Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 29 February 2020

Burl reviews Devil Rider! (1989)

Hi-yo and ha ha, it’s Burl, here to review a horror Western! This one is called Devil Rider, and it fits into a long if sporadic tradition of sprinkling horror into the common oater! We’ve seen this in movies like Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, Jack the Ripper Goes West, The Shadow of Chikara, Ghost Riders, Ghost Town, Dead Birds, The Burrowers, and Bone Tomahawk! And there are others too, so you can see there’s no shortage, ha ha!
Devil Rider gets a little lost among all these titles, and with good reason: it’s not terribly good, or memorable, or the least bit scary or thrilling! That doesn’t mean there aren’t some nice things to say about it, though - ha ha, I never want to be an all-negative nellie! No, I’m sure that if I give it some good old-fashioned pondering, something admirable will show itself! Or, on the other hand, possibly not, ha ha!
Now, you’re saying “Ha ha, Burl, but what’s the story?” Well, we start in old western times, where a homesteader is banging his stake! A big grumpy cowboy shows up, and, after some rasslin’, the big grumpus spears the homesteader with his sabre! Ha ha, this meanie is the Devil Rider of course, and he claims a bunch of victims right away, like the homesteader’s wife (who is bathing Pigkeeper’s Daughter-style) and a nearby gang of prospectors! And of course, grumpy as he is, he doesn’t forget to issue regular laughs as he conducts his reign of terror! A posse catches up with him and the next thing you know he’s dangling from a rope, but not dying! They shoot him, yet still he laughs!
Tiring of this he pulls off the noose, and the next thing you know it’s a hundred years later and his territory has become a dude ranch in the process of being invaded by a horde of ill-tempered yuppies! The leader of the yuppies is a reincarnation of the pole-smacking homesteader from the beginning, and he’s dragged his friends along to convince them to invest in the place as some kind of dude ranch hotel or something! Ha ha! And off to the side is the requisite old doom-crier, grooming horses and grumping about durn fools!
Of course the Devil Rider shows up, his duster unblemished from his years in Tartarus or wherever, and begins anew his campaign of shootin’, pokin’, and hackin’, along with a draggin’ or two! The most objectionable of the yuppies is Buddy, played by David Campbell, known from prior appearances in Deadly Prey and Killer Workout, as well as his role in Scarecrows! He lasts a surprisingly long time before succumbing to the depredations of the Devil Rider! Finally, after a head-chopping with his own sabre - the only way to get rid of this homely, bearded menace - the Devil Rider is slain! Ha ha, or is he? The picture ends with a headless horseman and the sound of that old familiar heh-heh-heh!
Devil Rider, as noted, is not a good picture! There’s no art to the filmmaking, no apparent attempt to make the goings-on scary, and not much else to fall back on, like gore or vim or pep or style! There’s a fair bit of carnage but not many Special Makeup Effects, except for the head-chop and a scene in which the Devil Rider flays one of his less fortunate victims with brands of fire! But even in these scenes, vim, pep and tomato paste are kept to a minimum! If only they had worked harder to make the Devil Rider a scary, mythological figure rather than just showing him constantly in full daylight, showing him off to be just a burly guy in a long coat! Ha ha! I’m going to give Devil Rider one single groat, which is half the number of groats we find in the film itself!

Friday 28 February 2020

Burl reviews East of Euclid! (2003)

Ha ha and holubtsi, it’s Burl! I’m here to review another low-budget, high-style swirling-snow picture from days gone by! It’s called East of Euclid, and I’ll wager you’ve not seen it, ha ha, because it’s a fairly obscure movie! But it’s worth a look for those who can find it!
East of Euclid is set in what appears to be a medium-sized North American city (cleverly built cardboard-box miniatures represent the city’s warehouse district), but almost all of its characters are Russian or Ukrainian, or in one case, Finnish, in origin! Their fake accents are not the only thing that mark them as Eastern Europeans: their monstrous appetite for pyrohy tells the tale as well!
Ha ha, our story concerns the murderous killer and gambler Vilosh, played by Michael O’Sullivan from Careful, and his eventual clash with Valeri, a dashing, lank-haired news photographer played by Brent Neale from The Editor! The whole thing is framed as a piece of journalism typed out by intrepid lady newshound Natalia, who loves Valeri: this is a role essayed by Daina Leitold with an accent borrowed from Natasha Fatale! Now, Vilosh, an alternately melancholy and malevolent figure, is in hiding from a his vengeful former employers, the KGB, and longs to start a new life in Atlantic City! But he’s also compelled to kidnap a Finnish hockey player, and also to jealously react when Valeri falls in love with Viloch’s mistress Alexandria!
After a long beginning, matters amp up when Valeri takes a photo of Vilosh, and, ha ha, the fugitive gambler doesn’t want that! So he and his thugs - including Mark Yuill from Crime Wave - invade the darkroom and beat poor Valeri to within an inch of Bokesville! Next thing you know, Valeri gets a false eye that’s also a camera, and he runs around the district maniacally taking eyeball pictures of everyone he sees! Then it’s vengeance time, and numerous attempts to rescue the kidnaped hockey player, who is kept roped up in the closet, having gained several suit sizes by being force-fed pyrohy; and a gang of East Side-style kids figures in somehow; and when the police finally start finding the corpses of Vilosh’s victims, which have been buried in snow, the chase is on! And Viloch is doing the chasing, ha ha, thundering after Valeri across rooftops until he reaches a ledge he dare not jump! 
Vilosh is caught and sent to prison, and his remaining henchmen are either locked in the briner or commit suicide by lying down on the pyrohy machine conveyer belt and being violently reformed into enormous pyrohy! Ha ha! But the 88 minute picture is not finished yet! Years later, Valeri and Natalia are a happy couple, the hockey player has become an ice-cracking butterball from his all-pyrohy diet, and Vilosh, released from prison, resolves to try jumping from the ledge he had chickened out on before, and crashes to earth four stories below!
All of this story unfolds at its own weird pace, and is photographed in a chonky black and white, surely 16mm! Ha ha, I quite liked the look, and was impressed, too, with many of the sets and props! As Action U.S.A. is clearly a movie made by stuntmen, East of Euclid is equally clearly a picture made by an art director!
The storytelling is not smooth, and the acting quality is variable, but these are not serious problems! It’s an eccentric picture and a singular one; it contains many of the tropes seen in earlier Guy Maddin or John Paizs films, and later in movies like The Goose or The Twentieth Century, but there is no sense of copycatting in any of these movies, just a shared inventiveness and mutual inspiration! Whatever city these movies all come from, it must be a weird and intriguing place! Ha ha, I give East of Euclid two and a half human pyrohy!

Monday 24 February 2020

Burl reviews The Substitute! (1996)

Ha ha and hard lessons, it’s Burl, here to review a ballcrawler from the mid-90s! It’s The Substitute, a picture I’d never seen before from the director of F/X, and it features a premise so basic and irresistible that I feel certain it must have been used in other pictures, or even many other pictures! It’s as follows: a teacher in a gang school is injured by her thuggish students, and so her boyfriend, a paper-trained mercenary, takes over as the substitute, and teaches that gang a lesson they won’t soon forget! Or maybe that they will soon forget, but only because they’re dead! Ha ha!
Tom Berenger, perhaps best known from his roles in Someone To Watch Over Me and Last Rites, plays the merc-friend, while Diane Venora from Wolfen and Heat, is his injured ladylove! Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters plays the no-nonsense principal of the school, who karate-chops cricket bats and pretty clearly has his own thing going on; and Glenn Plummer from Funny Farm is the idealistic young teacher who once used to attend this tough, almost prison-like institution!
And what is going on in the school, you ask, aside from random bursts of violence against the faculty? Mind drugs! Yes, they’re trafficked in by yellowbus thanks to the local Seminole crime ring, and only Berenger and his mercenary crew can issue these dealers the low card they so richly deserve! His crew, it should be noted, contains several familiar faces: Raymond Cruz from Gremlins 2; Richard Brooks from Teen Wolf and Shocker; the great Luis Guzman from Innocent Blood and McBain; and of course there’s the requisite insane member of the crew, here played by William Forsythe from Smokey Bites the Dust and Extreme Prejudice! And Cliff De Young from Protocol plays the sleazy drugs lawyer who suddenly poops his pants! Ha ha!
The funny thing about watching this picture these days, especially so soon after viewing something like John Wick Chapter 2, is how strangely realistic it is, relatively speaking, for an action picture! Ha ha, Berenger’s character certainly is a tough guy, but he wouldn’t last five seconds in the Wick-world, because things like punches, kicks and gunshots actually seem to hurt him! In the first punchfight scene, the fellow Berenger’s battling is much bigger than him, and is waving a stick around, so, as any of us might do in the same situation, Berenger tries to hide behind a tree!
This was weirdly refreshing, even though The Substitute is in the end just the same old dopey action picture told and retold over and again with different heroes and different punks! It’s cathartic in an animal-brained way to see these nasty gangsmen get theirs from someone they’d pegged as just another wimpy teacher, and the picture is not badly done, but it goes on too long and the school-based climax doesn’t make use of the location in the same sadistically inventive way as something like Class of 1984! Although there is a scene in which Berenger hurls an entire gang out the library window, one by one! Ha ha!
It’s a watchable enough picture I suppose, but very middling and forgettable! I appreciated the one small stab at pathos and pro-education social commentary, which manifests in the scene where the gang member is made to write “I’m sorry” one hundred times on the blackboard; but when we glimpse his work it pathetically reads “I’m sorey” over and over! I give The Substitute one and a half suitcase security monitors!

Burl reviews John Wick Chapter 2! (2017)

Burl here, reviewing contemporary action! Yes, I recently watched John Wick Chapter 2, and, yes, Keanu Reeves from Speed is still playing the titular character, all shaggy and bearded and sad about his departed wife! Like its predecessor, it’s a slick and shiny action picture with gunfights that go one well past the point of absurdity, with so many henchmen falling to Wick’s gun-fu that you start to see the same guys popping out from behind doorways to be shot!
I’ll back up and explain the plot, insofar as there is one! John Wick is an unstoppable super-assassin living in a world apparently so populated with assassins that they have their own world-spanning secret culture, currency, ethics, accommodations and even their own style of subtitles! Ha ha! In the first picture, Wick, whose abiding desire is to “get out” of this crazy assassin’s life, is dragged back into it by the murder of his dog and theft of his beloved Mustang auto; in response he takes on the whole Russian mafia! As part two begins he’s bent on retrieving his auto, which he does, but immediately wrecks! After that the real plot begins: again he is dragged back in to the super-assassin lifestyle when he’s forced to fulfill a pledge! His house is exploded this time, and he is forced to do a killing, and wave upon wave of henchmen come running haplessly at him, and they fall before his pistols like wheat to the thresher!
The picture does its best to create this assassin world, presenting it as a completely separate and parallel society to our own, like the wizard-world in the Harry Potter stories! That’s fine and all, and it is compelling, but also very silly, ha ha! The filmmakers work very hard to create an atmosphere of decadent elegance, but it sometimes seems a little forced, like a movie version of the kind of gold-plate gaudiness you might find in Trump Tower or some equally horrible place, ha ha!
But they populate the world with plenty of worthwhile talent, there’s no denying that! Ian McShane from Too Scared to Scream plays the manager of the New York branch of the all-assassin motel, while Franco Nero from The Visitor and Django Unchained is his Roman counterpart! Laurence Fishburne from Fast Break, Death Wish II and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is the king of the hobo assassins, John Leguizamo from Die Hard 2 and Collateral Damage is Wick’s long-suffering mechanic, and Peter Stormare from Fargo has a cameo at the beginning, in which he sits behind a desk and attempts a Russian accent!
There are many figures in direct, as opposed to oblique opposition to Wick! An Italian fellow proves the main antagonist, but there is also Common, a rapmaster playing an aggrieved bodyguard, and Ruby Rose from The Meg, leading a small army of hipster barbers into the world’s most on-the-nose art installation for the Lady From Shanghai-inspired climax! And of course aside from the main baddies, there are seemingly hundreds of anonymous henchmen, who seem never to have been in a gunfight before judging by how they blunder into Wick’s path without a thought that he might be waiting around the corner ready to blast them with artillery of his own!
None of it is very realistic, and it’s all very stylish and impressive and silly and repetitive at the same time! Somehow, though it’s action-packed, it’s rarely very exciting, and the characters and the world in which they travel are as overwhelmingly fantastical as the planet Mongo in Flash Gordon! There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but here the cleverness of the world-building, while undeniably present, is as synthetic as everything else! I won’t say I didn’t enjoy parts of the picture, but it never came together for me in the way it’s clearly supposed to! So I give John Wick Chapter 2 just two piles of garbage for hiding in!

Thursday 20 February 2020

Burl reviews Finis Hominis! (1971)

HA HA HA, it’s Burl! Sorry for the booming laugh: it’s intended as a tribute to the king of booming laughter, the recently-deceased José Mojica Marins! Marins of course was the Brazilian wünderkind behind the stovetop-behatted proto-Freddy character Coffin Joe, whose long nails, big beard, and yes, booming laughter, graced a series of patched-together horror movies in the 1960s and 70s! I hope you’ve seen at least a few of them - they’re really something! Ha ha, especially Awakening of the Beast! That one’s a doozy!
But we’re not talking Coffin Joe today! In fact we’re discussing his complete opposite, a figure Marins created when he got tired of trying to affright people with his roaring, murdering, remorselessly anticlerical Joe! Yes, we’re talking about Finis Hominis, who was the main character of only one Marins film, an utterly unique oddity appropriately entitled Finis Hominis!
The picture begins with beefy Finis rising from the sea as though he were some primal creature of prehistory! He’s completely buck naked, and after frightening an old lady right out of the wheelchair she’d expected to stay in for life, he makes his way to São Paulo and wanders up and down the streets, flapping in the breeze! He scares away kidnappers, startles lovers kissing, and thrills crowds of children! Finally he enters a house where a lady, who seems to have been expecting him, presents him with a glorious outfit, including mood beads, a ceinture flechée and a bright red turban! Ha ha!
From here we are treated to a series of dramatic vignettes, into which Finis inserts himself to solve problems, protect innocents, and expose hypocrisy! Meanwhile he becomes increasingly famous, spoken of on radio and television! Of course he becomes beloved of the hippies, and when he visits their pad they speak of peace and love; but the second he begins to fling coins into the air they grovel for the money like hens in the dirt! Then it’s time to put the gears to the bourgeoisie across town: a millionaire cataleptic’s wife and family, a greedy bunch, plots to kill him! Ha ha, they think they’ve succeeded when, after a sad trip to Rio, he returns home to find her apparently dead! She’s not, but she seems to be, and at her funeral, for reasons far to complicated to go into, her illicit lover must perform an act of bummery on her, right in front of the mourners! Finally Finis arrives and the cataleptic awakens, and there is a panic!
I’m not telling half of what happens in this incredible movie, but it’s all pretty great! Ha ha, there’s a surprise ending, too, involving a Sanitarium for Nervous Disorders, a freeze frame and the superimposed epigram “If it exists, it must have a reason to exist!” Ha ha! And the astonishingly eclectic soundtrack bears mentioning too! We hear moans and groans; a tinkly piano rendition of the theme from Goldfinger; a sad clarinet version of ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head;’ wild funk-trap beats; more moans and groans; and a tune that sounds like The Four Seasons mixed with the ignition sounds of a car that won’t start! And visually the movie is all over the place, with colour and black and white randomly shifting from scene to scene! Ha ha, it’s a real ride!
I’m sad that this singular filmmaker has passed on, and I hope that someone reading this who hasn’t seen the film is encouraged to look it up, or any of Marins’ work! Ha ha, it’s a whole world of new entertainment you’ll never see anywhere else! Finis Hominis in particular stands alone, with the only point of comparison I can think of being something like The Human Mule, or maybe Luis Luis, Folger of Men! Anyway, I give Finis Hominis three actors named BIG - BOY!

Burl reviews The Skeleton Key! (2005)

Ha ha and hoo-doo, it’s Burl, with an eerie tale from the bayou for you! It’s called The Skeleton Key, and it has the distinction of being the very last movie I saw at the very last drive-in movie theatre left in my town before they closed it up for good then bulldozed it to the ground and sowed the ground with salt, probably! If you’re as enamored of movies and the moviegoing experience as I am, you must greatly prize drive-ins; so, good or bad, the last movie you saw at an ozoner (as they were called in Variety-speak) would certainly stick in your mind!
Or so you would assume, ha ha! I could hardly recall a thing about The Skeleton Key, except that it was about the hoo-doo, and it was set largely in a big old house in the swamps! Maybe it was that much of the movie takes place in the dark and the driving rain, a visual design the drive-in projection system was not fully able to illuminate for the car-bound audience! All I could really remember from the picture were some spooky old records playing scratchy ritual noises!
Well, I watched it again recently, and, limited as it is, my memory was accurate! The tale involves a hospice worker played by Kate Hudson who answers an ad to work in a swamp mansion as caregiver to John Hurt, whom we all remember from Only Lovers Left Alive, playing a stroke-ridden and aphasic old duck who looks perpetually terrified! His wife is played by Gena Rowlands, well known from Taking Lives, and there’s a young lawyer lurking about who seems just a little too friendly, and something is weird and suspicious and just plain off about the whole set-up!
The details of what’s going on, once they’re revealed, don’t make complete sense; but in the closing minutes, when the trap is fully sprung, it really has an impact, and you may find yourself thinking about it for some time afterward! The road to that ending is littered with just about every horror movie cliché there is though, and many will find this tiresome! I certainly did: the accumulated impression is one of a horror movie made by people who’ve only just recently watched a few themselves, just to get the feel of it and to collect a few tricks to steal, and who personally don’t much care for the genre! You can see that they’re relying mainly on the ending to carry the whole movie, and for the undiscriminating that approach might just work! But it didn’t work too well for ol’ Burl, ha ha!
So is it a bad picture? Well, it’s a middling-to-bad picture with a decent sting in its tail! There are some compensations along the way: it’s always nice to see Hurt, even if he hardly gets to use his magnificent voice; and Rowlands, though ill-suited to play a Southern belle type, is solid as ever, if a wee bit hammy here and there; and we get a glance at people like Isaach de Bankolé, whom we know from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, lurking in the margins! There’s a flashback which seems goofy when you watch it, but is horrific in retrospect! The photography is nice and there is occasionally an atmosphere of dripping moss and magnolia blossoms that feels exotic to those of us viewing in the northern reaches of the continent!
In the end it’s a mediocre slice of studio horror, and even its last-act trickery will seem familiar to anyone who has also seen the same writer’s Arlington Road! (I myself have not, but I was told the twist by a friend back when it came out, ha ha!) As I say, I mainly remember the picture for having seen it at the drive-in (on a double bill with Wes Craven’s Red Eye!), and even then I didn’t remember it much! I give The Skeleton Key one and a half memorial key fobs!

Sunday 16 February 2020

Burl reviews My Bloody Valentine! (1981)

A belated happy Valentine’s Day to you, from Burl! Ha ha, no, the truth is that I don’t celebrate the holiday much, it being mainly an occasion for selling cards and flowers! But one semi-regular mid-February tradition I hold is watching the Can-horror classic My Bloody Valentine, and this year I honoured that tradition for the first time in a long while!
I’ve always enjoyed this picture, even if it’s not all that good by normal movie standards! It slouches apart from most other slasher movies of the era, however (yes, even Hospital Massacre, the other Valentine's Day slasher, which came out the same year), and that perhaps makes it seem better than it actually is! But illusion is all in the movies, ha ha, and so I contend that not only does it seem better than it is, it is better than it is! Ha ha, make some sense of that one if you can!
My Bloody Valentine is of course the story of a small Nova Scotia coal town, precisely the sort of place Pete and Joey came from in Goin’ Down the Road, and most of our characters are young adults who work in the mines, or their girlfriends! It seems the town, being called Valentine Bluffs, is obsessed with Valentine’s Day, but have had to curtail their V-Day activities these past twenty years because of a mining accident, a little cannibalism and a homicidal rampage by the notorious Harry Warden! But by now enough time has passed, figures the town, and it’s time to rekindle traditions and hold the big heart-shaped dance again!
Well, somebody, maybe Harry Warden himself, doesn’t like this idea much, and the pick-axe pokings begin anew! Meanwhile, there’s some good old-fashioned Maritime drama, principally in the form of a love triangle between Axel, Sarah, and the freshly-returned T.J.! Like Pete and Joey a decade earlier, T.J. had seen the blessed vision: Cape Breton in the rear-view mirror! But after "falling on his ass out there," he'd returned, gone back to work in the mine, and rekindled his love for Sarah! This leads to shout-downs and punch-ups and the drinking of Moosehead beer in quantity, and choruses of heavy if synthetic Nova Scotia accents!
Outside of the central romantic isosceles, there is a gallery of familiar Canadian faces in the cast! Keith Knight, Fink from Meatballs, plays the heaviest-set of the miners; Alf Humphreys from Funeral Home is the goofy jokester; Helene Udy from Incubus suffers the indignity of becoming a shower; Don Francks from Fast Company is the town sheriff, whose pipe droops in dismay when he realizes his town is beset by a maniac; and Jack Van Evera from Black Christmas plays the doom-crying bartender, inaptly named Happy! Ha ha!
With its ever-present Moosehead beer, windswept cliffside drama scenes, drab sets and bar fights, My Bloody Valentine sporadically recalls the classic Canadian Loser pictures of the 1970s, and one looks in vain for Gordon Pinsent or Donnelly Rhodes passing by in the background! And mixed in with this, like peanut butter with chocolate, are some of the finest pokings ever filmed in the 80s slasher boom! There are Special Makeup Effects out the wazoo (if you watch the uncut version, that is), and the poetry-writing killer, though not deformed (ha ha, until the end) is a particularly sadistic character in the tradition of the bozo in The Deadly Intruder!
Its shortcomings (paint-by-numbers script, occasionally dodgy staging, inconsistent performances) are so obvious as to not be worth mentioning or worrying about; its virtues, specifically that beautifully incongruous swirl of dishwater drama and high impact slaughter, are more singular and therefore more important! I give My Bloody Valentine three bottles of Moosehead beer!

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Burl reviews Ferris Bueller's Day Off! (1986)

Ha ha and houndcakes, it’s Burl here to review the famous teenage shenani-comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! It’s a movie beloved by many and reviled by nearly as many, and its central character is a figure of controversy even today! Is he a charming rogue kicking against the pricks, or an entitled, kick-worthy prick? Is he an attention-seeking rich boy? A clever dweeb with a romantic soul? A sprightly free spirit? A natural-born leader of men? A whiny, spoiled bully-brat? Is he all of the above and therefore surprisingly realistic in his complexities, or a cartoon cardboard cutout cliché the likes of which has never actually walked the earth?
Matthew Broderick, the open-faced actor we may remember from Godzilla, plays this multifarious figure, this Puck for the 1980s, this insidious, ism-allergic exemplar of Reagan-era privilege! He decides to take a day off from school one fine morning, and neatly fools his gullible parents with well-rehearsed sickboy routines! His sister, a psychotically resentful lunatic three times filled and running over with hate and spite and poison, is irritated at this! So is the “Dean of Students,” (whatever that is; we never had one at my school!), played by Jeffrey Jones, whom we know from The Hunt for Red October and also from mug shots!
Ha ha! John Hughes, whose directorial touches graced Weird Science and Uncle Buck, put this thing together, and by garr, I say he did a good job! He certainly hired the right people: Tak Fujimoto’s photography is top-notch, and Paul Hirsch edits the picture in exactly the way it needed to be edited! Whether the characters rub you the wrong or the right way, we must admit the performances are good across the board, with Alan Ruck in particular nailing the anxious, psychosomatically sickly sidekick role! Plus there’s a whole gallery of welcome faces in the supporting cast, like Richard Edson from Stranger Than Paradise, Kristy Swanson from Deadly Friend, Del Close from The Blob, Larry ‘Flash’ Jenkins from Armed and Dangerous, Max Perlich from Cliffhanger, and Cindy Pickett from DeepStar Six! And of course Charlie Sheen from No Man's Land shows up in a scene-stealing police station cameo!
But what’s old Burl’s opinion of the picture, you may well ask? Ha ha, well, my relationship with it is slightly complicated: I can’t watch the movie without kind of hating Ferris and his life of privilege and his whining about getting a computer instead of a car for his birthday! Wah wah wah! Ideologically, I’m predisposed to hate the picture! At the same time, by dint of timing and circumstance, I can’t help but love it a lot too! Not only was I was about the right age for it, but when it came out I had just returned from a very eventful school trip to Chicago, where we had gone to museums and a ball game, and ascended the Sears Tower, and had essentially enjoyed the city in the same way Ferris and his friends do on their day off; and there were romances and shenanigans and the evading of teachers and a general building of character along the way! Inviolable synaptic connections were thus formed at the outset, so on some primal level the simple fact is that I will never be able to quit Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!
So there it is, and I hope you’ll all take this review in the proper spirit and with the appropriate grains of salt! Ha ha! And I’ll end this review by asking an open question of my American readers: are all American high schools as strict as this, with their truant-hunting deans and so forth? Between this picture and The Breakfast Club, John Hughes gives the impression that high schools, at least in the greater Chicago area, were something of a penitentiary experience for the students! Canadian schools were a lot more laid back, ha ha! Anyway, for technical skills and undeniable charm and a hold that just won’t let go, I’m going to give Ferris Bueller’s Day Off three nice stretch jobs with a TV and a bar! Ha ha, how about that?

Saturday 8 February 2020

Burl reviews Two Weeks in Another Town! (1962)

Hello friends, it’s Burl here, saying goodbye to one of the old guard! Yes, Kirk Douglas has left us at the age of 103, so it seemed the time was ripe for me to watch a Kirk picture I’d never seen before! The one I settled on, because it was sitting on a shelf in my basement, was Two Weeks in Another Town!
Of course we know Kirk well from Eddie Macon’s Run, and here he plays Jack Andrus, a once-famous actor recuperating quietly in a Home For The Extremely Nervous! One day a cable arrives from Rome: ha ha, it’s his old director, Maurice Kruger, played by Edward G. Robinson from such great pictures as Double Indemnity and Key Largo! He’s offering Jack a job in his latest picture, and not just a job, but a last chance for some kind of career redemption!
But when Jack arrives in Rome, he finds it’s Last Chance City and the very air is permeated with desperation! Kruger himself is an old philanderer whose wife hates him, and this picture, his first in several years, represents a comeback opportunity and a last chance, as European movies so often did for Hollywood types in those days! The picture’s star, George Hamilton from The Long Ride Home, is young and handsome but insanely mercurial, and if he mucks this one up he’s likely to be a has-been! Ha ha!
Jack finds the job is not to act in the picture but to supervise the dubbing, and he’s not pleased! Nor is he happy to find his old flame Carlotta still on the prowl for him; and meanwhile his relationship with Kruger waxes and wanes, while Kruger himself, under tremendous pressure to finish the movie on time and under budget, seems to be losing it, dissolving into tears late at night in his hotel room! Jack is buoyed by a burgeoning romance with a lovely Roman girl and the discovery that he’s a natural film director! But this discovery leads to a bitter break with Kruger, a drunken spree, and one of the most out-of-control scenes of crazy-driving ever committed to film!
That there is an object of obsession called Carlotta and a lot of driving around (with process shots that make you feel you’re playing the old proto video game F-1), the picture feels at times a cousin to Vertigo! But, ha ha, never for long: it mostly seems as if director Vincente Minnelli was asked to show us what it would be like if Douglas Sirk had popped some amphetamines and directed Day For Night! And of course it has a relationship to The Bad and the Beautiful, the Hollywood melodrama Minnelli made a decade earlier with Kirk playing a hard-hearted producer, and which the characters here screen at one point, reliving their past triumphs!
It’s a pretty over-the-top movie, with Kirk’s performance oscillating between brooding slow-burn and that particular hammy overplaying he excelled at in pictures like Ace in the Hole! On balance I thought he did a terrific job conveying the live-wire desperation of his character, ha ha! It’s a melodrama’s melodrama, about melodramatic characters making a melodrama, and it’s melodramatic even for that! Plus it’s a nice look at the state of the industry circa 1962! I give Two Weeks in Another Town three kicks in the bum!

Friday 7 February 2020

Burl reviews The Man With Two Brains! (1983)

Ha ha and Hfuhruhurr! Yes, Burl is here to review a comedic picture of days gone by, the Steve Martin thunderstroke The Man With Two Brains! Ha ha, I fondly recall going to see it in the theatre when I was a lad, thinking it was hilarious, and marveling at what seemed to me then a copious number of nude ladyparts! Today it seems a lot tamer, but I can tell you, back in 1983 my friends and I felt like some real gone cats, true sophisticates taking in a real adult comedy! Ha ha!
Now, this was the third of four pictures Martin made with Carl Reiner! I was fond of The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid also, and enjoyed All of Me when I finally caught up with it on home video! Ha ha, those guys had a pretty good batting average, but they probably went their separate ways at about the right time, so Martin could make lollygogs like The Lonely Guy and ¡Three Amigos!, and Reiner could go off and make Summer Rental and Summer School!
The Man With Two Brains has the wild and crazy actor playing Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, a brilliant brain surgeon, sadly widowered! He spends all of his time either doing screw-top brain operations and correcting the pronunciation of his surname - he does so with especial energy when an excited journalist calls him “Dr. Furrea!” - until the day he knocks his car into a venal gold digger played by Kathleen Turner, well known for her role in Crimes of Passion!
He marries her, but finds, ha ha, trouble in the bedroom! A European honeymoon puts Hfuhruhurr in touch with a mad condo scientist played by David Warner from Nightwing, who has a collection of brains and a special machine to implant their thoughts into another body! Of course our doctor falls in love with a ladybrain, and because his corporeal wife is so horrible, and taking money in return for bumsqueezins on the side, he decides he must enact a change!
Ha ha, can you believe this movie was photographed by Michael Chapman, the same fellow who shot Taxi Driver and Raging Bull? It’s lit like a TV show! That curiosity aside, I still find much of the picture amusing, even if I sometimes wish there was more pep in the filmmaking! There are good gags, which I won’t ruin for you here, and it’s not afraid to get a little weird! Plus Jeffrey Combs shows up as a brain doctor again, in practice for Re-Animator I guess! Ha ha! Roger Ebert famously decried the use of funny names as a source of comedy, but it sort of works here, because the long hard-to-spell names help form a connection between the movie’s lovers! (The voice of the ladybrain, as everyone knows, is Sissy Spacek!)
I’ll never enjoy the picture as much as I did in the theatre when I was 12, but it still has the power of laffs, if you let it weave its tendrils into your brain! The astonishing little girl who repeats back Hfuhruhurr’s complicated medical instructions is worth the price of admission on her own, ha ha! I give The Man With Two Brains two and a half Catalina Magdalena Lupensteiner Wallabeiner songs!

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master! (1988)

Weaving through your dreams like a wisp of blackened smoke, it’s Burl, here to review the first of the worst of the Freddy Krueger pictures! It was one of the Late Summer Horrors I religiously attended in my teens, but had the misfortune of being released around the same time as The Blob, a far better movie! I’m talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master! Ha ha!
Yes, this is where the series turned stank! A Nightmare on Elm Street was of course a very solid genre picture with a villain no one had seen before! A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was not a very good movie, but with its exploding parakeet, gay subtext and S & M angle, it was at least trying something unusual! A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was more conventional but still weird and compelling, and was among the peak achievements in the 1980s makeup effects parade!
By the fourth one, the special effects had taken over, and Freddy Krueger himself had turned into a sort of Ronald McDonald of the subconscious! The young characters are there simply to dream and die, and while there’s some imagination shown in the oneiric sequences, more often they’re either recycled from past entries (the waterbed scene is too dedicated a callback to the Johnny Depp demise in the first movie) or, like the knife-glove shark fin, just too darn silly! And won’t Freddy ever shut up with his gags and puns?
No, he will not! And here’s what’s a little bizarre about the script, which is such a very bad script: it was put together by people like William Kotzwinkle, a novelist of whose work I’m fond - he wrote The Fan Man, Doctor Rat and Jack in the Box! Another writer on the project was Brian Helgeland, who later wrote the L.A. Confidential screenplay! And of course those Wheat brothers put a hand in, just as they did with The Fly II! And all this to create a screenplay of paper cutout people being sliced by a fedora-wearing dreamaniac!
The direction by Renny Harlin, who later brought us Cliffhanger, does the material no favours! Ha ha, it’s inexplicable to me that this somehow led directly to the big-budget shenanigans of Die Hard 2! Or maybe it led directly to The Adventures of Ford Fairlane; who knows? That it led to anything other than a career in direct-to-video horror sequels is extraordinary! There’s nothing frightening in the movie at all, nothing memorable (save maybe the bug arms), nothing transgressive or startling! And there’s nothing to distinguish it from A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, except that the fifth one might be even worse! (I haven’t seen The Dream Child since 1989 or whenever it was released, and after rewatching The Dream Master am in no great hurry to reacquaint myself with it!)
Ha ha, it’s not like me to be so negative about a picture, but this one rubbed me the wrong way somehow! I hate to see things squandered, I guess, and Wes Craven’s original conception is potentially a marvelous mine of horror gemstones! Renny Harlin and his motley band of scriptwriters leave those gems in the ground, and so I find myself in the unhappy position of giving A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master only one half of a tumbling tricycle!

Monday 3 February 2020

Burl reviews Island of Terror! (1966)

Ha ha, it’s Burl, back again to keep a weather eye out for silicates! Yes, the picture I’m reviewing for you today, Island of Terror, features many silicates: sliding around the island, slipping off cars and dropping from trees! They’re one of the finest examples of a monster that’s hopelessly silly (ha ha, “silly” is even in the name) and yet kind of scary at the same time!
But just what is a silicate? Well, first I’ll tell you what Island of Terror is, or more specifically, what it is not: Doomwatch! Ha ha, and of course Doomwatch is another British horror picture set on a remote island (The Deadly Bees, The Wicker Man and Tower of Evil all fall into this category as well), and for some reason I got it into my head that Doomwatch was the one with the silicates! But nope!
Now we’ve got that all cleared up, I’l tell you what a silicate is! A dedicated island scientist creates them in his lab, and he and his assistants become their first victims! They bust out and roam the countryside, ugly lumps with tentacles on them, searching for people to suck the bones out of! And after a delightful meal of bones, they split in half and spaghetti comes out of them!
Well, after a couple of local softbodies turn up, the island GP flies off to round up a mainland expert! It’s Peter Cushing, thankfully, the actor we loved so well in The Gorgon; and he in turn invites along yet another expert, one of these playboy scientists! The scientist’s ladyfriend tags along, later to her regret, and once on the island circumstances conspire to keep them there, trapped with the increasingly panicky townsfolk and the increasingly numerous silicates, and fearing for their bones!
In a bloody scene, Cushing loses a hand to one of the bonesuckers, but he’s soon bandaged up and out of danger! “One more transfusion and I’ll be a full-blooded Irishman,” Cushing says! Ha ha! Soon comes a climax that involves enough cow-poking for three movies, and though many lose their bones, the silicates are vanquished using science and lot of mooing!
It was directed by Terence Fisher, a director capable of working at a high caliber, and I must admit it’s not his best work! He allows a few scenes to proceed with maddening slowness, as when the scientists don their protective suits (which they don’t do before entering a thick armored door marked DANGER! RADIOACTIVE! in big red letters)! Somehow Fisher’s heart doesn’t seem to have been in this one! However, if you decide to give yourself over to the picture and not laugh at the silicates, there are several tense scenes! There are also a number of lamely-staged attacks, so it kind of balances out! Cushing improves things mightily, as he always did! I guess I’ll give Island of Terror two protective suits!