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You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Burl reviews Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood! (2019)

Ha ha and Dykstraflex, it’s Burl, here to review a new picture from Quentin Tarantino, who brought us Django Unchained and a number of other pictures! Now he’s got a movie about Hollywood at the hard fall the 1960s! It’s a fable, and by this time in our culture it’s a fairy tale, and so it’s called Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood!
It’s a simple and quite sweet movie! It’s about Hollywood and the 1960s, yes, and it’s a little bit about Charles Manson and his family of kookoo nuggets, and it’s almost about their crime, but really it’s a portrait of male friendship and the loss of puissance! (Ha ha, as if to discourage Freudian takes on that, or hook it up to simple aging, the only man explicitly stated to be having sex in the movie is Bruce Dern, who must be a hundred and five by now!) As a sort of sideline, the movie shows us the process behind the transformation of a star into a character actor, and for those with any interest in this kind of career trajectory, it’s a fine old pumpernickel of a bonus!
In the story we mostly stick with either Rick Dalton, a TV star who has aged out of the roles that made him popular; or else Cliff Booth, Rick’s stunt double, dogsbody, and pal; or else, most often actually, both of them! Around them revolves a large cast, from celebrity lookalikes (the Steve McQueen suggests an uncanny melding of McQueen and Gene Wilder) to old ringers like Bruce Dern and Al Pacino and even Clu "Tapeheads" Gulager, to the younger actors who have real parts, like Margot Robie as Sharon Tate (who gets some nice moments watching herself in a Matt Helm picture) and Emile Hirch, who plays Sharon’s hairdresser pal Jay Sebring!
The picture winds pleasantly through the Hollywood Hills, spending time also in Musso & Frank’s (where I too have sat and listened to tales of Tinseltown’s underbelly while drinking whiskey sours, and had to leave through the back door because in front the cops had shot some poor addled street person waving a Swiss army knife around!) and along the Sunset Strip (though I was surprised none of the characters went to any clubs!), and Cliff, played by Brad Pitt, even drives along Yucca once, with the 7-11 visible in the background, past the building where Ed Wood lived out his declining years!
Of the climax of the picture, which involves a home invasion by the Manson gang, I will say nothing, except that it doesn’t go down exactly like you read in the papers, ha ha! There’s something about the wish-fulfillment aspect of it that doesn’t quite sit right; also the merciless violence of it; but on the other hand it’s a fine wish, and it’s a lot of fun to watch in an animal brain sort of way!
The picture has many entertaining digressions, a ton of beguiling period details, and is pure joy for the movie lover! The visual effects by none other than John Dykstra are seamless and superb! Brad Pitt’s character is a bit of a black hole, but he’s an amiable one, and Leonardo Di Caprio, in the role of Rick, cries a lot! I thoroughly recommend Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, and give it the three Georges, Peppard, Maharis and Chikaris! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Hey hodads, it’s Burl, here to review one of the A.I.P. beach party pictures from well back when! This one is Beach Blanket Bingo, which I think may have been the third in the series! Ha ha, it’s hard to tell, because they really cranked ‘em out around that time! And it wasn’t just A.I.P., but you had things like The Girls on the Beach, Ride the Wild Surf, Beach Ball, and so many others!
This one has the same plot as all the others: a beach full of kids on vacation, with Frankie and Annette holding hands and singing to each other on the beach, but they have the same old problems as ever! Annette thinks Frankie should grow up, and Frankie thinks Annette is a bit of a fuddy-duddy! Plus they both become interested in other people, namely skydiving instructors played by Deborah Walley and John Ashley!
Meanwhile there are other things occupying the beach gang! Bonehead (who until this picture had been called Deadhead), the size-tall lummox, falls in love with a girl from the sea who turns out to be a mermaid! This affair du coeur is followed in great detail, installing itself as the emotional backbone of the whole picture! Meanwhile there’s a pop singer called Miss Sugar Kane whose publicist, Paul Lynde, is thinking up big publicity stunts for her to do; and these stunts involve a skydiving school run by Don Rickles (well known from Innocent Blood, but approximately the last person I’d want to learn skydiving from) and the gang itself, when they too become interested in both skydiving and Miss Sugar Kane! In the background of all this lurks Buster Keaton, stonefacing with a lady in a fur bikini, dancing, and even getting into a fight!
But then, unfortunately, come regular doses of Erik Von Zipper! This is the idiot biker character played by Harvey Lembeck in a manner suggesting Morty Tashman from The Errand Boy became a biker! Ha ha, thankfully he spends at least some of his screen time playing pool with Timothy Carey (from Echo Park), in a performance that’s weird even for Timothy Carey, as a pool shark called South Dakota Slim! Slim stands there glaring over his surroundings with an imperious, squinty gaze, waiting his turn to make a shot, calling everybody “bubby!”
Boy, sorry Harvey, ha ha, but I sure hate Von Zipper! If I ever decided to make a list of my most to least favourite Beach Party movies (I never will), the top entry would be whichever one had the least Von Zipper! I find the Von Zipper character and all his scenes desperately unfunny, and ha ha, regrettably this one is very heavy on the Von Zipper! He falls in love with Miss Sugar Kane, and, to show his devotion, kidnaps her and takes her to the gang’s clubhouse, where she too will know the pleasure of playing pool with Timothy Carey!
Carey, the great fartiste, kidnaps the singer in his turn, announcing his intention to take her to his bubby house! Ha ha, Carey turns out to be a crazed psychotic who lives in a sawmill - his bubby house - and proposes to tie Miss Sugar Kane to a log and cut her in half! Apparently still intending to cut her in half at some later date, Carey instead spirits her to an upstairs room, where he cries “I’m gonna give ya some en-ta-tain-ment!” and starts shivering so violently that the still bound actress hops away from him in what appears to be genuine alarm! This part alone makes all the Von Zipper stuff worth wading through, because South Dakota Slim is a monstrous and memorable creation, sort of a Hannibal Lecter of the mid-60s!
There are a few lively beach tunes, some okay gags, and some nice work from Buster Keaton, who is a performer I think everyone adores! The mermaid stuff is stupid but tolerable, the Frankie and Annette scenes half-baked, and the picture as a whole seems to go on for a very long time! But how deeply can you dislike a movie that ends with Buster Keaton being covered in kisses? Ha ha, I give Beach Blanket Bingo two bisected bikers!

Burl reviews Niagara! (1953)

Hi, Burl here, and welcome to the falls! Yes, I always wondered if the movie Niagara had much to do with Niagara Falls themselves, and I’m here to report that the answer is boy, do they! Ha ha! The great falls feature so heavily in this move that they had to invent a special device to place over the camera lens to keep it clear of mist! It’s true!
The location photography is only one of the charms of this picture! Henry Hathaway directed it, and I confess that I always associate his name with Westerns, even though he made plenty of films noir and other types of pictures too! Ha ha, he’s one of those journeymen, all right! And he does a fine job on this movie, which I guess you might call a sort of film noir, although it was shot in rich, three-strip Technicolor by the marvelous Joe "Bigger Than Life" MacDonald!
I didn’t know much about this one before watching it, except that Marilyn Monroe was in it! And indeed she is, but she’s not really the star! Except of course she is the star; how could she not be? She looks stunning here of course, and her performance as a lady unhappily married to Joseph Cotten, is solid enough to transcend her status as an icon!
Monroe and Cotten are staying at the Rainbow Falls Motel, one of those places Humbert and Lolita might have stayed in on their own trek through America! Except the Rainbow Falls Motel is in Canada, and most of the action takes place there, or in a tower near the bridge across the river, or in those tunnels and balconies that surround the Canadian falls! The unplaceable accents of the police who investigate the goings-on mark them as Canadian, ha ha!
And just what are these goings-on? Well, at the same motel as Monroe and Cotten are a sensible young wife and her dope of a husband, who get mixed up in the other couple’s drama, realizing that Monroe is having an affair with some other fellow; and we viewers learn that Monroe and her boyfriend are planning to get rid of Cotten by bopping him and tossing him into the cataract! A bell tower playing a certain tune will indicate that the plan has come off, but in fact everything goes sideways, and matters come to a head with Cotton and the young wife heading to their doom over the great falls themselves!
Ha ha, it’s all very Hitchcock, and one can imagine old Sir Alfred having a crack at this story! But he’d have added some wrinkles to it, a few extra suspense setpieces, more detecting from the detective, and more humour! As it is, there are some marvelous moments, like the bell tower murder and the final scene at the falls! Unfortunately there are no scenes at the Niagara Falls Museum, which I once toured, finding oddities like a Zulu warrior accouterment called “Penus Cover” and a fierce, towering stuffed bear with a little card in front of him reading “Grizzle Bear - He Killed Six Men!” Ha ha, the museum is now gone, and its collection in the hands of a Toronto millionaire’s estate, but I’d like to have seen it on film, that’s for sure!
Anyway, Niagara was great fun, if occasionally stagy (some of the dialogue scenes in the motel rooms go on a bit long) and not always up to the full potential of the story! It’s great to see this tourist mecca the way it was in the 1950s, before the hotel towers and the sketchy attractions! I recommend a viewing of Niagara, and I give it two and a half records crumbled up in anger!

Burl reviews The Manhattan Project! (1986)

Hi, it’s Burl! Do you like movies about science lads? Ha ha, I sure do! And there was no greater boom in this little genre than in the mid 1980s, when movies like Weird Science, My Science Project, Real Genius, Deadly Friend and Flight of the Navigator came out! And don’t forget D.A.R.Y.L.! Well, one of my favourites of the bunch is a lesser-known one, not as goofy or fantastical as most of the others, but very sciencey! It’s The Manhattan Project, a picture made by Woody Allen’s one-time crony Marshall Brickman!
The film is set pleasantly in Ithaca, New York, where atomic laser scientist John Lithgow has just set up shop to secretly make plutonium for the government! Meanwhile a local science lad, named Paul as so many of them are, catches wind of this operation when the affable Lithgow starts asking his mom out on dates! Ha ha! In concert with burgeoning girlfriend Cynthia Nixon, Paul decides to expose the true workings of “Medatomics Company” by stealing some of its plutonium and constructing his own nuclear bomb! Oh, ha ha!
In its first half the picture offers up a quite decently done heist in science lad clothing! Paul may be a little cleverer than is realistic - his heist, which is quite complex, is conceived of, planned, equipped and pulled off all in the time it takes for a thunderstorm to pass through town - but the writing, and the performance by Christopher Collett as Paul, keep things reasonably grounded!
And as with all the best of the science pictures, this one offers up some not-so-veiled criticism of America, the Reagan administration, and the military-industrial complex to which they were all in thrall! By the time army man John Mahoney and his legion of snipers come busting in, not in the least reluctant to kill Paul in order to get his nuclear device from him, one is as unsure of Paul’s motivations as ever, but is nevertheless convinced he’s somehow in the right! And ha ha, while there’s a happy ending in which Mahoney lets Paul go and just flies away, we can’t escape the conviction that he’s looking at more than a few years in the federal pokey!
The picture is a solid piece of craftsmanship, well acted and laced with plenty of welcome humour! It probably benefits from not trying to be Spielbergian in any fashion - the chase through the New York hotel with science lads pursued by feds recalls E.T. only by accident, and doesn’t involve BMX bikes! Otherwise the picture doesn’t rely on action shenanigans at all, and spends a lot more time debating ethics than Spielberg or his acolytes would have!
I saw this one in the movie theater, and enjoyed it! I’ve been watching it lately with my son and it’s still a good-natured bit of brinksmanship! Ha ha, I give The Manhattan Project two and a half television T-shirts!

Monday 29 July 2019

Burl reviews Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning! (1985)

Heh-heh-heh, ha-ha-ha, it’s Burl; and how can there be two Friday the 13ths in one month? I don’t know, but here’s Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning for you! It’s one of the lesser-loved installments, and I can certainly see why! It’s fairly terrible, although, and I must stress this, ol’ Burl has seen worse!
I don’t recall the words “Crystal Lake” being uttered once in this chapter, nor a lake being shown on screen, but I suppose we can assume the action takes place somewhere not far from that storied summer camp! We join Tommy Jarvis, no longer the chippy-cheeked kid he was in Friday the 13th part 4 (after all, they could only afford Corey “Gremlins” Feldman for a single day’s shooting), but now played by John Shepherd from The Hunt for Red October, as he arrives at his new way station, the Pinefield Youth Development Center! This is a halfway house with an impossibly broad mandate, caring for an aggregation of youths with afflictions ranging from the mild, like stuttering or being a goth, all the way up to serious cases of full on, bug-eyed, murderous psychosis!
This latter comes into play when a harmless, chocolate bar-loving buffoon is chopped up by an axe-wielding buggy-wug, the aforementioned psychotic! As the other inmates (clients? patients? campers?) wail and cry, and the police cart the nutter to the pokey, two ambulance men arrive to haul away the buffoon’s corpse, which has been sectioned and neatly stacked like cordwood! Roy, one of the paramedics, reacts to this sight like Dracula being shown a crucifix, and there are several lingering close-ups of Roy’s face in a rictus of disordered passion! Ha ha, and why could this be?
Well, the pokings start in earnest then! Is the traumatized Tommy behind it all, having somehow inherited Jason’s murderous inclinations by killing him in the previous, so-called final, chapter? Or is it Jason himself, resurrected again? Or is the killer someone completely random, like, say, Roy the paramedic? Ha ha, no, that would be ridiculous!
And yet the outrages carry on unabated, a tidal wave of homicide that carries up any and all in the area! Two objectionable greasers find themselves eating a road flare and receiving a throat-slice, respectively! An itinerant handyman, who for the briefest of moments fills the role of red herring, catches a machete in the stomach! The impossibly unpleasant bumpkin family next door receive a decapitation and a face-chop! Eyes are poked out with shears, heads crushed with leather straps, and an unfortunate soul singer is transfixed by a pole while relaxing in the outhouse! There’s a lot of mayhem, but most of it is implied, or seen after the fact, or hardly seen at all; the ratings board people, then at the zenith of their restrictive powers, did their shearwork as ruthlessly as Jason (or is that Roy the paramedic) himself!
So of all the Friday the 13th pictures, it has the most murders while being one of the driest of them gore-wise! That’s fine I suppose, but in addition to gore it lacks suspense, horror, terror, frights, emotional, psychological and logical sense, solid performances and competent mise-en-scene! What it doesn’t lack is salty language, which it wields like a child who’s just been introduced to the concept, and fecal references, which it positively wallows in! Ha ha!
All the killings at least keep it lively! And if the conclusion, in which, yes, Roy the paramedic proves to be the killer, because he was traumatized when the chocolate-bar oaf who was chopped up turned out to be his son (and even the characters who are explaining this, as if it’s the last ten minutes of Psycho and Roy is Norman Bates, just sort of shrug at that motivation), indeed disrupts the Friday the 13th timeline which some people apparently hold dear, at least it’s something different! I give Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning one giant pot of watery, horked-in soup!

Burl reviews The Worm Eaters! (1977)

Haghh haghh, it’s Burl! Yuck, I’m here to review a movie about worm eating, and yes, it could only be called The Worm Eaters! And yes, it’s about people eating worms! Oh, they gobble those vermiforms up with the greatest of gusto! Ha ha, and you can bet that it’s as gross as it sounds!
It seems there’s a small town in California, and there lives a clubfooted German eccentric named Herman Umgar, who runs a grimy restaurant, who keeps worms and has special names for them all, and who has built a little castle for them all to live in! He sure does love his worms! Though they patronize his restaurant, the townsfolk don't like Umgar very much, and the evil mayor is trying to steal the deed to Umgar’s land, which includes a lake near which three fisherman had something strange happen to them at the beginning of the picture! We also learn that the mayor had at some earlier point killed the wormkeeper’s father and buried him in concrete!
Well, in his slow-witted, weirdo, vaudeville way, Umgar seeks revenge! He discovers that if he feeds his worms to the townspeople at his horrible little restaurant, they will turn into wormpeople themselves! Ha ha! After they gobble on worms for a while, the victims begin to cough and choke like they’re hacking up a hairball; then they emit paste; and finally their lower halves become slimy, segmented worm bodies, and they crawl around on their bellies making yick-yack sounds! Umgar’s victims include all manner of townies, perhaps most memorably two girls obsessed with hot dogs! Well, they get their hot dogs, but not without a little extra protein added in, ha ha! By the end, of course, Umgar himself is a worm, and he becomes the victim of the three fishermen, who catch him with a hook tossed out from the lake!
If you like gross close-ups of people’s mouths as they suck up and chew on worms, this is the picture for you! It’s one of those movies that seem to have been made by an experimental theater company on their dark days, much like Futz or Godmonster of Indian Flats! Really though, it seems largely the creation of a guy named Herb Robins, well known from his appearance in The Funhouse, who wrote and directed the picture, plays the part of Umgar, and happened to know a lot of people who didn’t mind eating worms! The movie was produced by, of all people, Ted V. Mikels, a bare-chested satyr of a man who lived in a small castle near Las Vegas and kept multiple wives!
The movie has long, boring stretches with Umgar soliloquizing and/or talking to his worms, scenes I suppose Robins thought were amusing, but which really aren’t! The vermipeople in their rubber segmented bodies are pretty entertaining though, and there are some performances (the head fisherman, the mayor, a black woman who is far and away the most intelligent and likable person in the picture) that are quite splendid! Other actors ham it up terribly - you’d see more convincing performances at your local fringe festival! The bottom line, though, is there’s an awful lot of worm eating to suffer though here, and I confess I wasn’t equal to the task! I had to look away several times, just as I had to press mute on the movie’s insufferable theme song, which occurs over the opening titles, the closing titles, and once, in a vastly overextended form, during the body of the picture! Like me, by the time you get to that point in the film you’ll probably wish someone would sneak up behind you and press a chloroform rag over your face! Ha ha, I give The Worm Eaters two hell of a lakes!

Burl reviews Collateral Damage! (2002)

Burl here to fill you in on action-drama! Yes, the picture I’m reviewing for you today is Collateral Damage, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, one of the last he made before taking his hiatus from movies and becoming a ho-hum governator! This is one of those movies that was made before 9/11 and came out afterward, and it achieved a modicum of notice thanks to its scenes of bombs going off in public places and victims lying around covered in bloody sheets! For the briefest of moments the public mood was against such pictures, and the makers of Collateral Damage were not sure what to do! In the end they released their movie, but played down the terrorist elements in the advertising so as not to upset people! However I’m sure they toyed with the idea of playing them up instead: here, they might have insisted, you will see Arnold going after proxy versions of the real-life terrorists who have so upset America, and making them pay, pay, PAY!
That could have meant big box office bucks, I suppose, but the gang at Warner Bros., under the shadow of a history-making terrorist attack, chose to resist looking like tasteless mercenaries for the sake of a few dollars! Perhaps, too, they knew they had a bit of a clam on their hands, one which would have hardly satisfied the action junkies looking for cathartic vengeance!
Arnold plays Gordie Brewer, Los Angeles firefighter: once again a heavily-accented man with a mysteriously Anglo name! (This incongruity, so easily accepted in Schwarzenegger pictures by now, is put into sharper focus later in the movie, when Arnold briefly goes undercover as “Heinrich Beckmann,” German mechanic!) Gordie’s workaday world is shattered when his wife and young son are blown up by a Colombian terrorist known as The Wolf, who issues threats using a voice-altering device that makes him sound like André the Giant and who has targeted some US and Colombian officials! Once the chaos subsides, Gordie’s family are simply dismissed as, you guessed it, collateral damage!
Well that’s not good enough for Gordie! Forsaking his razor he makes his way to Colombia, and after several misadventures, and a stint in a South American jail, and encounters with John "Barton Fink" Turturro (playing the world most unlikely Canadian) and John "Die Hard 2" Leguzamo (playing a manufacturer of mind drugs) he finds The Wolf’s compound! But The Wolf finds him too, and in the course of their conflict there occur several explosions, some engineered by Gordie and others by CIA spook Elias “Some Kind of Wonderful” Koteas! Our tale ends in Washington, where there will be further explosions and an action climax involving indoor motorcycle riding and violence fights!
As in so many of the Arnold movies in which he’s supposed to be a more or less everyday fellow, the picture works overtime in establishing his quotidian qualities, and tries manfully to resist turning him into a superman in the action scenes! For me, Arnold is better off in his more unflappably robotic roles, like Commando or Predator or most especially, and literally, The Terminator, in which he’s less likely to issue the panicked bellow that always bursts forth whenever he’s playing an everyday man in trouble, falling down or being blown through the air by an explosion or whatnot!
At times Collateral Damage, with its confused geopolitics and cake-and-eat-it-too view of American foreign policy, seems like a holdover from not just the 90s, but from further back still, right to the darn Reagan era! The action is middling at best, the story unsatisfying, and the execution plodding! It’s a forgotten mediocrity, and I almost regret reminding you of it here! Ha ha, sorry ‘bout that! I give Collateral Damage one Metallica t-shirt!

Burl reviews D.A.R.Y.L.! (1985)

Hi, it’s your good pal B.U.R.L. - Badly Underpaid Reviewer Lad! Ha ha! I’m here to review a kiddie sci-fi picture from the 1980s which you may or may not remember: D.A.R.Y.L.! It’s the sort of movie that wants to be E.T. or WarGames, but would probably settle for being Short Circuit or Flight of the Navigator, and doesn’t even manage that! As 80s kidventure pictures go, it’s pretty dry – it tastes like a mouthful of wicker!
It does open with a car chase, however! Actually it’s a car being chased by a helicopter, and the car soon goes off a cliff, but not before depositing a young, brown-haired boy, D.A.R.Y.L.! D.A.R.Y.L. is soon picked up by the Barkington Youth Center, and he just as quickly becomes the foster child of Barkington residents Mary Beth Hurt and Michael McKean! With his unmatchable manners, his ability to hit home runs, and his thrilling aptitude at Pole Position, D.A.R.Y.L. is soon the toast of Barkington! No, D.A.R.Y.L. is someone the good people of Barkington will not soon forget!
But of course D.A.R.Y.L. is no ordinary moppet! Ha ha, his name’s an acronym for starters, and then there’s that computer in his head! The movie is a bit vague on what sort of robot he is - is he a Terminator, a Roy Batty, a Bishop, a Data? - but he’s a robot of some kind, and when his new family and real-boy best friend Turtle eventually find this out it hardly even makes them blink! Such are D.A.R.Y.L.’s powers of ingratiation!
D.A.R.Y.L. was created by laboratory scientists because for some reason the Pentagon wanted to create armies of polite little boys who excel at video games! The scientists, in the guise of D.A.R.Y.L.’s real parents, take the artificial lad away from his foster parents, which makes everyone sad, but the main scientist, played by Josef Somer of Target, quickly decides that he has become a real boy after all, and, like his colleague at the beginning of the movie, smuggles the lad out of the research facility and absconds with him! A ludicrously trigger-happy cop puts an end to this relationship (the most touching of the film), but D.A.R.Y.L. simply steals America’s most sophisticated fighter jet and flies home to Barkington!
Oh, this movie! I wish the darn thing was better, because it had some potential! But the direction, I’m sorry to say, lacks any style at all, and barely any pep! There’s one car stunt and a lab set that briefly hit the mark, but that’s about it! The performances are pretty lifeless, with the actor playing D.A.R.Y.L. conveying D.A.R.Y.L.’s uncertainty about human ways by wearing a constant expression of imbecilic bewilderment! It feels like chunks were cut out because the scriptwriters could not figure out how to deliver narrative points in an efficient way! (In this it resembles contemporaneous Paramount product like Blue City and Summer Rental, and helps undercut the studio’s mid-80s reputation as a slick and ruthlessly efficient entertainment factory!)
If it’s supposed to be Pinocchio, they left out all the traumatic temptation and lesson-learning undergone by the wooden lad, and whatever blue fairy is meant to hasten D.A.R.Y.L.’s transformation to a real boy is here left offscreen! There also seems to be a great deal of geographical confusion: is Barkington in the Pacific Northwest, or maybe is it in Florida? Ha ha, there’s evidence to suggest both! (In fact, much of it was shot in the U.K.!) It’s always nice to see an 80s movie with the military-industrial complex portrayed as the unalloyed baddies they are, though, but this bright spot alone is not enough for me to give D.A.R.Y.L. anything more than one round of Pole Position!

Burl reviews Night Screams! (1986)

Burl here! Yes, I’ve got a mystery slasher for you today, a little-discussed cornelius out of Wichita, Kansas called Night Screams! Ha ha, and of course as a little public service I like to place these pictures into very specific categories so that the unwary watcher may become wary, or at least go into their viewing with a surfeit of information in hand!
One thing I like to let the people know is whether the movie in question contains any actual Special Makeup Effects in its killings or not! Ha ha, many a slasher pic skimps on this critical ingredient, relying instead on shots of poking knives and a few drops of stage blood! (The only movie that gets away clean with this approach is Halloween! Ha ha, and Psycho too, I suppose!)
Now, the funny thing is that Night Screams cheats a bit in this regard, because it opens with a couple sitting on their couch and enjoying a viewing of Graduation Day! We see a couple of killings from that picture, and the movie’s surprise ending is revealed, so fair warning if you haven’t seen Graduation Day! But it’s a sly way for Night Screams to fit a few more killings and a little extra tomato paste into its running time!
It’s an apt way to open the picture too, because Night Screams is very Graduation Day! The gang of superannuated sports teens we meet here are on the foot-ball team, or are girlfriends of the foot-ball team, and the action is centered on a big post-game party held for all these jerks by foot-ball hero David! But David wants no part of his BMOC status, though his bear of a dad revels in it by proxy, and we learn as the picture goes on that, without his special medication David is prone to fits of violence, and he’ll throw down a Cornish Hen flipout fit on his friends at the drop of a hat! His ladyfriend meanwhile feels that she doesn’t fit in, and at the same time all the girls are angling for a piece of David, who seems awfully Jersey Shore for a guy stuck in Wichita!
David’s not the only red herring here, to be sure! A religious maniac named Snake has broken out of Leavenworth, along with a couple of his pals, and they’re hiding in David’s basement! At the party, victims pile up: a fireplace poker through the sternum; a trouble light dropped into a hot tub; a neck crushed with a pool cue; a head chopped with an axe; a man’s face grilled alongside his own hamburger; and a few garden variety pokings and stranglings! (Of these, only the face-grilling and accompanying neck-poke required any substantial effort from the picture’s one-woman Special Makeup Effects team!)
As so often, it’s the marginal details that provide the most profound enjoyment! There is a pleasing entr’acte in which our victims-to-be go out to the club, where they observe the gyrations of six bespangled ladies called The Sweetheart Dancers! There’s a tubby jokester character straight out of Friday the 13th part 3, but this particular tubby jokester, called Russell, is given less to practical jokes and more to jarring bursts of bizarre behavior which the movie stops cold to observe! Are these incidents meant to be funny, or are they presented as evidence of incipient psychosis? Ha ha, the glory of Night Screams is that one simply cannot be sure!
The picture is never very scary, of course, though Snake demonstrates some admirably violent tendencies; and the solution to the mystery makes remarkably little sense, even for a movie like this! (Ha ha, this is yet another aspect it shares with Graduation Day!) The regional players, who include some almost-familiar faces like Ron Thomas from The Big Bet and Janette Caldwell from Body Double, do a competent enough job, and there are just enough flourishes of wit, bizarre moments, and uber-80s aspects (oh those Sweetheart Dancers!) to make it all worthwhile! I give Night Screams one and a half Yoda impressions!

Sunday 28 July 2019

Burl reviews The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou! (2004)

Ahoy-hoy, it’s Burl, here to review a picture that underwhelmed me a bit when I saw it in the cinema, but which has doggedly, or dogfishedly, risen in my estimation ever since! That picture is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and to say that this is one of the most artificial movies Wes Anderson has yet made is to accuse it of no little artifice!
As I watched this recently with my son, he asked me what the movie was about, and ha ha, for him I had no answer! We simply follow Steve Zissou, a self-hating American version of Jacques Cousteau, as he and his international band of misfits search, and film their search, for the enormous jaguar shark that chewed up his friend Esteban! There are many complications, including the appearance of a young man who may or may not be Steve’s son; a bond company stooge along to keep the budget in check; pirates; a pregnant journalist; a crabby wife; and a rival superstar ocean scientist!
But that’s just the plot stuff! Ha ha, the real joys are conceptual or visual or detail-based! All the made-up sea creatures and phenomena, and the crayon-coloured animations of same, are simple delights! The idea of Steve Zissou and his ship, the Belafonte (which is shown to us in great detail thanks to an amazing set), and the extracts from his films, and movie posters for older pictures like The Battling Eels of Antibes and Shadow Creatures of the Lurisia Archipelago, enchant us still deeper into this aqua-centric world!
And the cast is large and spectacular! Bill Murray makes a good Zissou, and Owen Wilson seems to be channeling Val Kilmer’s performance in Tombstone, but with less cynicism and coughing! There’s Willem "Streets of Fire" Dafoe, hamming it up as a needy German; Jeff "Into the Night" Goldbum doing it up right as the part-gay rival; Anjelica Huston underplaying to a fault as the wife; Michael Gambon smooth as paste playing the type of producer most of us in the movie business have met; But Cort as the bond company stooge; and Cate Blanchett all nervy as the reporter! There’s a sweet cameo from Seymour "Eye of the Tiger" Cassel in the role of Esteban, which makes you wish there were more of him in the movie, maybe in flashback form!
Of course none of the characters seem quite real, which makes it hard to connect with the personal drama in the story! Anderson’s patented attempts at pathos through slow timing and understated delivery might do the job in the moment, but they don’t manage much depth, or hit home on an emotional level, except occasionally! “I hated fathers and never wanted to be one,” says Steve at one point, and one can sort of understand that sentiment even if one doesn’t share it!
The picture may not plough deep, but it ploughs smoothly and provides many joys along the way! It tries a little too hard to put an emotional punching on us, but that’s something Anderson has gotten better and subtler at as he goes along, so it didn’t bother me much here! Ha ha, I guess I applied some kind of latent maturity filter to my viewing! Anyway, it’s a fun picture and a very funny one too, and piled high with good music, fulsome performances, and an end credits sequence charmingly borrowed from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! Ha ha! I give The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou three rubber tides!

Burl reviews The Car! (1977)

Beep beep, it’s Burl, here to review one of the great concoctive movies of the 1970s, The Car! It’s like someone saw Jaws and The Exorcist, and heard about the then-upcoming Smokey and the Bandit, and said ha ha, let’s do it! Let’s mix ‘em all up and see what we get!
What they got was a picture about a small desert town terrorized by a devil-possessed sedan, a concept which I consider sort of brilliantly stupid! Ha ha! The dastardly auto, a big ugly thing of indeterminate make, roams the mesas and barrancas around Santa Ynez, a little community with a seemingly inexhaustible police force! The hero of the piece is James Brolin, well known from Von Ryan’s Express, looking very Marlboro Man as deputy sheriff Wade Parent! (Boy, Brolin had a great run in the 1970s! Westworld, The Car, Capricorn One, The Amityville Horror: none of them great movies, but all pop gems in their own right!)
The police force also includes alcoholic deputy Luke, played by the fine Ronny Cox from Total Recall and Beverly Hills Cop! The boss sheriff is leathery John Marley, and then there’s my favourite character Chas, another deputy, played by Henry O’Brien! Ha ha, I won’t be breaking a confidence to reveal that one or more of these gentlemen may end up flattened by the car! There’s also a nasty, abusive demolition man played by R.G. Armstrong, who would reunite with Cox five years later to battle The Beast Within, and whose fate in this picture will surprise you! And Wade Parent’s girlfriend is played at once winningly and hammily by Kathleen Lloyd from Best Seller!
The sequence of events is very Jaws, with the car claiming its first victims right off the hop, and then on the reg after that! Unlike the shark, however, the car begins targeting specific people, at one point jumping through a house Grand Theft Auto-style to wheel-butt someone it has a grudge against! Ha ha! The car starts exhibiting supernatural abilities, like going into a barrel roll, crushing a couple of police cars, righting itself and cruising on without so much as a dented fender! It also demonstrates a disinclination to drive on hallowed ground, which apparently cemeteries are! Yet for all this, most of the force refuses to believe they’re dealing with anything but a maniac driver!
Ha ha, the Santa Ynez police force has a rough go of it here, suffering untold personnel losses beneath the wheels of the constantly honking vehicle! But a series of events involving truckloads of dynamite, a motorcycle fleeing from the car, a big cliff, and a dodging out of the way at the last moment (the oldest trick in the book), conspire to lead the car into a fiery explosion supposed by some to contain a demonic face, though I’ve never been able to see it in there!
To my great enjoyment The Car is a desert picture, the sort of thing Jack “Tarantula” Arnold should have been doing in the 70s instead of Black Eye! But director Eliot Silverstein does a fine job in Arnold’s stead, keeping the car as scary and imposing as he can under the circumstances, ha ha, the circumstances being that he’s making a movie about the devil’s towncar! The car design helps: King of the Kustomizers George Barris did a good job here; and there’s some marvelous photography from Gerald Hirschfeld of both the car and its environs!
But the killer car idea, dusted off later for Christine and one segment in the anthology Nightmares, is pretty silly! Points go to all participants for taking it seriously and making it more or less work! The car hardly ever claims victims at night, probably because it was difficult to photograph in the dark; but even with this restriction the movie manages an aridly creepy atmosphere! I’m fond of this picture and I’m not afraid to admit it! I give The Car three French horns!

Burl reviews Friday the 13th! (2009)

Chuff-chuff-chuff, por-por-por, ha-ha-ha, it’s Burl, here to review a Friday the 13th picture! But not any old Friday the 13th picture; no, this is the attempt they made about a decade ago to bring Jason and his antics into the new century, to make his slicings, his dicings and his pokings relevant to a new generation of thrill seekers!
It’s called simply Friday the 13th, but it’s not exactly a remake of the 1980 Friday the 13th, just another variation on the theme! It plays, I guess, like Friday the 13th part 2 would have if they’d tried (pointlessly) to inject more logic into the saga instead of bringing in a long-dead character and putting a bag over his head! But of course they sacrifice different logic in doing so!
It opens with a restaging of the original picture’s climax, with Mrs. Voorhees catching a head-chop from a surviving girl! But her severed head instructs Jason to Kill For Mommy; and so if Mrs. Voorhees is issuing orders to her son, that means he didn’t drown, and she knows it; and if that’s the case, why was she taking out her revenge on these camp counselors? What’s everybody so mad about? Ha ha, who knows, and who cares!
This picture has a very long pre-title sequence involving the demise of a whole group of college-age kids, of the type you’d never want to hang out with in real life! They are quickly gotten rid of by a ragheaded Jason, whose methods have become more sadistic than they used to be! No longer for him the simple poking, but now a slow campfire roast in a sleeping bag, or a bear trap to the leg! But of course one of the girls resembles Mother, and so as the picture wears on we can be assured of the same gambit used in part 2, and also of course in Humongous!
Finally we meet a whole new gang of teens, a completely unlikely group of pals, and most of them boneheaded jerks! They’re spending the weekend at the remote country house of the biggest jerk of them all, a shrill, possessive colungus who’s constantly remonstrating with his guests about scuffed tables and spilled beer! There’s also a character imported whole from Friday the 13th part 4, the handsome backpacker searching for his missing sister! But where the heck is Crazy Ralph?
While there are a couple of nicely set-up moments, like one involving a shower curtain, the movie is on the whole remarkably free of tension or frights! It’s clearly trying for an intensity never reached by the older episodes, but doesn’t manage any better! There’s a flatness to the whole enterprise; while the poking scenes come with a bran-fuelled regularity, the rollercoaster momentum the movie wishes to have never gets going! If the movie hits a sweet spot, it’s in the meatiness of its killings, which are gory but not excessively or cartoonishly so!
Jason’s lair, which is somewhere beneath Camp Crystal Lake, or maybe underneath his old house, features trophies from his past adventures in killing! This would be a nice touch if it weren’t so obviously, well, obvious! Better the energy should be spent on creating real characters to murder, or actual suspense, dread or terror in the execution of said murders! It’s altogether a pretty tired enterprise, filled with terrible songs, and I can’t muster the energy to give this Friday the 13th more than one field of leafy greens!

Burl reviews Escape from L.A.! (1996)

Ha ha, it’s me - call me Burl! Yes, I’m here to review not the first, but the second adventure of Snake Plisskin, which is to say the time he had to Escape from L.A.! Now, like just about everybody, I’m very fond of his first go-round, Escape from New York! That’s just a terrific picture! But I remember going to the theater to see the new one when it came out back in 1996, and I came reeling out with my brain full of skunkfire! It was a terrific disappointment!
Watching it again more recently, I found more to like in the movie, but not much! It’s certainly on the bottom level of John Carpenter pictures, along with Ghosts of Mars and The Ward, and so very remote from the heights of The Thing and Halloween!
Snake Plisskin is still the monocular man of action we know and love from 1982! It seems there’s another godly hypocrite in the White House, played by Cliff Robertson in Malone mode, and he’s made L.A., that heathen city, into a dumping ground for everyone he doesn’t like: atheists and so forth! Ha ha, Los Angeles is a big city, but I don’t think it could fit everybody this joker doesn’t like! Ol’ Burl, for example, would be sent there immediately, and I would probably set up shop in the Academy screening room and just watch movies all day!
Of course Snake has no time for that: he has to get back some important trinket from Robertson’s rebellious daughter, who has set up shop with notorious gangster-terrorist Cuervo Jones; and for Snake there’s a countdown clock (referred to even more insistently than it was in New York) and gangs to fight, and, as in the previous picture, a terrific supporting cast! As before, everyone he meets either knows him or has heard of him, but now, instead of everyone thinking he was dead, they all thought he’d be taller!
There are also lots of really ropey CGI trick effects (that shark!) and a lugubrious mise-en-scene that drains the action scenes of any pizzazz! Oh John, how did it come to this! You’re a terrific action director! It doesn’t help that so much of the movie plays as a pale imitation of the earlier movie’s highlights! Instead of gliding onto the World Trade Center, Snake submarines onto a freeway ramp! When he’s captured by the bad guys, he doesn’t fight their biggest man in a ring, as he did in New York; no, he must play basketball! At least the doo-dad he’s after is a mini disc instead of a tape cassette, ha ha!
The general reduction in amazingness extends to the supporting cast, which, as I said, is terrific! Just not as terrific! Stacey Keach is fine, but he’s no Lee Van Cleef! Steve Buscemi is a wonderful actor, but he’s not Harry Dean Stanton! Peter Fonda is great, but Ernest Borgnine is greater! And George Corraface is most assuredly no Isaac Hayes! We also get Pam Grier and Bruce Campbell, wonderful performers both, but somewhat underused here!
On the plus side - and Burl always looks for that, ha ha! - Kurt Russell doesn’t miss a trick in his Snake Plisskin shtick! A couple of the fights are pretty good, and there are pleasing ideas or bits of design lurking in the margins! There’s a little cavalcade of Rick Baker makeups in the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills scene, which is always nice! And, as with every movie about the destruction of L.A. made by people who live there, there’s a certain glee taken in the city’s demise, with potshots aplenty taken at its ways and its people!
And of course, in its depiction of the demagogic Robertson, the picture has a certain prescience; enough, maybe, to serve as a cautionary tale along the line of Sinclair Lewis’s book It Can’t Happen Here! And even at his worst, John Carpenter is still John Carpenter, and there’s some pleasing carpentry throughout the movie! I give Escape from L.A. one and a half full-court free throws!

Burl reviews Francis the Talking Mule! (1949)

Hee haw, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about the most famous talking mule there is, Francis! Now, fame-wise I’m not sure how he stacks up against Mr. Ed, his greatest competitor, but I’m pretty sure these days, seventy years after his cinematic debut, he’s still better known than Don, the horse that was voiced by John Candy in Hot to Trot!
Of course there was only one Hot to Trot, and there must have been a half-dozen Francis movies! The picture I’m reviewing for you today was the first of them, and while it doesn’t explain how the irascible mule gained the power of speech, it does detail the initial meeting between Francis and the human who would become his closest chum, 2nd lieutenant Peter Stirling, played by the amiable hoofmeister Donald O’Connor! Ha ha!
Now, O’Connor is of course best known for his spectacular work in Singin’ In the Rain, but a little-known fact is that he can also be seen in The Big Fix, palling around with Francis in footage from Francis Joins the Navy! He’s really the perfect guy for this role - halfway between Mickey Rooney (who got his own horse movie later, The Black Stallion) and Eddie Bracken! Of course Rooney and Bracken were both fine comedians capable of playing exactly the sort of gormless milquetoast Stirling is meant to be, but somehow O’Connor hits those notes while still projecting a sort of protean competence that leads you to believe he actually might have risen to the rank of Lieutenant during wartime without being either fragged or simply killed in combat! Even Don Knotts couldn’t have pulled that one off!
We first meet Stirling in his post-war occupation as a bank teller, but there is a whisper campaign being conducted against him, and his boss threatens to fire him! The boss gives Stirling a chance to tell his tale, which occurred when he was stationed in Burma during the war! On getting separated from his patrol, and under heavy enemy fire, Stirling comes across a placid army mule who gives him advice on how to survive, and then, when Stirling receives a minor shrapnel wound to the leg, carts him to an aid station!
From there the picture adopts a structure of repetition, in which Stirling tries to persuade his colonel that a talking mule saved his life; Francis refuses to talk to the colonel; Stirling is thrown into the psychiatric ward and made to weave baskets by jolly nurse Zasu Pitts; Francis gives Stirling some crucial bit of information about a Japanese observation post, or a hidden patrol, or a sneak air attack; Stirling becomes a hero but is pressured to tell the colonel where he got his information; rinse and repeat! Ha ha, with its host of eccentric characters, its focus on the impenetrable logic of rear-echelon army brass, its dazed hero caught in the machinations of illogic imposed by war, it almost reminded me of Catch-22! Eventually, Francis, to prevent his new friend being tossed in the booby hatch for life, deigns to talk for someone other than Stirling - a three-star general, in fact , played by John McIntire from Psycho, Cloak &Dagger, and Herbie Rides Again - but it only causes more trouble!
The perpetually irascible Francis speaks in the voice of Chill Wills from Fireball 500, and his attitude is essentially that of the dogfaces in a Bill Mauldin cartoon: grousing about army brass in general, and 2nd lieutenants in particular, for whom he seems to have a particular hate-on! But at the same time he’s a hyper-patriotic equine and wants to do his bit to win the war! Eventually the picture concludes with what seems like a tragic denouement, but director Arthur Lubin (who would later go on to direct a hundred and fifty episodes of Mr. Ed - ha ha, talk about a niche!) and novelist/screenwriter David Stern have one last trick up their sleeves! After all, if Francis died in a plane crash, how could he ever join the WACS? Ha ha!
The picture is done in the Universal low-budget house style, which is a comforting style to ol’ Burl! Those Burmese jungles are probably the same palm fronds later prowled through by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, ha ha! Though there’s a lot of unfortunate talk about “Japs,” and that same casual racism you find in many pictures of the period, particularly war pictures, it wasn’t ladled on quite as heavily as I’d feared! The picture is a bit slow and talky for a children’s comedy, and anyway the intended audience seems more to be men for whom wartime service was still a recent memory, who can chuckle and nod along with Francis’s jabs at army life and the officer class! I give Francis the Talking Mule two tails standing at attention!