Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday, 28 December 2020

Burl reviews First Blood! (1982)


 

Ha ha and hambones, it’s Burl, here with a review of the good Rambo picture! Yes, that would be the first one, and its general solidity as a motion picture, especially as compared to the other entries in this series - ha ha, and in particular the last one, Rambo: Last Blood - is evinced by its title, which does not contain the name Rambo at all, but is the simple and succinct First Blood!

Sylvester Stallone, who later returned to the mountains in Cliffhanger, is as ever the star, the profoundly damaged Green Beret John Rambo! He’s out for a stroll, looking for an old army buddy, and is dismayed to find that his friend has died from the cancer, thanks of course to the Agent Orange he inhaled back in ‘Nam! Rambo then makes his way to a nearby mountain town and runs into a big bear of a sheriff played by Brian Dennehy from Ants! and F/X and Best Seller! Well, the next thing you know, the sheriff is power trippin’, Rambo is flashbackin’ to his wartime torture days, and deputies are a-flyin’ left and right and Rambo’s out the door and away into the mountains!

The scene with him beating up all the deputies is pretty satisfying, I must say, and later, when the meanest deputy of them all, played by Jack Starrett, who directed The Losers and Race with the Devil, plummets from a helicopter from which he’s shooting at Rambo, we get even more satisfaction! Then the whole gang of deputies is wounded by Rambo and his forest traps, and that’s pretty all right too! This gang of bozos is played by a gallery of familiar faces, like Bill McKinney from Cannonball, Chris Mulkey from Quiet Cool, Michael Talbott from Vacation, John McLiam from Sleeper, with good old Alf Humphries from My Bloody Valentine as the goofball cop and David Caruso from Without Warning as the nice-guy rookie!

But Dennehy’s Sheriff Teasle - ha ha! - is the biggest bozo of all, increasingly bent on getting the mumbly, misunderstood ex-soldier despite the fact that he, Teasle, was the one who started it by not letting Rambo eat lunch in his town! Richard Crenna from Summer Rental and Un Flic appears as Rambo’s old commander, and regales Dennehy with tales of the things Rambo could eat that would make a billy goat puke! Soon the National Guard is called in, and Rambo makes his way back to town and begins a campaign of gunfire and blowups! And despite the explosions and the flying bullets and the crashing cars, the only one who ever gets killed is that nasty deputy who fell from the helicopter!

It’s a fair action meller and a pleasantly cathartic exercise for viewers who are not much enamoured of the police forces in America! In that sense it’s a lot more relevant than the later Rambic exercises in commie-blasting, ha ha! It’s solidly directed by an old pro, and Rambo’s teary breakdown scene near the end is affecting! Plus, like Stallone’s later Cobra it’s a stealth Christmas picture, as evidenced by the sad desktop trees on view in the police station! I give First Blood two and a half grimy canvas ponchos!

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Burl reviews A Christmas Story! (1983)

 


Ho ho, it’s Burl, here to review a seasonal classic for you! It’s a Christmas picture from Bob Clark, and I know what you’re thinking: Black Christmas, right? Ha ha, no! I’ve already reviewed that one! This is Bob’s other twinkle-light extravaganza, the well-beloved cornball nostalgia-comedy A Christmas Story!

You all know the story, because, ha ha, there is no story! Well, I suppose there is: a boy in 1940s Cleveland desperately wants a BB rifle for Christmas, but encounters resistance from all the authority figures around him, and even from Santa himself! Purfling the edges of this narrative are all the details of schoolboy life in a mid-century December: weirdly obsessive fathers, annoying little brothers, neighbourhood bullies, triple-dog dares among chums, radio giveaway gimmicks, and so forth!

Our hero is Ralphie, a bespectacled cherubim played by Peter Billingsley from Death Valley! It’s of critical importance that he convince his mom, played by Melinda Dillon from Staying Together, that the Red Ryder repeater is a necessary toy, and that there will be no accidental de-oculation! Dad, or rather The Old Man, is played by Darren McGavin from Raw Deal and Dead Heat, and indeed he is an old man, in fact perhaps a touch too old so to be playing this character; but then he does such a darn good job in the role that any such complaint is moot!

The Christmas season is ever-present, and all the attendant rituals are checked off: the buying of the tree, the visit to Santa and his elves! There’s a freewheeling structure reminiscent of Kenny and Co., and in many cases it’s the non holiday-specific segments which linger longest in the memory! Ha ha, the triple dog dare at the flagpole, for example, or Ralphie’s beatdown of the dreaded Scut Farkus, or his accidental cry of “Fudge!”, or, of course, the whole saga of the leg lamp! Ha ha, I need hardly go into further detail on these or any other episode in the picture, as it will no doubt be playing on a loop this Christmas day on some network or other!

This being in essence a Canadian movie, there are some familiar northland faces in the cast! Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, is played by Tedde Moore whom we may recall from Rip-Off and Rolling Vengeance, and the Christmas tree man is none other than Les Carlson from Videodrome, The Dead Zone, and even some non-Cronenberg pictures! The whole thing has an appropriately fog-filtered Norman Rockwell look courtesy of cinematographer Reg Morris, who shot Bells and all sorts of other pictures!

I could have done without the Chinese restaurant scene at the end, or at least without the singing, but otherwise the movie goes down like a smooth nog! It’s funny here and heartwarming there, and sometimes it’s just there, playing on your TV, but it remains a repeatedly watchable holiday candy cane crunch, and I think, low-key as it is, Bob Clark really pulled something off here, and only a year after he made Porky’s too! I give A Christmas Story three strangled cries of “Notafinga!”

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Burl reviews Tampopo! (1985)

 


Noodle-slurpers, hello, it’s Burl! Ha ha, when I was a younger man, working in a video store in the late 80s and early 90s, there were certain movies of which I was aware, and which I knew were supposed to be good, but which were so ubiquitously on the shelves that they became a sort of wallpaper, and I never watched them! Many of these were the sort of 80s international or independent popular favourites that would have played in art houses to sweet acclaim - ha ha, I guess something like My Dinner With André or maybe Babette’s Feast would be other examples of this sort of movie! But the one I’m talking about today is quite simply Tampopo!

Well, I recently caught up with it, and while I’d always known is was a quirky film that mixed together genres the way its characters mix together broth, I wasn’t aware of just how eccentric and culturally specific it was! I found these elements quite delightful, and at times the episodic surreality of the thing reminded me a bit of something like Holy Motors!

And like Holy Motors, this is a movie that’s highly aware it’s a movie! Ha ha! It begins in a cinema, with a white-suited gangster type, played by Kôji Yakusho from such great Kiyoshi Kurosawa pictures as Cure and Charisma, who upbraids fellow patrons for eating noisy chips, and then discovers and addresses the camera to issue a similar admonishment and to talk about the autobiographical “movie” one sees of one’s life at the moment of death! Then the story proper begins: two truck drivers, one an older, taciturn cowboy Goro, played by Tsutomu Yamazaki, known for his appearances in such Kurosawa pictures as High and Low, the other a younger fellow in white called Gun, essayed by none other than Ken Watanabe from Godzilla, stop for ramen in a little restaurant run by a widow named Tampopo, played by Nobuko Miyamoto, the Taxing Woman herself!

But Tampopo’s ramen is unsatisfactory, and so Goro and Gun embark on a quest to help the flustered woman perfect her cooking and turn her struggling business into an all-time blockbuster of a noodle shop! As in The Magnificent Seven, or, more properly, The Seven Samurai, they gather together a group of experts, all men, to help not just with the ramen recipe but with renovating the shop and refining every detail of Tampopo’s hospitality strategy! Meanwhile Goro and Tampopo seem destined from the beginning to be together, but their budding romance is remarkably tentative!

Well, that’s the main tree trunk of the plot, but branching off it regularly throughout the picture are food-centric vignettes, sometimes involving the gangster in white, at other times featuring total strangers: a group of executives scandalized by their junior’s independence, for instance, or an old lady with pinchyfingers gone a-marketing! Some of these are moral tales, others fables, and sometimes they’re just filmed jokes in the manner of If You Don’t Stop It…. You’ll Go Blind!!! I must say I particularly liked a digression involving a gang of hobo gastronomes, and I think you’ll like that bit of the movie too!

With the exception of a scene showing the slaughter of a turtle, which I most certainly didn’t like, it’s mostly a very delightful a study of kindness and generosity between humans! But it has some sharp edges too, along with punchfights, low-key pictorial beauty, and a touch of bohankie too, making it in sum a good, heady brew of noodles and broth! The attention paid to detail, and the gorgeousness of the comestibles on view add still further to the pleasures of the whole! Ha ha, it’s an invigorating filmic experience, and I give Tampopo three shared egg yolks!

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Burl reviews Corpse Eaters! (1974)


Ha ha, I’m not crazy, I’m no-o-o-ot! No, ha ha, I’m Burl, here with a movie review that might make you think I am crazy! But, just as a character in the movie itself screechily claims at the end of the picture, I’m not! I'm no-o-o-ot! The movie is real, and it is called Corpse Eaters!

This is one of those little regional zombie pictures of the early 1970s, very much in the same category as something like Garden of the Dead or Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things! For that matter, I guess it’s a pretty direct, if badly mutated, offspring of Night of the Living Dead, itself a penny-poor regional zombie picture, but one pulled off with a lot more professionalism and flair than Corpse Eaters! Ha ha! But I certainly don’t mean to imply that Corpse Eaters is entirely lacking in charm and zombie interest - no sir, it most certainly has a measure of that!

The story takes place somewhere near the mining community of Sudbury, Ontario, and features characters with Canadian accents so thick they sound Irish! Initial scenes are set at the Happy Halo Funeral Home, where a scruffy old grump runs the show, but doesn’t think much of his customers! He seems to have a real grudge against dead people in fact, which is bad, because he works with them every day! In any case, a mustachioed corpse comes in who needs some special facial reconstruction work done, and as his mortician gets to work, the Happy Halo owner strolls around his boneyard, musing nasty thoughts in voice-over!

Ha ha, dissolve to the lake, and to a little hard-boating action! A little gang of pals, including Ritchie (whom I didn’t realize until later was the corpse delivered to the Happy Halo in the opening scenes), zoom about in their watercraft, then repair to the shore to guzzle a little Molson Ex and engage in bohankie! Well, one of the couples does at least, which is to say Ritchie and his good-time gal Julie; the other pair, a fiveheaded hoser called Alan and his perpetually grouchy girlfriend Lisa, can only watch this sloppy, beer-soaked bohankie from the sidelines! Before too long, and over the strenuous, and as it turns out, well-justified objections of Lisa, the quartet end up in a remote graveyard, hiding from the rain in a handy crypt!

Ritchie is keen on enacting a satanic ritual he learned from his uncle, and this is where it all goes pear-shaped! Zombies unearth themselves and come to put a biting on the foursome! Julie is quickly overwhelmed and the flaky-skinned cadavers have a good old belly-munch; Ritchie, the fool who caused it all with his hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo, catches a heavy biting, and the other two drag him to the car (a Challenger or a Cougar from about 1970 - I couldn’t tell which in the grainy 16mm murk, but it was sure sweet!) and drive him to the hospital! Ha ha! But nothing the medicos do can help Richie, and he ends up at the Happy Halo, as Lisa meanwhile endures terrible zombie nightmares and is consoled in the most jerkish, responsibility-dodging manner possible by the gormless Alan!

The Happy Halo man, deep in his cups, is startled by noises, and when he sees a zombie pulling out a guy’s eyeballs, his mind simply snaps! There’s no real conclusion to the story save the funeral home director being roughed up by orderlies (and, charmingly, you can actually hear one of the actors apologize during this scene - ha ha someone must have accidentally stepped on someone else's foot) and left in a room all strait-jacketed up and howling that he’s not crazy! He’s no-o-o-ot!

Well, after 57 minutes of crude but heartfelt Sudbury moviemaking, the picture ends with the viewer’s goodwill intact! Ha ha, that’s an achievement in itself, and one worth celebrating! Corpse Eaters is not a film for everyone, and the little gimmick of the warning siren and the barfing man, meant to signal an upcoming sequence of grotesque and sickening gore, is not required for those who might be enthusiastic to make its acquaintance! If it’s a diamond in the rough, there’s an awful lot of rough, but those who might appreciate it most definitely will! Ha ha! I give Corpse Eaters two Evinrude outboards!

Monday, 14 December 2020

Burl reviews King Kong! (1976)

 


To the beating of a chest it’s Burl, here to tell you a tale of ape! Yes, a big ape - in fact, Kong himself! It’s not the old Kong, not the new Kong, but the middle Kong, the one brought to us by none other than old Dino De Laurentiis! It’s that big hairy Christmas release of 1976, King Kong!

You won’t believe it, but my dad took me to see this one on the big screen, and let me tell you, for me it was an event! I was maybe six years old, and the movie was to my little eyes thrilling and terrifying and altogether grand, and Kong himself a figure of mythical awe with his black chest smooth as Corinthian leather and his gimlet eyes gleaming in the dark like two side-orders of jelly! It, and this iteration of Kong, no longer have that terrible power over me of course, such power having been diluted in inverse proportion to the gradual development of my critical faculties; but that original viewing, wide-eyed before a massive screen in a grand old theatre, has stuck with me!

The script, by Lorenzo Semple Jr., is not perfect of course - ha ha, who can forget, and who would not love to forget, kidnap victim Dwan’s cry of “Put me down, you chauvinist pig ape!” For that matter, who would not love to forget that silly character name, “Dwan!” On the other hand, it’s not as bad as it’s reputed to be, either - it’s a perfectly acceptable 70s update to the story, with an oil company taking the place of the movie company seen in the original! So the topical environmental themes are present and accounted for, and the outlandish outrageousness of this band of first-world pirates showing up and stealing Kong away from the island he calls home and from the people who love and fear him, is duly noted!

Jeff Bridges, well known from Starman, plays the lead, an all-purpose character whose expertise, ostensibly in primatology, extends to anything the story requires: medicine, photography, general adventuring! This was the big debut of Jessica Lange from Tootsie, and she’s required to babble about meaningful miracles involving Deep Throat, but does the best she can with it! Charles Grodin from It’s My Turn and Clifford plays the rapacious corporation man, and while he seems a little miscast, he does a fine job too! Rene Auberjonois from Walker and 3:15 the Moment of Truth, and many Robert Altman pictures besides, plays the scientist who reveals the truth about the oil on Skull Island; and meanwhile the ship’s crew features all sorts of familiar faces! The captain is John Randolph from Earthquake and Christmas Vacation, and there are sailors played by Julius Harris from Live and Let Die, Jack O’Hallorann from Dragnet, Ed Lauter from Lassiter, and John Lone from The Hunted, and then of course there’s Pahoo himself, Dennis Fimple from Creature from Black Lake, in the role of Sunfish, who so far as I can tell survives the ape’s stomping feet and his remorseless rolling of the log!

Now here’s a problem with the picture, and it’s a big one: no dinosaurs! There’s a big snake, which looks fakey in the same charming way as the one in Conan the Barbarian (another Dino production - ha ha, maybe they used the same snake!), but Kong defeats it easily and gorily, and it never eats any sailors like they were Junior Mints, as the dinos do in the ’33 and ’05 versions! Skull Island, or Ape Island, or whatever it’s called - actually, I don’t think they give it a name in this picture - really lacks atmosphere, ranging between location shooting in what is obviously Hawaii, and studio shots in what is obviously a studio! We do get some nice matte paintings, though, and some acceptable backlot work!

Of course, when he gets to New York and is humiliated before a crowd, the angry simian escapes and makes his way not to the Empire State Building, but further south to the World Trade Centre, the presence of which qualifies this movie as an historical document! So that adds a little retroactive interest for the nostalgic viewer, though he doesn't straddle the buildings, as on the poster, or crush a rocket or duck a fighter jet! Ha ha, I remember thinking that poster overpromised a bit!

But before the movie came out, old Dino promised, in reference to Jaws, “Ha ha, no one cry when shark die, but everybody cry when monkey die!” And do you know what? He wasn’t entirely wrong there! It’s genuinely sad when the big gorilla, shot into meatsauce by helicopters, rolls off the building and plummets to his doom! I think that’s a bit of an achievement, so whatever this picture’s faults, it’s got that! Ha ha, I give King Kong two camera hunts in the interior!

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Burl reviews Night Beast! (1982)

 


Dateline: Baltimore! Yes, it’s Burl, returning to the wooded suburbs of that Eastern metropolis to review a work by its most famous filmmaker! Now some might say the filmmaker I allude to must be John Waters, while other, more mainstream cineastes, may insist upon Barry Levinson! However, the hep among us know that I can only be referring to Don Dohler, who brought us the magic of Fiend, and then, by some unknowable wizardry, filigreed together a space monster epic called Night Beast!

Ha ha, I’ve long enjoyed this little picture, I must say, so I may not be the most objective of critics! I can still recall an all-night festival of VHS viewing held in my basement when I was about 14, in which I and a few friends watched this picture along with Taxi Driver (which we were all seeing for the first time) and at least two other fine films! Night Beast is no Taxi Driver, but rather the simple tale of an alien with a prolapsed face and a silver jumpsuit who crash lands on Earth and starts killing the local people with either his ray gun or his fearsome teeth and claws!

The local sheriff, a Bob Ross-looking fellow called Jack Cinder, along with his contextually comely deputy Lisa and a pair of scientists, do their best to pursue and destroy the invader! Ha ha, the head scientist is played by Maryland’s version of Bea Arthur, and her assistant, Steven, is none other than the King of Baltimore himself, George Stover! Ha ha! Of course, we know George from his appearances in Female Trouble and Jan-Gel: The Beast of the East; and another familiar face from the Dohler stock company is the beastly Don Leifert, who played Mr. Longfellow in Fiend and here is a monstrous motorbiker called Drago! One eagerly anticipates Drago’s demise at the paws of the lamprey-faced alien, but he tastes the cruel blast of buckshot instead!

Also entertaining are the corrupt mayor and his addle-pated blonde ladyfriend! Ha ha, they both come to sticky ends (very sticky, considering the maraschino juice they used for blood, ha ha) when the alien busts into their house and makes mincemeat of them! Many of these characters have the same names and are played by the same actors as in an earlier Dohler picture called The Alien Factor, but all of them treat this new alien invasion as though it’s the first one they’ve ever experienced, so maybe they’re not supposed to be the same characters after all! Ha ha, such are the vicissitudes of the Dohlerverse!

Here’s an interesting thing! The synth score of Night Beast was in part composed by J.J. Abrams, director of Super 8, and one assumes his work on this picture informed his own later stab at the invading-alien genre, ha ha, and the amateur moviemakers of the picture may well have been inspired by Dohler and his gang! The ugly night beast himself was designed by a fellow named John Dods, who did up the trick effects in The Deadly Spawn, and that really underlines the connection I think the two pictures have!

In the end the characters crib an electricity-based trick from The Thing From Another World to get rid of their unwanted visitor, but not before he’s raygunned dozens of people, including the director’s children, and savaged many others! There’s plenty of great goopy gore on display, and lots of cheap optical effects, and while the alien zapping scenes get a little repetitive, the picture is never boring! It’s eighty rural minutes of rubes-vs.-monster action, with a little bohankie and a lot of tomato paste thrown in, and how can you go wrong with that! It is, in its modest way, an exemplar of low-budget 80s genre filmmaking, and the poor script, indifferent direction and variable acting are all a part of that! Perhaps it could use a little more Evil Dead-style pep, and maybe it’s not the most original screen narrative ever produced, but gosh darn it the thing has heart, and I like it! I give Night Beast two and a half salt-and-pepper afros!

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Burl reviews The Man From Toronto! (1933)

 


I say and what ho and bosh, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a veddy British picture, which is veddy veddy British, perhaps even veddy veddy veddy British, despite being entitled The Man From Toronto! Indeed, however, the colonies are well represented, as the titular Man is not only Canadian, but is played by South African-born Ian Hunter, whom we know from Strange Cargo!

The Man From Toronto’s real name is Fergus Wimbush, so naturally I found myself thinking of him exclusively as The Man From Toronto instead of by his name! Now, I may have a bit of trouble explaining the situation that kicks everything off, but I’ll try! Ha ha, somewhere in England a young widow, Leila, is left a quarter of a million pounds, but she only gets the money on the condition that she marries a certain Man From Toronto! The Man From Toronto is eligible for the same inheritance, but he must marry Leila, who, incidentally, is played by the cute and charming Jessie Matthews, known for her portrayal of Celia Newbiggin in Midshipmaid Gob!

Neither she nor The Man From Toronto are happy about this weird legacy that requires them each to marry a stranger! Leila complains about it endlessly to Mr. Bunston, her solicitor who is also her uncle, or some such thing, and who is the most I Say What What kind of a fellow you could ever hope to see on a motion picture screen! The Man From Toronto travels from Toronto to England despite his disgruntlement and prepares to install himself in a cottage owned by the redoubtable and proudly homely Mrs. Hubbard! Taking advantage of the fact that The Man From Toronto doesn’t know what she looks like, Leila reinvents herself as a parlour maid called Perkins so that she can observe The Man From Toronto before considering marriage!

So begins a sitcom-style comedy of misunderstanding that stretches well beyond the breaking point, and engulfs both Mr. Bunston and Mrs. Hubbard in the web of deception and confusion! Because he doesn’t want to be cornered into explaining to The Man From Toronto what’s going on or revealing Perkins’s true identity, old Bunston is forced into endless, punishing countryside strolls, perambulations he refers to as “these infernal walks,” and which seem nearly to kill him! Ha ha, he’s chased by cows into a pub, where he discovers he doesn’t hate beer quite so much as he thought he did, nor darts; and then he gets sauced on pints, makes a bunch of new mates, and goes home to slap his pudding! Ha ha!

As Bunston, Frederick Kerr, whom we may recall from Frankenstein, gives a delightful performance filled with well-timed little laughs and “bah’s”, and features a perfect delivery of the line “She’s not a bad looking woman, if you don’t look at her!” And Bunston sure does a lot of phumphering around! Oh, ha ha, he can phumpher all right! I’ve rarely seen such phumphering! If there was an Oscar for phumpering, Frederick Kerr would have won it in a walk! Sadly, however, this was his last role, and afterward he phumphered no longer!

The picture also offers an early role from George Zucco of Dr. Renault’s Secret fame, and a brief cameo from the kind of band that ends all its numbers with “Shave and a Haircut!” It’s delightful and frustrating in equal measure, and crudely made in that early British programmer way, but charming and summery and every bit as villagy as A Canterbury Tale! It shyly approaches the idea of addressing class issues, but aside from shots of “Perkins” looking overworked, it doesn’t much stress the challenges a rich layabout would face doing manual labour all day! Still, it’s a fun little number, and I give The Man From Toronto two old fashioned speedometers, as seen in close up during a crazy car chase scene! Ha ha!

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Burl reviews Strange Cargo! (1940)


 

That’s right, it’s Burl, baby! Ha ha, yes, I’d like to review a very odd drama, and for those who watch this picture and say to themselves, “Ha ha, that was certainly strange,” well, just remember that you were warned! The picture is after all entitled Strange Cargo!

It’s a Devil’s Island story, naturally, like Papillon! Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, who’d appeared together a whole bunch of pictures before this, including Love on the Run, are the stars, with Gable as an escape-obsessed prisoner and Crawford as a local prostitute! They both have pretty hard lives and are ready to leave the area, but there are all sorts of obstacles! Gable not only has to break out of the jail, negotiate the jungle and cross the water, but he has trouble with the other prisoners too, one of whom, a fellow called Moll who’s played by Albert Dekker from Kiss Me Deadly and The Wild Bunch, goes so far as to bonk Gable on the head with a shoe! One doesn't weep too hard for him though, because Gable's playing a real jerk here!

Crawford, for her part, has repeated run-ins with the slimy Mr. Pig, played by Peter Lorre from My Favorite Brunette! Ha ha, I always like seeing Lorre in a movie, and this is the sort of part he could do with his eyes shut tight! He’s good, though! And so is Dekker, and also Paul Lukas, from Grumpy and 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, playing another prisoner, a Mr. Suavetoast who likes to first marry and then kill rich old ladies!

It all revolves around a group escape attempt, but the bone-deep oddness of this movie comes to the fore with the introduction of a character called Cambreau, played by Ian Hunter, who of course played The Man From Toronto! Cambreau is, right from the start, a Christ figure, preternaturally calm and always right about everything, who encourages his fellow escapees to seek redemption as they die during the jungle trek and long, windless sea voyage! Ha ha! Gable, however, steadfastly resists the Jesusness, figuring that he’s well beyond absolution, until the end when he can resist it no longer! By the last few scenes in the picture, director Handsome Frank Borzage is laying it on pretty thick, putting Hunter’s character in the sea with his arms spread out Christ-like across a piece of flotsam, while a lame fisherman informs Gable, who’s now going full Barabbas, that he is the only one who can save the floundering deity!

All of this goes well beyond allegory and into the sort of Bible stories that would become popular in later decades, like The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Ten Commandments and The Robe and of course John Huston’s picture The Bible! But the weirdness is that this movie still believes itself to be an allegory and not a literal Bible story transposed to the modern day! However, ha ha, I don’t hold that against the picture! In fact, all the oddness attendant with this concept, and the self-delusion required to carry it off is, as ever, a mark in the movie’s favour! And it’s well-acted and well-directed, and features an exotic location, and is altogether unusual! I enjoyed this crazy thing and feel that it lived up to its title! I give Strange Cargo three torn strips of dress-cloth!

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Burl reviews The Naked Flame! (1964)


 

Good day, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m in the mountains today to review a picture about Doukhobor unrest in the airy peaks of Alberta Province! Ha ha, this is an odd one all right - a combination of wilderness adventure, romance drama, cultural study and nudie picture, all wrapped into a thing known variously as Deadline For Murder and The Naked Flame!

I’ve chosen to review it under the latter title, because there are flames and nudity in the same frame, but, although there is murder, it’s not committed on any kind of deadline! The tale takes place in a small mountain town populated by both Doukhobors and regular folk! The Doukhobors, a religious group also known as Freedomites or Sons of Freedom, were fond of protesting things by stripping off their clothes and occasionally burning things down, and therein lies the exploitation hook!

Our characters include lovey-dovey young couple, Bob (Barton Heyman from The Secret of My Success) and Cathy; and whereas she is a Freedomite, he is not, and this kind of intermingling is evidently frowned on by the sect! Meanwhile the local bully-man, Sorkin, a slobby, bearded Son of Freedom with a thick but unplaceable accent, wants Cathy for his bride, and so is happy to gin up the Doukhobor outrage against her union with Bob! Bob’s father, who manages the local mine and is played by Mort Van Ostrand, is against the union, and Cathy’s father, a Sven Svensson type, had at one point apparently betrothed his daughter to the unspeakable Sorkin without her knowledge! Into all this wades a mining company lawyer called Paul, played by Dennis O’Keefe from Top Hat and The Leopard Man, who is there to investigate the culture clash, but has his own history with the Doukhobors! Indeed, he too had fallen for a Freedomite girl, Elena, played by Kasey Rogers from When Worlds Collide, but she now hates him for helping imprison her brother on charges of arson!

While the Freedomite ladies of the town get their kit off and fire up the torches to protest Paul’s return, the nasty Sorkin, played by Al Ruscio from Deadly Force and Jagged Edge, feels some incendiary urges of his own! He lights Cathy’s house on fire, then, when she runs out, pursues her in a weird little foot chase, then - thankfully off screen - rapes and strangles her! When Cathy’s body is found, Bob swears blood vengeance on the perpetrator; and then when Sorkin is blasted with a shotgun by persons unknown, Bob is the natural suspect! He flees and is caught by a Mountie with a radio announcer voice, and Paul, believing him innocent, becomes his lawyer for the courtroom-based final act! And yes, there’s a little murder-mystery twist ending!


It’s an odd sort of a movie, with the brief scenes of bare skin seeming both an afterthought and the central reason for the making of the film! Also, it treats the Doukhobor culture at once with a strange anthropological seriousness and an exploitative disinterest in fact! The courtroom scenes threaten to get boring, and the story perpetually promises to get a little deeper but never does! And the conclusion relies on not one deus ex machina, but two! On the other hand, the unusualness is itself an asset, and there are a few perfomances, like that of Ruscio as the dreaded Sorkin, that are perfectly entertaining! It’s not exactly a gem, but if you think you might be interested in a picture like this, it’s decidedly worth watching! I give The Naked Flame one and a half sunflower seeds!

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Burl reviews Body Snatchers! (1993)

 


Once again, it’s the actual Burl and not an amazing facsimile, ha ha! Really, I promise; but after reviewing yet another adaptation of the sturdy and always-relevant Jack Finney story about drifting moss from outer space that absorbs people and recreates them as emotionless simulacra, I can understand your doubts! This time the director behind it all, somewhat surprisingly, is the auteur behind Fear City, Abel Ferrara, and, reflecting the streamlined approach, his version is called simply Body Snatchers!

The Don Siegel picture was set in a small town, and Philip Kaufman’s excellent remake, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, took place in the big city, but this one is laid on an army base, which turns out to be an extremely apt location even if the movie doesn’t exploit it to its full potential! On the other hand, if they’d pushed the dehumanization inherent to the military too much, it might have seemed preachy or at least overbaked, so maybe Ferrara and his screenwriters (including Stuart Gordon, who was originally supposed to direct it, I believe) got it right!

We join a non-military family as they arrive at the base: dad works for the EPA, and is not a supercilious bureaucrat like the EPA guy in Ghostbusters, but a shaggy ex-hippie type; mom, or rather, stepmom, is played by Meg Tilly from Psycho II and Impulse (and who's particularly effective once she turns counterfeit); and there’s a teenage daughter who’s more or less the main character; and then there’s a little guy too, maybe five years old, played by one of the best child actors I’ve ever seen! Ha ha, he’s really terrific! Ferrara must have liked him too, because he used the young chap again in his next picture, the Madonna vs. Harvey Keitel one that I've seen, and completely forgotten, called Dangerous Games!

Anyway, one guy on the base who sure hasn’t been taken over yet is the post’s chain-smoking doctor, played with much nervousness by Forest Whitaker from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai! On the other hand, R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket is the commanding officer, and there’s no discerning that guy from a pod version, is there, ha ha! Billy Wirth from The Lost Boys plays a sympathetic soldier who becomes a co-hero along with the girl!

As always when I see little kids in horror movies, I dreaded what might happen to the little brother; and indeed one of the most effective scenes in the early part of the picture has him becoming heartbreakingly alarmed when every other kid in his classroom has made the exact same finger painting! You can see it in the eyes of this fine little actor: the dawning awareness that his own very different painting has made him an object of suspicion and maybe even of attack from his zomboid classmates!

While it’s no House By the Cemetery, my worst fears for the young character were indeed realized, though his part in the tale is wrapped up with the goofiest plummeting effect since Link, so that eased my anguish a bit! Of course there are no happy endings in the pod stories, but this version does present a little bit of payback before the inevitable! Ferrara keeps it all moving quickly, and orchestrates a few decently suspenseful or suitably gross spaghetti sequences, and thanks to cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who shot The Ring and Pumpkinhead, the picture looks pretty good too! It’s not up to the standards set by the first two cinematic adaptations, but it doesn’t embarrass them either; and it’s better than The Puppet Masters, and almost certainly better than the more recent official adaptation of the Finney story, simply called The Invasion, which I’ve not seen and currently have no plans to! I think three solid versions is enough for me, and so I give this one, Body Snatchers, three solid versions!

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Burl reviews My Science Project! (1985)


 

By all the brain wizards, it’s Burl, here to review another of the many science lad pictures that came out in the years 1985 through 1986! If you cast your net wide, you can see just how many of them there were: you’ve got Back to the Future, Explorers, Weird Science, Real Genius, The Manhattan Project, Deadly Friend, The Wizard of Science, proto-examples like WarGames, fringe constituents like Flight of the Navigator and D.A.R.Y.L., and then of course today’s entry, My Science Project!

The picture opens with a nice flashback sequence set in the 1950s, showing a plus-fours-sporting Dwight Eisenhower - played by an actor called Robert Beer, who also played Eisenhower in The Right Stuff, and in fact only ever played Eisenhower in every movie he ever appeared in - being shown a UFO, and ordering it dismantled and buried! Thirty years later, grease-stained high school gearhead John Stockwell, who played a grease-stained high school gearhead in Christine, must come up with a project to satisfy his mad hippie science teacher played appealingly by Dennis Hopper from Black Widow! Crawling around in a junkyard, Stockwell comes across a piece of the UFO, and from there it’s the dimwitted greaseball, his bookish tagalong semi-sweetie, an unsavory, finger-gloved best friend played by Fisher Stevens from The Burning, and an intolerable glasses nerd called Sherman, all trying to prevent the device, or gizmo, or whatnot, from opening up a time portal and causing life on earth to become an interdimensional four-vector crossways of simultaneous overlapping gravitomagnetic streams of spacetime! Ha ha!

In theory this sounds interesting, but in practice we get lots of blue-light optical effects, sparking batteries, and a high school invaded by cavemen, conquistadors, Viet Cong soldiers, and a dinosaur, and not much pondering on the larger implications! The trick effects, in particular the dinosaur, are well done, and the desert-town setting is visually appealing and occasionally atmospheric! But the picture is narratively chonky and tonally muddled in a way that usually indicates either bad direction or studio mutilation, or both! Given that the director was a first-timer, and his only feature credit after this was the Whoopi-dinosaur buddy-cop amscray Theodore Rex (which indicates at least that he knew the best part of his debut was the T-Rex), one is tempted to blame him; but Touchstone Pictures was, I believe, known to “touch” their pictures quite a lot before releasing them! Ha ha!

So it’s not a great picture, but it’s occasionally fun, particularly when Dennis Hopper is on screen! There’s a supporting cast of familiar faces too, like Barry Corbin from This House Possessed, playing Stockwell’s dad; Ann Wedgeworth from No Small Affair playing his new stepmom; Richard Masur from The Thing as a tough-guy detective; small roles for Robert DoQui from Cloak & Dagger and Jackson Bostwick from The Prey; and of course Michael Berryman from Deadly Blessing, again playing a mutant! For these worthies, and for some nice trick effects, and for a premise that might have been squandered, but at least had promise, and for the featured appearance of a cherry GTO, I give My Science Project a grade of one and a half laughing stewbums!

Monday, 23 November 2020

Burl reviews Kongo! (1932)



Ha ha and houndstooth, it’s Burl, here to review a bit of pre-code nastiness that plays like Freaks meets Island of Lost Souls meets The Most Dangerous Game! It’s not quite the firecracker that combo makes it sound like - ha ha, it’s too stagey for that - but it frequently comes close! Anyway, it’s lurid, and the name of the picture is Kongo!

It’s a remake of West of Zanzibar, the Lon Chaney silent jungle extravaganza in which he plays a stratospherically nasty jungle kingpin known alternately as Flint and Dead Legs! Like The Penalty, which it strongly resembles, it was an opportunity for Chaney to play a paraplegic who never lets his disability get in the way of his psychotically sadistic behavior! But for the talkie version the filmmakers went for Walter Huston, both because he had already played the part of Dead Legs on stage, and because Chaney was, after all, dead! Huston is not quite as spectacularly demonstrative in the physical aspects of the part, but he does a fine job of crawling around on the floor, lifting himself into his wheelchair, or pulling himself up a knotted rope to his grimy roost in the ceiling!

I’ll back up a bit and give you the plot! Somewhere in deepest Africa, the crippled Flint has set up his palace of torment, where he keeps various sad-sacks in his thrall and from which he manipulates the local people by baffling their minds with parlour tricks! (Needless to say the movie is packed with colonialist racism, with the idea that the indigenous population would be so easily fooled and controlled being only the beginning of it!) His ragtag bunch includes a Portuguese firecracker played by Lupe Velez, a pair of dumbbells who wait on him, and eventually, as part of a long-game revenge plan later echoed in Oldboy, the convent-raised daughter of the man who originally caused his disability with a flurry of kicks to the back! This daughter, Ann, has been brought up in circumstances of absolute purity, and then at Flint’s behest is lured first into servitude in a Zanzibar brothel, and then to Flint’s compound where she is debased and diseased and kept prisoner!

Into this hellish situation stumbles a junkie doctor, Kingsland, whose addiction to some kind of jungle root is cured with swamp leeches! He becomes determined to rescue Ann (who is very well played by Virginia Bruce, it ought to be said), but matters are complicated by the arrival of her ostensible dad, who is also Flint’s greatest enemy and the real object of his vengeance plan! Certain native burial customs further heat up the situation, and a man called Fuzzy plays his part as well! Redemption and escape are in the cards, but hardly guaranteed!

Ha ha, this is a compelling picture if not the feel-good frivolity of the year! I suppose during the depression, before the Production Code came in anyway, movies could opt either to lift the spirits of audiences by presenting happy fantasies, or else make the real-life situation seem easier by presenting a twisted, corrupt, horrific vision of hell on earth! That’s the route taken by Kongo, ha ha! And while it certainly betrays its roots as a stage production, and doesn’t manage to convincingly present its jungle setting, the movie whips up a bleak atmosphere rarely matched in Hollywood and gets plenty of additional power from Huston’s relentlessly mean performance!

Kongo is imperfect, but still a little jungle horror gem, and I recommend giving it a look if you think you can take it! I give the picture three raggedy chimpanzee sidekicks!

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Burl reviews Congo! (1995)

 


Burl here, going ape again! And believe me, the movie I’m reviewing today has a lot of ape in it! Gorilla after gorilla in fact, whole swarms of them! No, we’re not talking about Greystoke or Gorillas in the Mist, and we’ve already talked about Link! No, the picture in question is Congo, the monkey mash from the mid-90s that I recall seeing in the theater and even reviewing! My old review is around somewhere, but this one is all new, ha ha, and is moreover based on a very recent re-viewing of the picture!

There’s trouble in Africa! Colonialindustrialists are searching for rare purity diamonds with which to power their lasers, but their expedition is interrupted by simian viciousness of some kind! Meanwhile a vanilla primatologist and his lily-livered pal are planning to return their pet talking ape to the wild, and they are joined by the lady from the tech company who wants to find both the diamonds and her missing ex-fiancé who was on the original diamond quest! It’s a rather charmingly old-fashioned set up, straight out of Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, gussied up with 90s technology!

There are so many apes, they can be divided into subcategories! We have our hero ape, Amy, who wears a contraption that turns her hand signals into spoken speech; and then there’s a group of regular mountain gorillas; and of course there are the mutant white apes, straight out of White Pongo, but uglier, who are the real plot drivers here! By the end there are seemingly dozens of pongos, all warty-faced, jumping on the secondary characters like they were luggage! But speaking of human characters, the leads are not the most interesting bunch of people! The scientist fellow makes little to no impression, his buddy is a darn pest, and the tech company lady, although played by the good actor Laura Linney, doesn’t fare much better! Linney never really gets a handle on her character, because there isn’t much to get a handle on, ha ha! She must at different points be a cynical executive and a die-hard romantic, a hardy adventuress and a humourless scold, a tough Linda Hamilton type and a damsel in distress; and so it’s a wonder to me that Linney could pull together anything at all!

The cast gets more interesting as you go down the billing! Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters is particularly good as the gentleman scoundrel safari leader; Tim Curry from The Hunt for Red October does a double ham on rye; and Joe Don Baker from Joysticks gets to kill a TV with a golf club! And, ha ha, there’s more! Bruce Campbell from Army of Darkness shows up at the very beginning, not proving as resilient here as he is in the Evil Dead pictures! And a parade of familiar faces follows: Joe Pantoliano from The Mean Season and Delroy Lindo from The Core show up in quick succession, and sprinkled throughout are appearances from Peter Jason of Prince of Darkness; James Karen from Time Walker; John Hawkes from Future-Kill; and even Jimmy Buffett of Jurassic World fame! Ha ha, the Buff plays an airplane pilot who bails out of his craft and we never see him again! I’ll bet you could make a whole other movie just about his adventures after landing in the jungle in a country in civil war into which he has flown illegally! Buff On the Run, we could call it, or War On Buffett! Ha ha!

But really it’s about ape action, and there’s a lot of it towards the end! The gnarly-faced ‘rillas make jolly adversaries, and it’s almost sad to see them falling into lava by the properly Edgar Rice Burroughs/ H. Rider Haggard erupting-volcano climax! The movie is a slick studio product, dumb as a bag of hammers, curiously old-fashioned, and largely enjoyable! And if you like fake apes, this is your movie! It’s got a lot of ‘em, pretty well done but maybe just a notch below the best Rick Baker work! Anyway, I give Congo two sesame cakes! Ha ha, put down my sesame cake!

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Burl reviews North By Northwest! (1959)

 


Hi, I’m Roger Thornhill! Ha ha, no, I’m Burl, but I feel like Roger Thornhill after my recent viewing of North By Northwest! Yes, it’s a comfy old favourite, a highly rewatchable thrill-omedy-omance, and always pretty fun! There’s not much more to it than that, other than some romantic scenes that go on a bit too long for young new viewers of Hitchcock; but by garr it’s a pleasantly airy jaunt! It feels a bit silly to review it, because everyone’s seen it and everyone more or less likes it!

It’s a curious warm-up for Psycho, ha ha! Our main character, played by the one and only Cary Grant, is a happy-go-lucky Madison Avenue man who gets mistaken for a government spy called George Kaplan! Immediately he is wrapped in a web of intrigue: kidnapped and assaulted with a gun and a car and a bourbon by nefarious bad guy James Mason, whom we know from ffolkes and Bigger Than Life; his dapper, Smithers-type minion Martin Landau, an actor we recollect from his appearance in Without Warning; and two sinister, hatched-faced sub-minions! Poor perplexed Thornhill is soon accused of a United Nations murder, and he flees to Chicago on a cross-country train! On board he meets an almost psychotically flirtatious blonde beauty played by Eva Marie Saint from The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, whose extreme willingness to shelter an accused murderer arouses only mild additional bewilderment in Thornhill!

Leo G. Carroll from Tarantula is meanwhile a government spymaster who knows what’s going on, but is initially pleased to hear that Thornhill is believed to be Kaplan, who is not a real person but a fictional CIA confabulation! Ha ha, I think the movie could have waited on this revelation and presented it as a twist going into the third act, instead of revealing it in the first, but that’s just one Burl’s opinion! Anyway, with crop duster cornfield chases and hotel room duplicities and the finale in that fantastic modern house apparently perched near the top of Mount Rushmore, we barely notice!

Ha ha, there is so much window dressing to love about this movie - the great Saul Bass titles, the fantastic Bernard Herrman score, the clever Ernest Lehman script, and of course Hitch’s confident direction and the suspense scenes he pulls off with typical wizardry - that we don’t quite mind realizing later that it’s pretty much all window dressing! However, aside from the romantic longeurs mentioned earlier, it’s a top-flight Hollywood entertainment, attractive and shiny, gripping and funny; and when it’s over, it’s over - ha ha, until the next time! It’s far from my favourite Hitchcock picture, but it’s like a gooseberry you keep under your armpit: always there for you! I give North By Northwest three complaints of dan-druff!