s theme song, a country tune from Sturgill Simpson, plays as relentlessly as “You Put A Spell On Me” did in Stranger than Paradise! Simpson himself is discussed so much that I thought he was going to somehow turn out to be responsible for the whole disaster! Meanwhile my pal Tom Waits, well known from Wolfen, lurks in the woods; otherworldly town coroner Tilda Swinton, from The Grand Budapest Hotel, gives zombie heads the chop with her katana; and Danny Glover plays the poor soul who finds a couple of ladies who’ve been gruesomely eaten to death by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver! Meanwhile Steve Buscemi plays a racist, boneheaded redneck, and for his sins catches quite a biting!
Something about the picture seemed comfortably familiar as it went on in its rambling, shambling, small-town way, with its homely non-characters and chonky mise-en-scene; and finally it hit me: I was watching nothing more or less than a big-budget Bill Rebane picture, or an unusually star-studded Don Dohler joint! It was Invasion From Inner Earth or Fiend writ large and played by pros, ha ha! And once I made this observation, I began enjoying the picture a lot more!
It’s true that the movie works a little too hard at irony and not at all at horror, and that Jarmusch appears to have no interest in scaring people and no discernable ability to either! There’s some bloody stuff though, and the director seems to have had fun with some of the gore gags, which is nice; but the head-choppings, with their spumes of dust released from the zombie bodies, get a mite repetitive! On the other hand, RZA from Due Date shows up at a comic shop to drop a bit of wisdom, something like “The world is perfect, pay attention to the details!” At that moment I noticed some of the background set dressing included a small poster for that greatest of pictures, The Thing! And I realized that RZA was correct, and that this was the best way to approach the movie itself! That revelation, too, led to greater enjoyment!
And all this leads me to my final point, one I hinted at in the first paragraph: while it’s obvious that Jarmusch made this picture more because he could than because he wanted to, and true too that his satire is mostly broad and shopworn, sold in bulk at the Monroeville Mall some forty years ago, and that his fourth wall-breaking is lame, he didn’t waste the opportunity for a little sharp self-criticism! I mean, after all, though almost everyone else turns, we never get to see Murray or Driver in zombiefied form, and this I believe is because Jarmusch was worried we might think we’d accidentally started watching Broken Flowers or Paterson instead of The Dead Don’t Die! Jarmusch is no dummy; he knows the score! Ha ha! So while this is very much Jarmusch Lite, a half-baked comic book adaptation of his usual fare, I’m still going to give it two and a half Cleveland hipsters, which is how many there are by the end of the picture! Ha ha!

Monday 10 June 2019

Burl reviews The Bad News Bears! (1976)

Ha ha, everybody, play Burl! I mean, play ball! I’m Burl! And I’m here to review a baseball picture, one of the best of them for my money! No, it’s not Fear Strikes Out! Or The Natural! In fact it’s The Bad News Bears!
Now, this isn’t the remake I’m jabbering on about! Ha ha, I’ve never even seen that! This is the original with the foul-mouthed kids; the picture that promised, as its posters said, to show Kids As They Really Are! Does it? Well, I saw this movie at the age of five or six, and I remember thinking they were really sophisticated and funny kids! Ha ha, and they fell down a lot, crashing into each other chasing a pop fly, and the ball dropping in the midst of their feet as they lie splayed out and prone! And it all took place to the strains of classical music for some reason! Anyway, those were the memories of the picture I carried for years, full stop!
When I started to appreciate Michael Ritchie for his talents beyond Fletch and The Island, I began to see the picture in a different light! This, I realized, was one of a series of Ritchie films criticizing specifically American culture and competition, circling around Little League baseball the way Smile revolves around beauty pageants! Hal Ashby was sort of doing the same thing around this time, and so I’ve always grouped the two directors together in my mind! 

Walter Matthau, well known from Bigger Than Life and the Grumpy Old Men pictures, is Buttermaker, the coach of the Bears, a pool cleaner and ex-ballplayer, and a dipsomaniac of the highest order! Perhaps only Albert Finney in Under the Volcano outpaces him drink for drink, ha ha! The kids in his charge, played by the likes of Alfred Lutter (from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and Gary Lee Cavagnaro (from Drive-In), and eventually Tatum O’Neal from Little Darlings and Jackie Earle Haley from Damnation Alley, seem to have no illusions about Buttermaker, but we are confident that he will finally rise to the occasion! And he does, by not rising but more sort of just slumping down! And he doesn’t give any big speech about it either!
That’s what I liked most about the script by Bill Lancaster (Burt’s son, who also wrote The Thing): the speeches are infrequent and all in the right places, not necessarily the expected places! Things are kept simple, too - no conspiracies or double-dealings at city hall, and a bad guy who’s one of the most realistic, and therefore both simple and complicated, in popular film!
Vic Morrow from Curse of the Black Widow, playing the hard-case father who wallops his own son in front of a crowd, is as good as I’ve ever seen him! Ben Piazza from Nightwing is the city councilor who presses Buttermaker into service and pays him on the sly, and Joyce Van Patten simply plays Cleveland! Matthau too gives an excellent performance, and none of the kids let the side down either!
The movie is funny and charming and all of that, and shambling and a bit repetitive too, but the nice Hollywood-natural atmosphere, the simplicity and specificity of the script (the movie rarely strays far from the diamond) and the convincing baseball scenes all add up to goodness! I give The Bad News Bears three and a half chocolate-covered balls!

Burl reviews Graduation Day! (1981)

Hi, and how’s that mortarboard? Ha ha, it’s me, Burl, here to celebrate Graduation Day with you! Well, not celebrate it exactly - more like tell you what a cantaloupe it is! But there are a few things to celebrate in this mid-period slasher picture too!
It’s the modern tale of a hard-nosed track and field coach (played by Christopher George from Mortuary and Grizzly and City of the Living Dead, of course!) and his team of teen runabouts, many of whom appear to be well past their teen years! In fact there was a mild but inconsequential mist of confusion laid over the whole movie for me: was this a high school with a spectacularly well-financed athletics program? Or was it some kind of elite sports college? I suppose it was the former, which is why a sold half-hour in the late middle of the picture seems to be scenes of the principal, Michael Pataki from The Bat People, fielding calls from worried parents wondering why their kids haven’t come home!
Turns out it’s because they’ve been murdered! It all starts when a young track star drops dead after finishing a thirty-second run! (How long are you supposed to be able to run in thirty seconds, I wonder? A quarter-mile? Ha ha, maybe Roger Bannister could do that, but not ol’ Burl!) Soon an unknown killer is clicking his stopwatch and performing a series of serious pokings on the rest of the team! Who is the killer? Why, is it the person you suspected the very first time they were shown on the screen, but rejected as a potential culprit for being too obvious? Ha ha, yes it is!
Now, it has to be said: there’s an awful lot of space between these pokings! There’s some unnecessary family drama when the dead girl’s sister comes back home from a navy tour in Guam and argues with her stepfather; there’s a ton of school office business, like those phone calls and the principal being a bad boss to his secretary; there are plenty of sports, of course, enough so that you might believe you’ve turned on Fatal Games by accident; and there’s the lounge lizard music teacher and further material unrelated to pokings; and I haven’t even mentioned the gangster rock, ha ha!
I’m not one who automatically complains about the space between murders in a slasher film - often those are my favourite parts; but not here! There’s just a feeling of mild disorganization that seems to overlay the whole enterprise from the script up, exemplified in details like the ostensible heroine dropping out of the picture for a huge chunk in the middle, until she’s needed again for the climax!
But thankfully things get a little peppier in the last act! I’m glad to report, too, that there are some familiar faces salted into the cast, like Virgil Frye from Garden of the Dead and Hot Moves, Linnea Quigley from Witchtrap and Innocent Blood, and even Vanna White from the spinning wheel show! There are some honest-to-goodness Special Makeup Effects (a rapier through the neck, a decapitation, a slit throat), though not many of them, and they are not well shot! And then there’s the gangster rock, howled by a good-time rock combo called Felony, which they certainly may have committed here! Ha ha, what must be the super extended dancefloor remix of their gangster rock seems to go on for ten minutes, keeping company with some disco rollerskating and a couple of pokings that are meanwhile taking place in the same stretch of woodsy path the students seem to spend most of their time on, walking or jogging up and down it, making out in the bushes beside it, or just plain killing whoever happens along it! Ha ha, the gangster ro-o-o-o-ck!
There are a couple of novelty theme deaths too, like the pole-vault punji stick gag or the old spear-in-the-football trick! There’s not much suspense and almost no fright, though a couple of moments at the end try to make up for that! Altogether it’s hardly one of the better early-80s maniac pictures, but it’s a sort of exemplar of this mediocre strata of the genre, and that has to count for something! I give Graduation Day one and a half white-guy breakdancers!

Monday 3 June 2019

Burl reviews Raw Force! (1981)

Hello hello hello, it’s Burl, back again with another review! This time I’ve got a picture that’s banana-monster from the word go: that famous and much-loved mulebender Raw Force! I like to think of it as the early-80s exploitation movie that aliens would make if they’d had early-80s exploitation movies described to them, but had never actually seen one themselves, ha ha!
Of course, having had goodies like Without Warning, Deadly Prey and Action U.S.A. described to them the aliens would hasten to hire Cameron Mitchell for their picture! They’d sprinkle in a few other familiar faces, like Jillian Kesner from Starhops and John Dresden from Final Mission and The Dark, and they’d certainly want Vic Diaz, from Beast of the Yellow Night and a thousand other Filipino extravaganzas, to play a cannibalistic monk who grins and claps to express his delight!
And what sort of plot did these extraterrestrial exploiteers cook up for their epic? Well, it seems there’s an island in the Far East where all the disgraced martial arts masters go to die, and a tribe of monks who exchange the big lumps of jade they mine in exchange for ladies of the evening, whom they barbeque to obtain the power to revive the kung-fu masters as zombies! They barter for these lovely comestibles with a gang led by a big greasy guy with a Hitler moustache and an ice cream suit, who kidnap them back in Manila or wherever and fly them in their float plane to Warriors’ Island!
Into this situation comes a little cruise ship whose passenger roster seems comprised largely of martial artists - ha ha, but it’s also a love boat, naturally! This ship is, of course, bound for Warriors’ Island, and once the Hitler simulacrum, Mr. Speer, gets wind of this, he decides he must kill everybody on the ship before his secret is discovered!
Our heroes aboard the kung-fu ship include a couple of dudes from the Burbank Karate Club; a lady police officer; the ship’s cook; and a mustacheman played by a guy whose last acting job for this had been Plan 9 From Outer Space! Ha ha! There’s also Captain Cameron Mitchell, of course, and the brassy lady who owns the ship and serves as cruise director! Some of the greatest scenes in the picture involve random passengers, like for instance one fellow, celebrating his 30th birthday, who is apparently the result of Jeff Goldblum going through his teleporter and fusing with Richard Benjamin instead of a fly! Ha ha! There’s also Camille Keaton in a bathroom with a fellow trying to unzip her fly, and a most gnarly bartender who atomizes a huge block of ice with his fivehead!
But much of the movie is made up of kung-fu battles! There are in addition lots of naked ladies, some moments of goofy gore, some disco dancing, a number of explosions, and a scene where the monks very thoroughly baste one young lady in preparation for the barbeque! There’s a happy ending though, and then, as in Buckaroo Banzai, a title card announces a sequel that has yet to materialize! All in all, though it certainly isn’t a good movie, it’s a pretty terrific picture! It’s hard to know what sort of a rating to give this one, which is why I’ve always given ratings against my better judgment; but on reflection I suppose I’ll give Raw Force three axe attacks! Ha ha, thanks, alien moviemakers!