Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday, 29 November 2019

Burl reviews Planes, Trains & Automobiles! (1987)



Ha ha and best of Thanksgivings to my Yankee Doodle friends! Yes, here for you is one of the quintessential American Turkey Day movies, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, which has no particular holiday resonance for me, being Canadian as I am, but is a perfectly enjoyable picture simply on its own merits! I like it better than Uncle Buck, anyway, ha ha!
Anyway, a viewer looking for Canadian content need look no further than John Candy, who alone provides a great deal of content, ha ha! This beloved comedy star, admired for his appearances in pictures like Summer Rental and Armed and Dangerous, and of course that other holiday classic The Silent Partner, plays shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith, who travels around hawking his wares and making friends everywhere he goes! Meanwhile, uptight Chicago ad man Neal Page, in New York for a presentation, wants to get back to Chi-town to be with his picture-perfect family for the holiday! Neal is played by silver-domed Steve Martin, famed for roles in All of Me and ¡Three Amigos!
This picture is the story of their trouble-filled journey from Wichita, where foul weather forces them to land, to Chicago, and of course there are many delightful happenings along the way, and strong performances from both Martin and Candy! Ha ha, in fact, I think this may be Candy’s best work! Alongside the delights there are plenty of patented John Hughes moves, like the ascension of minor inconvenience to high tragedy when the victim is a white upper middle-class fellow; the absolute fealty to bourgeois family ritual; sudden sledgehammer blows of sentiment; and the use of horror movie tropes like musical stings and oblique cinematography to introduce working class characters, who are supposed to be naturally terrifying, I guess, unless they’re founts of wisdom like Carl the janitor in The Breakfast Club! Ha ha!
It’s a two man show for the most part, but Hughes sprinkles in plenty of cameos and familiar character faces! Kevin Bacon, well known for his appearance in Friday the 13th, shows up as a young businessman trying to get the same cab as Neal; Michael McKean from D.A.R.Y.L. turns up near the end as a highway patrolman; Larry Hankin from Escape From Alcatraz is Doobie the cabbie; Richard Herd from Summer Rental and Gary Riley from Summer School are in there too, along with plenty of others! There are even familiar voices, like that of Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, who is an unseen bus driver here, and was one of the old boys in the blues bar in Weird Science!
Anyway, we all know the story and we all know the jokes, and probably most people feel Planes, Trains & Automobiles is as much a comfy blanket to put on in a cold season as it is a movie! Ha ha! But it raises a lot of questions, too - things that are maybe explained by the rumoured four-and-a-half hour original cut, ha ha! I wonder if that wouldn’t have been a bit much? Anyway, I wonder how it works out after the concluding freeze frame on John Candy’s face: did Del stay for Thanksgiving dinner? Did the in-laws all accept him? Where did he go after that? Who paid for the destroyed rental car? Ha ha, I give editor Paul Hirsch a lot of credit for putting it all together and leaving room for all the comedy smash cuts Hughes was so fond of!
Well, it’s a solid little picture, not beloved by me, but I admit it has a comfy feeling to it! I saw it at the theatre, maybe on not exactly a date but one of those little co-ed gang outings that sometimes happened! Ha ha, I saw The Breakfast Club that way, too, which was apt! In any case, it gave me a fondness for both these Hughes works that I might not have otherwise, and so I give Planes, Trains & Automobiles two and a half pillows!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Burl reviews The Right Stuff! (1983)



Ad astra, friends, it’s Burl! No, I’m not reviewing the recent Brad Pitt movie by that title, not yet anyway, but instead a picture suffused with the spirit of this inspiring phrase! Ha ha, yes, I’m talking about The Right Stuff!
This movie was a pretty big deal back in the early 1980s, as I recall, though not in terms of box office! I guess it’s a pretty long picture, and people were worried they might have to go to the bathroom in their spacesuits, ha ha! I wish I’d seen it in the theatre, you bet, and why my family didn't go is a mystery to me, because we usually took in all the epics! It’s a beautifully shot picture - take a bow, Caleb Deschanel! - and would have played magnificently on the big screen, I am sure!
Of course it’s the story of the beginnings of the American space program, before they even had a thing called NASA, and plays a little like a prequel to Apollo 13! It starts with Chuck Yeager, played by Sam Shepard from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and his ladywife Glennis, personified by Barbara Hershey from Hoosiers! They ride horses, banter a bit, and then old Chuck goes and breaks the sound barrier! After that we get into the recruitment and training of the Mercury 7 astronauts, and as the space flights start, we get all sorts of ups and downs both technical and personal!
The cast, of course, is extraordinary! The Mercury 7 include Scott Glenn from The Hunt for Red October as Alan Shepherd; Ed Harris, well known from Creepshow, as John Glenn, no doubt drawing on this experience when he played control room chief Gene Kranz in Apollo 13; Dennis Quaid, playing Gordon Cooper the same way he later played Tuck Pendleton in Innerspace; Fred Ward from UFOria playing Gus Grissom with great wounded dignity; Scott Paulin from Forbidden World as Deke Slayton; Charles Frank from Russkies as Scott Carpenter; and Lance Henriksen from Aliens, The Visitor, The Horror Show, and many, many others, as Wally Schirra, who later sold ointments on TV as I recall!
The wives are just as strong a group: Veronica Cartwright from Nightmares; Pamela Reed from Junior; Kathy Baker from Edward Scissorhands; and Mary Jo Deschanel from 2010, in which she played a different astronaut’s wife! Plus we get Donald Moffat from The Thing as a cranky LBJ; a pair of comedy-relief recruiters seeking out the spacemen for the program, who are played with an Artoo and Threepio dynamic by Harry Shearer of Godzilla and Jeff Goldblum of Into the Night; a proto-NASA official played by John P. Ryan of Avenging Force; another official type played by David Clennon of Matinee; the always-welcome Levon Helm from Staying Together, playing mechanic-designer-gum supplier Jack Ridley; and the great Royal Dano, playing another in his long line of cadaverously allegorical memento moris!
The picture is in many ways a remarkable thing: at once mythmaking and myth-deflating; a resolutely personal telling of a defiantly epic story; traditional and grounded while reveling in outrageous eccentricities and gross-out gaggery! Ha ha! It celebrates individual achievement while insisting the same is not possible without communal effort, wastes no time on flag-waving, and its stand-up-and-cheer moments come as much from small moments, like John Glenn backing up his shy, stammering wife when she doesn’t want to meet Johnson, as from aeronautical triumphs!
Ha ha, I wonder if there’s a Russian version of this story! If there is, I’d like to see it! In the meantime, this excellent telling of the tale from the American side will have to do! I give The Right Stuff three and a half nurses peeking through portholes!

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Burl reviews Taking Lives! (2004)



Ha ha and hollyhocks, it’s Burl reviewing at you again! Now, what might you get if you took Silence of the Lambs and mixed it up with Se7en? Well, ha ha, you’d get any one of the dozens upon dozens of rip-off serial killer pictures that came out in the 1990s and 2000s! Among those hangdogs is Taking Lives, one of the slicker and more big-budget of the imitators, but in its way as weak a simulacrum as something like, oh, Red Team!
Angelina Jolie, of the bee-stung lips, plays the usual sort of FBI agent who has some preternatural insight into the minds of serial killers, like Will Graham from Manhunter, and while it’s a talent she might rather not have, she’ll grimly and doggedly use while she’s got it! She arrives in Montreal (which is played in the movie interchangeably by both Montreal and Quebec City, ha ha) to help the local constabulary track down a serial killer who was played as a young lad by Paul Dano, but by now might look like just about anybody!
Why, he might look like Ethan Hawke, the actor famed from Explorers, who here plays a mild-mannered art gallerist who happens to have interrupted the killer in the midst of his latest murder! Or he may resemble Kiefer Sutherland, whom we know from Stand By Me and The Lost Boys, and who certainly acts the part of a killer! Or he may look like some random nobody, or even one of the cops, which is the twist I was expecting! Only Gena Rowlands from Light of Day and The Brink’s Job, knows for sure, because the killer is her son, and though he’s long been thought dead, she recently spotted him on a boat!
So I guess the whodunit angle is where the picture tries to distinguish itself from the movies it’s modeled on, but the dearth of suspects renders this distinction not much of one at all! Ha ha! The Quebec locations, and a brand of Canadian-ness with the quality of having been arrived at by way of the children’s game of Telephone (“I should have stayed in Winnipeg!” Hawke’s character grouses at one point), give it a tiny sliver of uniqueness though! Still, it’s strange that all the Quebec cops are played by French actors: Tchéky Karyo from Kiss of the Dragon, avuncular and wise; Olivier Martinez from IP5: The Island of Pachyderms, resentful and angry; Jean-Hugues Anglade from Betty Blue, neutral and doomed!
It’s pretty cookie-cutter stuff, and, ha ha, I can't see it being anyone's favourite movie! There’s a pretty fair boo-scare in there, and some gross Special Makeup Effects, but these things are surrounded by an awful lot of silliness! Ha ha, I give Taking Lives one and a half horrible straw mattresses!

Monday, 25 November 2019

Burl reviews The King of Marvin Gardens! (1972)


Ha ha and welcome, friends, to another movie review! Today I’m talking about a picture I saw many years ago and remembered in my mind as being pretty great! Well, I watched it again recently, and let me tell you, it holds up very well! The movie is one of those 1970s classics, and the title - which, let’s be honest, isn’t a great title - is The King of Marvin Gardens!
Jack Nicholson, renowned for his antics in The Witches of Eastwick, was early in his stardom at this point, and was still well able to play restrained characters who never need to raise their voices or speak in little bullets of biting, cynical pith! Here he’s playing a quiet Philadelphio called David Staebler, the host of what must be the most depressing radio program of all time! Called down to Atlantic City by his jailbird brother Jason, essayed as an all-time slimeball by Bruce Dern from Smile and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, David is drawn into a world of petty crimes and con jobs!
He’s also pulled into the world of his brother’s two ladyfriends, a stepmother-stepdaughter duo played by Ellen Burstyn, whom we know from Getting Gotti and The Exorcist, and Julia Anne Robinson, who appeared in the film version of A Fan’s Notes, but died in a fire in her apartment when she was only 24! That’s sad, because she was pretty and, on the evidence seen here, a talented actor!
David is at first rather freaked out by this weird world of big dreams and petty swindles, but he soon becomes as intoxicated by it as everyone else, and before long the quartet are prowling the beaches and boardwalks and Ventnor Avenues and everywhere else you find on a Monopoly board, taking jitney rides and, for whatever reason, auditioning auctioneers! All of this is photographed with picturesque verve by Laszlo Kovacs, a man of great ability, and directed in a laid-back, observational style by Bob Rafelson, who later gave us the less intriguing Black Widow!
Scatman Crothers, known for his appearances in Truck Turner and with his buddy Nicholson in The Shining, has a great bit as Lewis, the local godfather upon whose name Jason trades! Ha ha, of course Lewis is less than pleased about this! But one thing I love is that, in this picture about gangsters in Atlantic City, a gun is still a really big deal, as it should be! They’re treated as truly dangerous objects, and there’s even a scene in which two tough hoods come to kidnap Jason, but as soon as a gun comes out, they run away! Ha ha, there’s a feeling of real consequence surrounding the objects in this picture, and that consequence, of course, comes to pass in the third act!
Other familiar faces pass through in the meantime, like John P. Ryan, known to all from Fatal Beauty and Avenging Force, not to mention Runaway Train, The Right Stuff and the It’s Alive pictures, who here plays a pharumphing concierge! Josh Mostel from The Money Pit is in the mix too, playing the producer of Nicholson’s hilariously mopey radio show! Everyone involved seems to be on the same wavelength, and they work together to make the movie funny and bizarre and not merely tragic! It’s also got a great off-season atmosphere, and I of course am a big fan of the off-season genre! I’d put pictures like Tough Guys Don’t Dance and The Slayer into this basket too, ha ha!
It’s a generally marvelous little picture, with the same sense of creeping desperation you find in other great little lesser-known 70s pictures, say Fat City or Scarecrow! I was very glad to find a DVD of it, as I’d seen it back in the VHS era and have been thinking about it ever since! I give The King of Marvin Gardens three and a half lobster bibs!

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Burl reviews Misery! (1990)



Good day you dirty birdies, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about a demented fan! No, though it does feature Lauren Bacall from The Big Sleep, it’s not The Fan! In fact it’s Misery, a movie that, like Stand By Me, involves Rob Reiner taking a Stephen King story and doing some of his very best work with it!
James Caan from Submarine X-1 and Elf plays a writer called Paul, whose most famous works are a series of antebellum soap operas featuring a Scarlett O’Hara character called Misery! But he’s the usual Stephen King type of writer, the kind with literary ambitions buried beneath his commercial success, which he has now exercised with a new, as yet untitled, book about street waifs! He types the last lines of his book in his Colorado winter resort cabin, enjoys a smoke and a glass of champagne, and sets off in his Mustang for New York City!
But this foolish writer has not checked the weather, and he evidently is not accustomed to winter driving, so his ‘stang flies off the road! He’s rescued by Kathy Bates, well known for playing Gertrude Stein in Midnight in Paris, a demented farm lady who loves the Misery books above all else, and who sets Paul’s shattered legs and feeds him soup, and who has a head full of cracklin' bran! When she discovers first that Paul has written a profanity-laced, non-Misery book about street waifs, and then that his latest Misery book kills her favourite character off, she’s not too pleased, yo! Ha ha!
It’s not quite the two-hander it sounds as though it might be from that synopsis: Richard Farnsworth from Into the Night plays the local lawman Buster, who slowly pieces together the clues, and… well, ha ha, have you seen The Shining? Yes, I’m sad to report he’s the Dick Hallorann of the piece! Frances Sternhagen from Outland plays his salty wife, and there’s even a little cameo from J.T. Walsh, known for his appearance in Eddie Macon’s Run, as a hilariously insensitive state trooper! But it’s the Caan and Bates show for the most part, and both of them are excellent!
It’s a marvelously crafted picture, which gets pretty grisly in parts, but doesn’t go overboard the way it probably would if someone made it now! It’s a little hokey the way Paul uses his tools as a writer - stories, writing paper, a typewriter - as his weapons against his buggy warder, but this aspect comes directly from the King book! The supporting cast, particularly Farnsworth, Sternhagen and Bacall, is made up of the sort of faces you just plain feel glad to see when they come on screen, and Reiner’s direction is restrained and strong, and William Goldman’s screenplay simplifies and externalizes only what needs to be simplified or externalized! It’s a solid picture, which I remember enjoying in the theater and which holds up well now! I give Misery three beloved pet pigs!

Burl reviews Seems Like Old Times! (1980)


Ha ha and screwballs, it’s Burl, reviewing another motion picture for you! This one comes from that strange period I’ve spoken about before, roughly 1979 to about 1981, that fascinates me because, at the time, I saw the adult-oriented movies that came out in that time as incisive peek-a-boos into a grown-up world I didn’t understand but desperately wanted to! Perhaps, ha ha, movies like this one, Same Time Next Year, The Last Married Couple in America, or The Four Seasons, would provide the clues necessary for me to navigate this alien landscape!
Then again, perhaps not! Ha ha, Seems Like Old Times doesn’t have a particularly strong relationship with adult reality, as it turns out! That in itself isn’t a strike against it, of course, but it labours beneath several other strikes! Anyway, I’ll get to that, but first, ha ha, you’re probably wondering about the plot!
Well it goes like this! Chevy Chase, well known from Vacation and Caddyshack and Funny Farm and Fletch, plays a writer working on a book in his oceanside aerie! A knock on the door reveals two burglars, who kidnap Chevy and make him rob a bank! Ha ha, when the job is done and Chase is properly framed for it, the robbers kick him out of the car and he rolls down a giant sand dune, now an unwilling and innocent fugitive of justice! Hoping for sanctuary, his head full of lingonberries, he makes his way to the home of his ex-wife Goldie Hawn, whom we’re all familiar with from The Sugarland Express and Protocol! She plays a soft touch defense lawyer whose house is filled with clients to whom she’s offered employment, and also a roving band of dogs! Ha ha!
It’s also filled with Charles Grodin, from Clifford and It’s My Turn, playing her new husband, an easily-stressed D.A. from whom Chase’s presence must be kept a secret! Ha ha, it's the Ralph Bellamy part, more or less! A critical dinner party with the governor looms, naturally, and much screwball farce ensues! But not that much, really - maybe my expectations were out of whack, but once I realized that a very large chunk of the picture would involve barely-comic arguments between Hawn and Grodin, with Chase doing his best to keep out of sight, I found the pace of the movie lagging and the laugh count diminishing!
Because as talented as Grodin and Hawn are, and they are extremely talented, any minor uproariousness in this picture comes from Chase, whose dry delivery works like gangbusters! Maybe more of it would have been too much, but, ha ha, I guess we’ll never know, will we! At least the supporting roles are filled with familiar faces: Robert Guillaume from Death Warrant is Grodin’s co-worker; Harold Gould, well known from The Man From Planet X, plays the judge; George Grizzard from Bachelor Party is the governor; and T.K. Carter from The Thing plays Hawn’s wine-loving kleptomaniac houseboy!
The picture starts with reasonable pep, but it lacks stick-to-itiveness, and the sitcom-style direction doesn’t help matters! Still, it’s sprinkled with laffs, and there are little pleasures throughout, and if you're fond of dogs, there are plenty of those here too! (Ha ha, I hope Grodin liked the St. Bernard, because he’d be getting well-acquainted with that breed in the years to come!) I give Seems Like Old Times two nights I thought they’d tear my back apart!

Friday, 22 November 2019

Burl reviews Return to Horror High! (1987)



Hello friends and good neighbours! It’s Burl, here to review a tricky little picture, Return to Horror High! Ha ha, it’s another movie about the business of illusion and the fuzzy line between appearance and reality, just like its model, The Stunt Man! Somehow they forgot to cast Steve Railsback as the maniacal director, ha ha, but they did get Alex Rocco, who of course was in The Stunt Man, as well as Herbie Goes Bananas, Stick and Gotcha, to play the role of the crude and mercenary producer!
Rocco and his crew are making a movie about the true events surrounding a high school massacre from five years earlier, and doing so on the actual location in which the killings happened! (This, of course, is the same premise of The House of Seven Corpses!) Naturally the killer returns, or seems to have returned: in fact, anything that happens in the movie must be said only to seem to have happened, because frequently, what we assume to either flashbacks to the original carnage or else a new on-set murder, turns out instead to be a scene being filmed for Rocco’s movie!
Ha ha, so there are plenty of fake-outs, enough so that, even having just watched the picture, I can’t remember what the upshot was! I do know there’s a scene that recalls the end of Sweet Movie, in which sheet-covered bodies sit up en masse, and also a rubber mask is involved at some point, just like in Hell Squad! And there are plenty of scenes involving confusions between real body parts and the work of the movie-within-the-movie trick makeup effects man! Ha ha, he’s played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who was the parachute instructor in Fandango, and who should have had a much bigger character comedy actor career than he did!
In fact, across the board there’s a decent cast of familiar and half-familiar faces! Lori Lethin from The Prey plays the main actress recreating the murders, and Scott Jacoby from The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and The Supernaturals is in there too, and there are old ringers like Andy Romano from Beach Blanket Bingo and Drop Zone as the principal; Vince Edwards from Murder By Contract, now on the other side of the law as the investigating detective; Richard Brestoff from Fastbreak playing somebody or other; Al Fann from Parasite playing a janitor with a secret or two, ha ha, and Marcia from The Brady Bunch as a chowhound cop who seems to enjoy the carnage at the curiously underpopulated crime scene! And, ha ha, we get George Clooney, well known from The Descendants, as a big-headed actor who is the first victim!
Even if it steals most of its tricks from another movie, it’s nice to see a horror picture that attempts something a little headier, a little different! (That’s my feeling about Wes Craven’s New Nightmare as well, ha ha!) It’s competently made, with decent 80s horror cinematography from Roy H. Wagner, who brought the same to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3! It could be a bit peppier, a bit scarier, a bit more sharply directed, but it’s got some clever lines and funny performances, and at least it tries! I give Return to Horror High two unsafe industrial fans!

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Burl reviews Dead Ringers! (1988)



Ha ha, I’m seein’ double: four Jeremy Ironses! Yes, it’s Burl, stealing a joke for you to open a review of a picture made by one of my favourite directors, David Cronenberg, who also made Fast Company, of course, and Stereo too! The movie I’m talking about today is Dead Ringers, which might have been better off called Gemini, as I believe was the original plan! Then they were going to call it Twins, but Ivan Reitman put in the call and took that title for himself! They settled for borrowing the title of an old Bette Davis Batty-Old-Dame picture and adding an S to the end! Ha ha!
Now, I used to be a regular attendee of the Toronto Film Festival! Ha ha, every year I would fly in, take a hotel room with some equally movie-mad pals, and see as many movies as we could! Back in those days the grand premieres were held in Ryerson Hall, and, quite by chance, my friends and I discovered a side door and a passageway that led into the basement under the theater, from which we could emerge and take seats without ever buying a ticket! Ha ha, it was great, and very sneaky! And the first movie we did this for was Dead Ringers!
Yes, le tout Toronto was there, cheering on the hometown boy in all their furs and finery! Unfortunately there was a technical issue in which the sound went off for approximately five minutes! Ha ha, I really felt for Cronenberg during this time - it’s got to be no fun when the grand premiere of your newest picture goes wrong! But the problem was soon corrected, and no great harm was done!
I certainly enjoyed the picture, though it was the start of a new, sui generis period for a director whose horror and science fiction works I had thoroughly enjoyed for years! Dead Ringers tells the story of the Mantle brothers, twin gynecologists both played by Jeremy Irons from Die Hard With A Vengeance! Ha ha, the trick effects used to double up on Irons are pretty well flawless, and the unfussy, dare I say clinical style that comes so naturally to Cronenberg greatly helps the illusion! Ha ha!
The brothers regularly impersonate one another, with Elliot the more outgoing and playboy-ish, and Beverly the shy-boy! But when they get mixed up with a famous actress played by the great Geneviève Bujold, well known from Tightrope and The Moderns, their carefully crafted, deliberately symbiotic lives get churned up like a roughly-poured pousse-café!
Of course things go badly for the Mantle boys, helped along as they are by the excellent performances of the actor playing them, and by an exceptionally effective Howard Shore score, and by truly fine direction from Cronenberg! People, including myself, tend to remember this as a thoroughgoing drama-movie, and a particularly squirmy one given the main characters’ profession; but what I noticed this time around was how funny the picture is! Ha ha, Cronenberg has even said that all of his movies are fundamentally comedies, and I see now that this is true!
It’s very clever, devious comedy, and there’s a lot to think about once the movie comes to a close! “She’s an actress,” Elliot tells Beverly in discussing the Bujold character. “You never know who she really is!” And the great irony with which this complaint is buttered is foundational to this fine picture! Oh sure, it’s got flaws - like, who is that redheaded lady anyway? - but it still impresses me on multiple levels, and I give Dead Ringers three and a half surprise cameos from non-actor Stephen Lack!

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Burl reviews Band of Outsiders! (1964)



Et tu, c’est Burl! Hé hé! Yes, I have a French picture for you today: a small delight from Jean-Luc Godard entitled Bande à part, or, for the Englishers, Band of Outsiders! Of course we know Godard from his first picture Breathless and the many other great films that came after, and the confounding ones too, ha ha! I’ve never met the man myself, but I did sit directly behind him once at a cinema as the movie played, and I count that an appropriate encounter!
I suppose Quentin Tarantino must have taken his company name from this picture, and that computes because it’s a crime drama more or less, like the marvelous Breathless was, but even more Godarded up, and with characters who love gangster movies, and plenty of discursive scenes! Here we have two buddies, Franz and Arthur, adrift and disreputable, who meet the winsome Odile in an English language course, and, while both angling for her favours, try to convince her to help them pull a robbery on the rich old man who boards in her aunt’s house, where Odile also lives!
Odile is played by Anna Karina from Justine; Sami Frey from Sweet Movie and Black Widow is Franz; and playing Arthur with an ever-increasing sense of potential violence is Claude Brasseur from Eyes Without a Face! This trio crack against one another like multiballs, with the two fellows putting increasing pressure on Odile to help facilitate the robbery, and the fellows getting increasingly fractious with each other over Odile! For some reason Odile falls for Arthur, who, ha ha, is a real jerk, and one is afeared of another ending like that in L’Avventura! (I’d seen this movie before my recent viewing, but not for years, so I couldn’t remember how it resolved!)
Narration from Godard himself occasionally gives us insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and this is an ingratiating feature indeed! On the debit side is how they treat their nifty little car, ha ha! Of course the centerpiece of the picture, the scene everybody remembers, which, notably, has nothing to do with either the romantic conflict nor the supposed heist plot, is the spontaneous dance scene in the café! Ha ha, they must have practiced that one a couple of times, and that’s the great charm of the scene! Somehow, having nothing to do with anything, it increases the emotional stakes and sets our characters on their way into the second half of the movie!
Well, it’s all very Godardian and beautifully styled, even if it takes place in a rather bleak Parisian winterscape! Ha ha, it’s still Paris after all! It’s got more thrills in it than I remembered - in my memory it was a movie about people who wanted to do a crime, but were simply too lazy to go about it! But no! The heist happens, but of course it doesn’t go exactly as planned! And that’s to be expected with Godard, ha ha! I suppose this is one of his minor works, but it’s a solid little piece of New Wavery, and the cast is terrific, particularly the lovely Karina! I’m extremely fond of Band of Outsiders, and I give it three and a half high speed runs through the Louvre!

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Burl reviews Lunch Wagon! (1981)



Vroom vroom, it’s Burl pulling up in a big pink Lunch Wagon! Yes, that’s the title of today’s motion picture experience, and let me tell you: if there’s a better movie made on the subject of construction site lunch wagons, I’ve yet to see it!
Ha ha, this is a picture very much in the tradition of the Roger Corman “three girls” pictures he was making in the 70s, in which you have three nurses, or three teachers, or three stewardesses, and they would have comic, romantic and dramatic, or even political, adventures! Here we have two young ladies, Marcy and Shannon, who pump gas at a garage owned by big George Memmoli, the size-large from Mean Streets and Phantom of the Paradise! But he’s a nasty boss, and a peeping tom, so when they inherit a food truck from Dick Van Patten, the girls waste no time! They recruit a third partner, a musclewoman called Dierdre, paint their truck pink because they are ladies, and start up their own business serving comestibles out of their new conveyance!
Movies of this type are frequently loose, shambling and free from the burdens of narrative, but Lunch Wagon by contrast suffers from a surfeit of plot! Whereas one gang of bumbling, comedy-relief criminals is plenty for a picture like this, Lunch Wagon offers two such groups! In fact the whole thing seems to be comic relief rather than simple comedy; that is, comedy that doesn’t feel it has to try too hard, as it’s just meant to be lighter than the dark material around it! But there is no dark material here, nothing to be relieved from, and so the gags on offer give no relief, nor no laffs, ha ha!
In addition to the criminal groups (one, a loose collective of nogoodniks using their own lunch truck as cover to steal gold fillings from a gold filling factory; the other a pair of hefty, mustachioed jewel thieves who look like the Mario Bros., and especially so when they happen to be dressed as janitors), the girls face romantic travails! Marcy has her ups and downs with shirtless construction worker Biff, played by another Van Patten, this one called James, whom we know from Roller Boogie and Nightforce; Shannon makes time with a musician in a traveling band with whom the girls get acquainted; and Dierdre falls for a glasses nerd!
The movie reportedly clocks in at 88 minutes, but seems to go on much longer! There’s a stand-up comedy routine that rivals the one in Hack-O-Lantern for cringeability! Rose Marie, last seen sweeping up after the action in Witchboard, turns up as a tough old bat in the tradition of the one played by Anne Ramsey in The Goonies! And a friendly cop regularly motors up to drink coffee or arrest people! So you can see there’s no shortage of character or incident, ha ha! The characters are mostly agreeable enough, but there’s little of substance going on and none of it is funny! I give Lunch Wagon one motor oil in the overalls!

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Burl reviews Sweet Movie! (1974)



By Trotsky’s beard it’s Burl, here to review a movie about the death of revolution! That’s right, I’m talking about Sweet Movie! Ha ha, have you seen this picture? It’s a wild and weird one, but nothing in it will come as any great shock to those who’ve seen WR: Mysteries of the Organism, the previous film from director Dušan Makavejev!
Well, a few things might be a little shocking, ha ha! Like WR, Sweet Movie is a sort of pastiche or collage film, with revolution as its general subject and the naturally, if regrettably, ephemeral nature of same!
But much of the movie demonstrates the need for it, too: revolution is not futile; in fact is necessary, so long as there are people like Mr. Dollars, the world’s richest man, a Howard Hughes-style clean freak who assumes he can buy and sell people as he pleases! This entity is played by none other than John Vernon, well known from Herbie Goes Bananas, Fraternity Vacation, and Curtains! Ha ha, Herbie fans in particular will be taken aback when Vernon gets his kit off to reveal that he has a solid gold willis! (Vernon too was reportedly taken aback when he saw this at the film’s premiere screening!)
Another person taken aback by this is Miss Canada, played by the comely Carole Laure, whom we of course know from Get Out Your Handkerchiefs and Naked Massacre! She, who had won the Crazy Daisy Show contest to marry Mr. Dollars, is packed away in a suitcase by a big bodybuilder and sent to the Eiffel Tower, where she makes sweet love with El Macho, played by Sami Frey from Band of Outsiders and Black Widow, and emergency attention is soon required, ha ha!
Meanwhile a boat, the Survival, with the head of Marx on the prow, captained by the homicidally revolutionary Anna Planeta, glides down the canals of Amsterdam! It picks up a sailor called Potemkin played by Pierre Clémenti from The Conformist, and pretty soon, after affixing a single tear to the giant Marx head, Anna and Potemkin are rolling around in the big box of sugar, making sweet love, ha ha, but a couple of gory bites and a knife-poking later, the sugar is bubbling with blood! There’s also a very queasy scene in the ship’s sweet shoppe, in which a group of young boys are “seduced” by the lingerie-wearing Planeta!
Miss Canada has by now hooked up with Otto Muehl’s Vienna Aktionists, who are doing their thing in a warehouse somewhere! Ha ha, these bits of the movie might cause viewers some little disquiet: there is all manner of gross foodeating, rank upchuckery, regression to babyhood, and of course a notorious scene of platform pooping! Miss Canada, and indeed Carole Laure, doesn't seem to be enjoying her experience very much! Even worse than all of this, for me, was the German documentary footage of unearthing corpses in the Katyin Forest, which I wish Makavejev had resisted putting in his movie! It’s really awful, gruesome stuff! I didn’t care much for the baby gymnastics either, ha ha!
However, after a friendly reappearance from Mrs. Alplanalpe, played by Jane Mallett from Nothing Personal, the old painted lady whom we’d seen earlier on the Crazy Daisy Show, the sugary theme of the picture reasserts itself! Miss Canada immerses herself in a vat of chocolate and rolls around in it nude for a while, and that’s a pretty good scene! But it’s a sad scene, too - it seems to represent a surrender of some kind, a drowning of ideals in crass, confectionary-excreta!
But the final image offers hope: a row of apparently murdered children, wrapped in plastic, who slowly shuffle out of their wrappings and reveal themselves as an alive, alert new generation, ready, we hope, to continue the struggle! Workers unite, ha ha, you have nothing to lose but your plastic wrap! Anyway, Sweet Movie is an intriguing blumpkin, a relic of a sadly bygone age, and beyond all question an earnestly felt combunction! I give it two and a half strips of yellow suckers!

Monday, 11 November 2019

Burl reviews Simon, King of the Witches! (1971)



Ha ha and zim-zam-zoom, it’s Burl, here to review a story of witchery and hippery and rainstorms! Yes, it’s Simon, King of the Witches today, a tale of supernatural doings in the streets of the fictional town of West Side!
The picture begins by showing off its greatest asset: Andrew Prine, well-known from his appearances in Grizzly and The Evil, in the role of Simon! He emerges from his storm drain on a rainy night and tells us a little about himself, namely that he lives in the storm drain and is a practicing warlock! Quickly he’s hassled by cops and tossed in the clink for an overnight stay! In the pokey he meets Turk, a ginger-haired shorty played by George Paulsin from The Bat People! This young hustler quickly befriends Simon and facilitates his entrée into society!
The next thing you know, some pompous git passes Simon a bad cheque! Well, ha ha, it’s clearly time for black magic vengeance! The bearded warlock conjures up a swirling red optical effect, and this entity proceeds to first hypnotize the cheque kiter and then fatally dump a flowerpot on his head! In the meantime, Simon has met and, in his way, attempted to romance Linda, the D.A.’s daughter, played by Brenda Scott! Of course the D.A. himself, called Willard Rackum and played by Norman Burton from Mausoleum, is fairly unhappy about this, and makes more trouble for Simon!
All Simon wants is to complete the erotic ritual that will ensure his apotheosis and eventual godhead! It’s not much to ask, ha ha, and after Simon calculates the precise time of day - 1:33 - that he needs to enter the next realm, and after he talks endlessly about what’s he's going to do exactly at that time, and makes many careful preparations for it, he misses his moment by carelessly shooting the breeze with his moronic doper buddies Shay and Troy! Ha ha! At this point Simon bugs out and calls down curses upon the whole of West Side; and, in the spirit of curses doubling back upon their casters, this proves Simon’s undoing, at least temporarily!
Ha ha, the sort of person who spells “magic” with a K on the end of it tends to like this picture because it apparently treats warlockery with a seriousness missing in many other pictures! I myself am not so sure that it does - witness the sound effect they put in whenever the red optical effect is on the prowl, for example, not to mention the Bill Rebane quality of the optical itself - but Prine’s committed performance does indicate a fierce advocacy from at least the thespian quarter! Simon is at turns grumpy, insane, warm and friendly, homicidal, wry, and sad! His friendship with Turk, a central feature in the picture, comes to a melancholy conclusion when Simon reluctantly casts a spell to sever the friendship forever!
So there’s some interesting stuff going on in the picture, and the scenes with the malevolent red optical effect are entertaining! Ha ha, there’s a scene where Simon and Turk (who is dressed as a chauffeur for some reason) visit a Wiccan gathering, at which witches of all ages disrobe and chant and shake bums while a goat watches impassively from his altar; and the broom-breaking conflict depicted here is pretty good at demonstrating the internecine scorn to be found in the supernatural community! In fact it’s the feeling of community, both within the witchy world and among the down-and-outers, heads and hangers-on of West Side, that proves perhaps the movie’s most interesting aspect!
But the movie is also frequently dull, and it can be a bit silly too! Even so, it strikes a good tone, not too self-serious, but not willfully goofy! Warhol superstar Ultra Violet shows up at one point, playing the Wiccan priestess, and then there’s the memorable line “Don’t touch me - I’m a religious object!” Ha ha! In the end, while I can’t say I like this picture as much as many people do, and while I wish they’d gone the Night of the Demon route and included a scary monster instead of the optical effect, I’d still say it’s a solid curio that’s well worth a look! I give Simon, King of the Witches two flash floods!

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Burl reviews Strange Brew! (1983)



Ha ha hosers, it’s Burl, here with beer and back bacon and ready to take off to the great white north with a review of the Mackenzie Brothers’ big-screen adventure Strange Brew! Ha ha, for those who don’t know, these two canuckleheads, Bob and Doug McKenzie, were mainstays on the great show SCTV, which I watched religiously in my youth! Apparently the time slot in Canada was a couple of minutes longer than it was in the US, so to fill those extra two minutes they made little segments called Great White North, in which Bob and Doug, played by Rick Moranis from Ghostbusters and Dave Thomas from Stripes, would sit on a couch, swill beer and ruminate drunkenly on some topic or another!
Ha ha, I loved those segments! But somehow, even if they were just designed for Canadians, the magic of Bob & Doug made its way south of the border, and they became popular enough for MGM to greenlight a movie about these loveable, bickering oafs! They directed it themselves, too, ha ha, and got the fog filter-loving cinematographer Steve Poster, who’d done Blood Beach and Dead & Buried, to shoot it! And they set it explicitly in Toronto, with more shots of the CN tower than there are in Highpoint, ha ha!
Craziest of all, for this picture they decided to adapt Hamlet! It’s a pretty loose adaptation, to be sure, but they play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern types who get involved in family intrigue at Elsinore Brewery, where the paterfamilias has recently been killed under mysterious circumstances, and the prodigal daughter, Pam, returns to sort out affairs! But her perfidious uncle Claude has married her mother Gertrude, and is plotting with the nefarious Brewmeister Smith to take control of the brewery and do something involving insane hockey players, tainted beer, and the rapidly-approaching Oktoberfest!
Ha ha, modeling the story roughly on Hamlet is really the only thing that gives the picture a story at all, because the narrative is otherwise pretty sketchy and improvisational! It helps that the cast is a strange and intoxicating mix of foreign ringers - Max von Sydow whom we know from The Magician and Dreamscape, is the Brewmeister; Paul Dooley, well known from Last Rites, plays Claude - and familiar Canadian faces, like Lynne Griffin from Curtains and Black Christmas, and of course Mr. Patman, who essays the role of Pam, and Angus MacInnes, from Bells and Spasms, who is the Ophelia figure, Jean LaRose! Plus we get the hilarious National Lampoon writer Brian McConnachie as Brewmeister Smith’s passive assistant Ted, and who has a small part as a lawyer? That’s right, none other than Thick Wilson from Sex With the Stars! Ha ha!
Now I’ll say this: I love this movie and find it very funny, but I have every sympathy for anyone who might find it puerile, dumb, not funny, poorly directed, and narratively nonsensical! It’s subjectively hilarious, strictly, but if you like Bob & Doug and want to see a movie about them, this will fit the bill nicely! It’s necessary to have some beers to drink while watching it, I firmly believe, or perhaps some gingered ale if you happen to be a teetotaler! You’ll enjoy the dogbowl full of beer, the kung-fu lawyer with the delightfully ingratiating smile, the portrait of Pierre Trudeau, the van jump into Lake Ontario, the unexpected vocal cameo from Mel Blanc, and much more! I give Strange Brew two and a half Canadian Institutes for the Mentally Insane!

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Burl reviews L'Avventura! (1960)



Ciao bella, it’s Burl, here to review on of the grand Italian pictures of the 20th century! Ha ha, this one is L’Avventura, by Michelangelo Antonioni, a director I’m very fond of! Ha ha, I still remember his Oscar speech, when he got one of those special achievement statuettes at the age of about a million and two, and he shuffled up to the microphone and leaned in, and the crowd hushed reverently to hear what the Maestro would say, and, in a gravelly old-man voice that had somehow lost none of its fortissimo, he uttered but a single word: “Grazie!”
Ha ha, it was then that I understood: this man spoke through his films! And he made some good ones, ha ha - I’m particularly fond of Red Desert, and like everybody I’m a fan of Blow-Up! And I even like Zabriskie Point! I went to see that picture he made with Wim Wenders, Beyond the Clouds, but aside from it being the very definition of an Old Man Movie, with plenty of ladies in the nude, I don’t recall much about it, except that it was not so great!
L’Avventura, however, is great, ha ha! As it opens we find ourselves among the Italian leisure class, with a bunch of stylish folk planning a boating excursion around the islands off of Sicily! There’s Anna, who seems a sad and troubled and dissatisfied young woman, and no wonder, because her boyfriend is Sandro, who seems strangely middle-aged and who reveals himself through the picture as a perfidious, inconstant, manipulative jerk! Ha ha, I really hated him! But he’s played very well by Gabriele Ferzetti from Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic!
The main character in all this is Claudia, played by the gorgeous Monica Vitti, the ScarJo of her day, ha ha! Claudia is Anna’s friend, but after Anna mysteriously disappears, and after a scene in which she and Sandro experience coincident revelations that, while they each loved Anna in their way, she, being incapable of love, never returned the feeling, romance begins to brew! Slowly, as the search for Anna continues and then peters out, Claudia and Sandro embark on the adventure, or fling, of the title!
Along the way there are other characters to concern ourselves with, of course, like Anna’s father, and her other friends, who don’t necessarily seem concerned about her disappearance, and the old goatherder! Ha ha, I assume he’s a goatherder anyway, because there always seems to be one on these islands! (And most of the first half of the picture is set on the island, and we briefly get reminded of The Lighthouse, a much more recent picture!) We also have the young painter, with his emo cut and pouty lips and hilariously bad breast paintings! And Gloria Perkins, ha ha - who is she, but an object stared at and lusted after by an entire town of creepy men? And this incident repeats itself with Claudia now the object of the creepy men’s gaze - I’ve never seen the discomfort women feel under the male gaze better or more repellently represented in a picture!
The ending of this picture is, not to put too fine a point on it, quite horrific! I won’t give the details, but if you feel anything like I do about Sandro, and if you’re pulling for Claudia because she’s beautiful, or because she grew up in modest circumstances and so really isn’t one of these indolent rich, or just because you like her, then you’ll feel as despondent as I did, ha ha! But you’ll probably also recognize the plain human truths this movie has to offer, and feel the power of the images and the sheer craft that went into its making! I could go on, but I won’t - I’ll just give L’ Avventura four spilled ink bottles!