Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Sunday 26 January 2020

Burl reviews The Fly II! (1989)

Buzz buzz buzz, it’s Burl, here to review a sequel to a remake of a bug picture! Yes, the original 1958 bug picture, The Fly, was in 1986 remade into an excellent movie also called The Fly, which was then sequelized three years later as, quite simply, The Fly II! Now, as you will recall, Jeff Goldblum’s housefly character from the 1986 David Cronenberg film did not make it past the end of that story, so the focus in the sequel is on the dipteran misadventures of his progeny, Martin, played in human form by Eric Stoltz from Some Kind of Wonderful!
The story begins with his birth (and the coincident death of a Geena Davis semi-lookalike), follows him through an incredibly accelerated childhood during which he sucks up information as a fly sucks up sugarwater, and takes up in earnest after his fifth birthday, by which time he sports the blandly handsome face and preternaturally soft voice of Stoltz! His patron all this time is Anton Bartok, head of the Bartok corporation and capable of appearing as an avuncular stepdad to Martin and an obsessive corporatist with a God complex to everyone else!
Bartok is trying to unlock the secret of the telepods and hopes Martin will help him; Martin, meanwhile, is more interested in his budding romance with Daphne Zuniga, whom we know from Last Rites and The Dorm That Dripped Blood! But she takes him to a company cocktail party held in the building, just above a pen wherein a suffering, mutated hulk that was once a loveable Golden Retriever whom Martin loved, crawls around and eats porridge! Ha ha, having a party in this particular location sort of leaves the impression that Bartok Industries is a corporation staffed entirely by sociopaths!
This makes Martin mad, and after an argument with Daphne, a reconciliation, an escape and a visit with John Getz, the antagonist of the Cronenberg picture, now hobbling around and talking grumpy, he becomes a hu-fly and sets about initiating some of the finest major-studio gore scenes of the ‘80s! This helps mitigate the feeling, otherwise, that the movie not only fails to live up to its predecessor, but does so by a considerable margin! The stalking and killing is fine as far as it goes, but the dialogue is really poor, despite, or perhaps because of, the gang of 1980s horror screenwriters (Mick Garris, Critters 2; Ken and Jim Wheat, Lies; and Frank Darabont, The Blob) who pasteboarded together the script! There’s nothing much underneath the story, no feeling of substance to the thing at all!
It's not a total loss: Lee Richardson, from Exorcist III, is solid as the fiendish Bartok, selling both the jolly magic-trickster version he appears to be to young Martin, and the ambition-crazed tyrant he really is! Other decent performers include Frank C. Turner from Malone as the sour-faced doctor, and Garry Chalk from Mr. Patman as the angry and hateful security chief who gets folded in half by Martin! The mutant dog scenes are effectively heart-rending! And further on there’s a face-melting and a head-crushing that are pretty effective in that late-80s way!
So it’s not the worst thing ever made, but it seems to me a regrettable case of opportunity lost! Stoltz was not a bad choice for the lead, as he’s able to project intelligence nearly as well as Jeff Goldblum, and yet the script gave him nothing to work with! It’s a real shame, and I give The Fly II one and a half bowls of porridge for mutants!

Friday 24 January 2020

Burl reviews The Twentieth Century! (2019)

With great prime ministerial gravitas it’s Burl, here to review a picture that purports to tell of an episode in the life of Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King! Ha ha, the picture’s called The Twentieth Century, and indeed it begins at the dawn of that storied hundredyear!
The picture presents King as a milquetoast mama’s boy with a shoe-sniffing fetish! His mother, played by Louis Negin from Keyhole, is an unpleasant old haggis who stays locked in her room, where she abuses a nurse! The nurse, meanwhile, pines for King, for reasons unknown (he’s a weirdo and surely nobody’s dream date ha ha!), and King himself pines for the daughter of Lord Muto! Muto is played by Seán Cullen, who has done comedy on the CBC but is nevertheless very good in the role here! In fact, ha ha, everybody in the cast does a terrific job!
The main thrust of the plot is King’s desire to qualify for his party’s nomination for the federal election! To this end the picture presents an uproarious series of tests, from gopher pounding to snowbank micturition! Ha ha! It’s a terrific scene, and one in which, as in so many scenes in this picture and in other pictures like it, fake snow swirls around the personages as though to give physical form to their roiling emotions! Ha ha! King goes through many trials, including a stint with the terrifying Dr. Milton Wakefield, but as with any true-life tale we know in advance where the story must go! Students of Canadian history that we are, we know it will end with King winning not just the nomination but, eventually, and for a record-breaking period of time, the prime ministersy!
Now, one of the swirling-snow pictures that The Twentieth Century is like is Careful! Yes, I would guess that the director is very much a fan of the 1992 Guy Maddin movie I so recently reviewed for you! I think it’s a fine thing to use as an inspiration, and the new movie is so fiercely imaginative in its realization that one readily forgives the truly dedicated and uninterrupted nature of the hommage! Ha ha! As well, the movie often looks like a painting by the Canadian artist Simon Hughes come to life, which is no bad thing!
Lovely to look at in its 16mm glory, well-performed, funny, full to bursting with whimsy and inventiveness, The Twentieth Century is an only somewhat alloyed joy! It has a simple and repetitive story, and wears its inspirations like shoulder braid, but it’s nevertheless something very special! I award the picture three masturbation alarms!

Monday 20 January 2020

Burl reviews Parasite! (2019)

Ha ha and ham rolls, it’s Burl, here to review a picture called Parasite! Now, I know just what you’re going to say: “Ha ha, Burl, haven’t you already reviewed Parasite?" No, friends, that was Parasite! This new one is Parasite, and it’s not even about a slimy and rapacious creature, unless that’s how you choose to describe capitalism, and if you do I for one won’t argue!
Of course, Bong Joon-ho already made his literal slimy and rapacious creature movie, The Host, and the funny thing is that you could transpose its title with that of Parasite and it would all make just as much sense as it currently does! Parasite concerns a chronically unemployed family of four, the Kims, who live in a cramped, stink bug-ridden basement apartment, who come across an opportunity to take jobs with a rich family who live in an opulent, modernist house up on a hill! Ha ha, first the son, then the daughter become tutors to the rich Park family’s children; then the Kim father and mother get jobs respectively as the driver and housekeeper to the Parks, with the wealthy family totally unaware that all their new employees are related! The scam seems to be working beautifully until one rainy night…
Ha ha! Well, I’d best not go on with my plot description, because this is a movie best viewed without a thorough awareness of the whole story! There are surprises to come in the second half, and thanks to these the picture in many ways reminded me of Us, which I enjoyed but never did review for you good people! Both movies are parables of inequity at the same time as they are literal, if outlandish, stories of inequity!
But Parasite is the more confidently made and technically accomplished picture, ha ha! It’s mise-en-scene is frequently worthy of Hitchcock, and the acting across the board is superb! Plus it’s very funny, and at the same time contains shots here and there that wouldn’t be out of place in the very scariest of horror pictures; and eventually it even gets a little gory! It’s a terrific movie, and continues South Korea’s tradition of punching above its weight, cinematically!
There’s talk of turning the movie into a TV series, and if that happens my plan is to completely ignore it the way I do most other TV! I’m quite happy with the one self-contained movie, thank you very much! I’m pleased to give Parasite three and a half rotisserie chickens!

Thursday 16 January 2020

Burl reviews The Rise of Skywalker! (2019)

Ha ha and may the Force be with us all! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review the new Star Wars picture, The Rise of Skywalker! Now, I’m very sorry to be reviewing this one, as there is hardly a shortage of other reviews of it floating around I’m sure, and ol’ Burl’s opinion is about as necessary to the conversation as buttocks on a bug! Still, I saw it, so I figure I might as well review it! Ha ha!
I’ll say right at the start that the most striking thing about my viewing of the picture was just the sort of manufactured nostalgia the Disney people are I suppose counting on! It so happens that I saw the movie in the very same (though much changed) movie theatre in which I saw the original 1977 Star Wars with my father! This time around I was again with my father, and also this time with my son, who is about the same age as I was when I saw the first one! Ha ha! So there we have roughly the same sort of circular, multigenerational progression pattern as we see in the films themselves, and that gave me a brief, synthetically warm feeling about the old cockles!
And the movie itself? Ha ha! On the way in my son wondered  in what sort of deadly space orb the Resistance fighters would blow up this time, and I don’t wonder at his eight year-old’s cynicism! We were both surprised to find that an orb is not blown up at the climax; rather, a series of towers and starships! But otherwise things played out in the way you’d expect a reunion concert from some old favourite hit band might, with all the old hits recycled and special guests wheeled out like Hannibal Lecter on his pushcart!
Why, the old Colt .45 himself, Lando Calrissian - still played with great suavité by Billy Dee Williams from Fear City and Deadly Illusion and Number One With A Bullet - appears, and gets to mack on the ladies, even Leia, sort of! There are other Special Guest Stars too, like Wedge, and what looks to be the son of Porkins (equally ill-fated, I'm afraid), and also a Jawa shouting “Boutini!” (Ha ha, we still don’t know what that means, do we?) For a while I thought we might get a cameo from The All-Consuming Sarlacc, or maybe his brother, but it never happened!
Still, the new cast - including John Boyega from Attack the Block, Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis, and Adam Driver from The Dead Don't Die - continues to perform with energy and aplomb (though I lost count of how many times the action stopped for tears to roll down Daisy Ridley’s cheek), and director J. J. Abrams, returning to the galaxy far, far away from The Force Awakens a few years ago, keeps things moving at a frantic, sometimes too-frantic, pace! Ha ha, I wish he’d do a movie like Super 8 again! Both as a film and as a nostalgia generating machine, I enjoyed that one quite a bit! In the case of this new movie, sure, I liked hanging out with Chewie and enjoyed Luke’s appearance as a hologram, and C3-PO was not too annoying this time around! (Chewie, when shown naked without his bandolier, looks more like Bigfoot than ever!) And Emperor Bolpatine, ugly as an old pike, is still played in Creep Factor 5 by Ian MacDiarmid, and can still shoot lightning from his fingers! Quite a bit of it, actually!
In the end I preferred the last entry, which is to say The Last Jedi! Ha ha, it’s strange to see how this latest trilogy is shaping up like the first trilogy did, with the middle installment somehow the most complex and interesting of the three! Rogue One is still the best of the new pictures in terms of creating a palpable, lived-in universe, though! Few of the worlds seen in the other ones, including the endless, boring desert planets, feel like real places in which societies might have developed!
With its (too) many cute creatures and pointless new cute robot, its slavish devotion to ironing out complexity, and its desperate, machine-tooled, get-the-band-back-together mentality, this new picture has clearly been Disneyfied to within an inch of its life, and despite a welcome appearance from Richard E. Grant of How To Get Ahead in Advertising, I can’t bring myself to award The Rise of Skywalker more than one and a half collapsing outfits!

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Burl reviews Careful! (1992)

Ha ha, and don’t put too much pepper on it! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a movie I’ve liked for many years: Guy Maddin’s mountain picture Careful! This was Maddin’s third picture, I believe, and they say it was filmed on the great, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada! But I can’t believe that, because the movie patently takes place in the mountains! Ha ha!
It’s an odd movie, and delightfully so! We’re in the town of Tolzbad, a mountain town whose inhabitants are constantly, morbidly, appropriately, afraid of being swept away by an avalanche! Of course they also fear falling off of cliffs, and so everybody at all times behaves with the greatest restraint and propriety! In a word, they are careful!
Two brothers, Johann and Grigorss, are our heroes, sort of! Johann has a bit of a crush on his mother, sorry to say, and in such a repressed society as this, such feelings can only lead to a mouth-searing and some chocolate-sauce gore! A pair of sisters are also having trouble with incest, and this family too must lose a few members before things can be set aright on the mountain once again! In fact I’m not really sure things ever are set aright, but that’s the upper regions for you, ha ha! The thin air and tendency toward inbreeding makes the people a little bit stupid! Just have a look at Cliffhanger and you’ll see what I mean!
I don’t want to tell you how it ends, but practically everybody dies, ha ha! So it’s a tragedy, but it’s a very funny one, with deliberately crude special effects and wildly coloured cinematography! A few scenes are so overexposed that they hurt the eye, and I’m not one hundred percent sure that was the effect Maddin was going for, but who knows! And a few performances are a little flatter than I’m sure was intended; but on the other hand most of the actors are right on the mark! Vic Cowie, in the role of Herr Trotta, the libidinous papa, was especially strong!
I’ve not seen many of the mountain pictures that inspired this movie - things like Leni Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light, for instance, or the work of Dr. Arnold Fanck - but I can imagine them, and Careful appears to be a sincere and loving tribute to those great eruptions of Teutonic repress-o-passion! It’s packed with imaginative details and vivid sequences of high melodrama! Literally high, ha ha, because it’s mountains, and perhaps the makers of the picture were a little bit high too! It’s a florid work, and one I can cheerfully recommend! I give Careful three and a half condor eggs!

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Burl reviews The Meg! (2018)

Hello chums, it’s Burl, here to review a monster shark picture of recent vintage, The Meg! Ha ha, I have a friend who went out with a girl called Meg for a while, but I believe it ended badly, so I’m sure he never went to see this picture! Now that I’ve seen it, though, I can tell him that it’s not actually very scary at all, and that it has nothing whatever to do with his old flame Meg or her two monster dogs!
No, The Meg is a milquetoast assemblage of parts taken from other water-creature pictures! From Jaws we have an entire scene lifted: a boat, hooked onto the shark, is pulled backward and the winch boom is wrenched free and nearly crushes somebody! Ha ha, I was waiting for Robert Shaw to cry “She’s givin’ way!” Plus we have a child riding an inflatable who is in danger of a chomping, and a swimming dog named Pippin (not Pippet, as in Jaws); but unlike the Spielberg picture, both of these knock-offs survive the enormous icthyo’s depredations!
Plus, nicked from Jaws: The Revenge we have a scene with a banana boat pursued by the beast; from Deep Blue Sea we get a super-rich capitalistic shark enthusiast who catches an unexpected chomp, plus a bald black man who constantly expresses a desire to be somewhere other than where the shark is; and much of the first half of the picture is full of moments borrowed from the underwater epics of 1989: pictures like DeepStar Six, Leviathan and The Abyss! There are even references to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou shoveled in there!
Much thought seems to have been put into the big shark’s origin, and why there would be a limited number of them! Underwater explorers have developed the theory that the bottom of the Mariana Trench is actually just a layer of cold water, below which is a whole other undersea world, populated by waterbugs, giant squids, megalodons and the like! Ha ha, it doesn’t make any scientific sense of course, but it was nice that they tried! A submarine complex populated by the kind of pan-global gang of professional misfits you find in movies funded by pan-global interests and intended for pan-global audiences runs into trouble when they unwittingly draw the toothy menace up from its usual habitat! Slapheaded action hero Jason Statham, well known from Ghosts of Mars, is called in initially to rescue the survivors of the Mariana expedition, but ultimately he must battle the beast with his fists and steely glare!
It’s all very slickly and internationally carried off, and so eager not to disturb that there’s hardly any sense of menace or suspense to be found in the thing at all! One fact I could hardly believe: there are three, count them three, scenes in which helicopters hover above the giant shark, and not once does it leap from the water to pull a copter down! I’m not sure if that counts as a victory or a defeat for the viewer, an omission or a triumph of thwarted expectations for the picture, but the fact that one assumes it will happen any time a helicopter rotor is heard tells you what kind of movie we’re dealing with! Ha ha!
It’s calculated and silly and harmless and airy, and possesses no virtues aside from briefly expressing disgust at the human tendency toward thoughtless destruction! Not nearly enough people are chewed up, and that the monster never trolls through the crowded beaches sucking up people like a whale feasting on krill counts as a major debit! I give The Meg one single severed arm, which is the only bit of gruesomeness this bland picture deigns to offer!

Sunday 12 January 2020

Burl reviews Crime Wave! (1985)

The top! Few reviewers ever reach it, but here am I, Burl, with a review of the movie Crime Wave for you! Ha ha! Now, mind you, this is not Sam Raimi’s sophomore picture, which I believe in any case is called Crimewave, but rather an earlier, cheaper, and even more eccentric picture made in Winnipeg, Canada, over several years in the mid-1980s by a fellow called John Paizs!
Even though the movie got its widest release on a VHS tape for which it was retitled The Big Crimewave, and indeed that was the tape that I watched, be assured that the movie is indeed simply called Crime Wave! The picture tells the tale of a struggling screenwriter who specializes in “color crime” movies; or, rather, he specializes in the beginnings and the endings of “color crime” movies, and the boring stuff in the middle is what he’s unable to write! So much of the picture depicts the different beginnings and endings he comes up with, and the rest is about his struggle to fill in the gap between!
So if you like struggling-screenwriter pictures, Crime Wave has got that covered! Our struggling screenwriter is called Steven Penney, and he’s played by none other than Paizs himself! He gets called “a quiet man” by his tweenage chum, and this is because he doesn’t utter a single word throughout the picture! No, not even when he meets the psychotic script doctor, Dr. Jolly, who’s played in a show-stoppingly demented performance by Neil Lawrie from Mob Story!
It’s a little like an Edgar Ulmer picture, specifically one of the weirder ones, Strange Illusion for instance, but with a dash of gore, nudity, weirdness and swearing thrown in! Ha ha, it was clearly done on a penny-poor budget, and is the more impressive for that! Plenty of imagination is ladled atop the story, and the occasional bum performance or sour mash on the screenplay is a small bird to pay for the many pleasures the picture offers! It’s got laffs: that you can bank upon, and real laffs in a motion picture are nothing to ka-choo at these days!
I’m very fond of this odd little movie, which sits awkwardly at on the bench at the side of the gym during the grade seven dance along with fellow weirdos Big Meat Eater, Lobster Man from Mars, and, sure, Sam Raimi's Crimewave! (Ha ha, The Human Mule wasn’t even allowed into the dance: the principal said she smelled whiskey on his breath!) I give Crime Wave three Greatest American Hero costumes!