Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 26 March 2020

Burl reviews The Firemen's Ball! (1967)

In the light of the dancing flame, it’s Burl, here to review a fine example of Czech cinema for you! Yes, I’m talking about Milos Forman’s exquisite amusement The Firemen’s Ball, which he made after rusticating in a small town and attending, yes, their fireman’s ball! He and his co-writers were inspired to put what they saw first on paper and then on film, and, ha ha, I for one am glad they did!
The picture opens with a little pre-ball vignette that displays, in microcosm, the disasters that are shortly to come! The rest of the story takes place at the ball itself (ha ha, the picture is aptly titled!) and displays the many blockheaded misadventures of the fire brigade, which is made up of variously dim, stubborn, misguided or foolish men! And what a gallery of eastern European faces is on display here! Ha ha!
The purpose of the ball is to honour an ancient and retiring member of the volunteer brigade, and to present him with a token, an ornamental axe! There’s a raffle, but the prizes, exotic foodstuffs heaped on the table at the beginning of the evening, begin to disappear - ha ha, no surprise in the environment of privation that is 1960s Czechoslovakia! Everyone in the cast - all of them non-actors - is a suspect, and in fact all of them might be guilty, but nobody would blame anybody for the pilfering either!
The film’s centerpiece is a beauty contest, or at least an attempted one; and a true catalogue of bumbling, mismanagement and dirty-old-man ogling it is! The young ladies shanghaied into participating in the goofstravaganza are a truly fascinating lot: some are pretty, some not, but all of them are compelling in their own way! And they’re a lot smarter than the old boys of the fire brigade!
By the end of the picture there’s a fire, and it turns out, to no one's surprise, these fellows are no better at dousing conflagrations than they are at holding balls! The very end of the picture I won’t detail for you, but it hits the precise note of humour, melancholy and cutting satire that it needs to! It’s one of those movies that seems to ramble while it’s on, and then in the very last shot everything is tied together tightly and beautifully! Ha ha, I love those kind of movies!
The tone of the picture is that of a more allegorical, more politicized Bill Forsyth film! As it turns out, that’s a pretty good combination! And it’s all still relevant today, ha ha! As a chronicle of the incompetence, ignorance and venality of authority that ends in shameless pilfering and avoidable tragedy, it all seems very applicable to the current goings-on down in Yankee Doodle land! Ha ha, but the movie is at the same time very funny, and I recommend it with a hearty ha ha! I give The Firemen’s Ball three and a half head cheeses!

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Burl reviews Executive Decision! (1996)

Ha ha, Burl here with a simple question for you: what would you get if you combined Die Hard with the 1970 Ross Hunter production Airport? One assumes you’d simply get Die Hard 2, or maybe something like Air Force One! But I’ll tell you what: I think you might get a picture very like Executive Decision!
“Ha ha, Executive what?” you might ask! And your question would not be a foolish one! This picture is a real product of the 1990s, but now it seems largely forgotten, though it was as slick and big-budget an action-drama as they came in those days! It was directed by Stuart Baird, a film editor with plenty of action-movie cutting experience, who managed to infuse all the pictures he directed - well, the ones I’ve seen anyway, which include this one, a semi-sequel to The Fugitive called U.S. Marshals, and the last of the Picard Star Trek features, Star Trek Nemesis - with a strange, subliminal, post-viewing suggestion that the audience immediately forget anything about the movie they’ve just seen! This Peter Reveen of the cinema made his directing debut with Executive Decision - and, ha ha, it’s okay to admit if you’ve forgotten the title since the last time I typed it!
There’s something kind of machine-tooled and generic about the movie, and I’ve always thought the utterly banal title of the picture suited it nicely! There’s a fine, high-concept premise: a gang of terrorists, led by David Suchet in brownface, takes over a 747 with the goal of delivering a deadly payload of nerve toxin, and an elite force of covert operatives slip onto the plane in mid-flight in order to foil the plan! Ha ha, this involves sneak-flying underneath the airliner and crawling through a shaky tube up to the belly and through some kind of service hatch!
Kurt Russell from The Thing plays the unwilling hero, a strategic analyst unused to the action shenanigans of the field! Once aboard he gets in touch with Halle Berry, playing a spunky stewardess in the tradition of Karen Black in Airport 1975! Meanwhile the bomb is ticking down and the U.S. officials are getting antsy, ready to send fighter planes to shoot the plane down the moment it crosses into their airspace! As befits a picture made by an editor, it does a reasonably good job of juggling two or three separate but parallel suspense sequences all happening at once!
It’s got a lot of the 1990s in it, this picture, and that’s largely thanks to the supporting cast! John Leguizamo from the even blander Collateral Damage is one of the commandos; J.T. Walsh from Misery is a grandstanding senator; Oliver Platt is the fellow who came up with the tube idea; B.D. Wong is yet another commando; and Joe Morton, an actor I’ve admired ever since I saw him in The Brother From Another Planet, and who became an unlikely action figure in movies like Terminator 2, Speed, and this, plays the bomb defusing expert who gets badly shaken about during the tube transfer and spends the rest of the picture gaff-taped to a stretcher! Ha ha, even Marla Maples is in it! And, of course, in the most 90s touch of all, we get Steven Segal, who was formerly Hard to Kill, but proves not to be so here! Ha ha!
Yes, you heard that right: they got Steven Seagal, then at the tail end of his mid-budget action stardom, to play the boss commando of the movie, then they tossed him out of a plane at 35,000 feet! Ha ha, you’re pretty grateful to see him go, since his character is pretty much just a jerkier version of any of his other characters! He flies out of the tube in a noble act of self-sacrifice, but I sure wish they’d gone with the original plan and had his head explode in a thrilling rush of depressurization! (Seagal himself put the kibosh on that, claiming that his fans wouldn’t have liked to see him go that way, but I think they would have loved it!)
Anyway, it’s not a good picture, though of course it presaged 9/11 in many respects; but it’s a modestly entertaining one, with a few thrills here and there, all the lavish slickness a studio can offer! (Alex Thomson shot the picture, mostly, but in keeping with the whole, the cinematography is merely competent, without that dark and velvety style he gave movies like The Keep, Alien 3 and even, at points, Cliffhanger!) It is instantly forgettable though, and I had to force myself to recall enough to even write this review! Ha ha! I give Executive Decision one and a half chewed straws!

Monday 23 March 2020

Burl reviews The Train! (1964)

Ha ha and rolling stock, it’s Burl, here to review a fantastic movie about a train - and guess what, it’s called The Train! That’s right, it’s the wartime action drama from John Frankenheimer, who also brought us such winners as Prophecy and The Manchurian Candidate! The picture is laid in France as the Liberation approaches, and the Nazis, at the behest of a German colonel called Von Waldheim, played by the terrific performer Paul Scofield, are collecting great artworks from the Paris museums and shipping them to Berlin by puff-puff!
Burt Lancaster, whom we know so well from The Osterman Weekend and Local Hero, plays Labiche, a railway yardmaster who’s also part of the Resistance! When he’s asked to use his rail-based sabotage network to stop the art train, he initially scoffs! Ha ha, he says, a bunch of paintings aren’t worth the lives of several fellows! But others in his group feel more strongly about it, and when they start acting to slow or stop the train, Labiche has no choice but to join in and do his best to foil the Nazis! Quickly he becomes the number-one enemy to the increasingly art-obsessed Von Waldheim!
Ha ha, I became a big fan of this picture the moment I first saw it, which was actually at an art gallery as part of some kind of film series they were doing! The movie clearly respects, even cherishes, the crucial role of art in human society, but as more and more partisans are killed in the effort to save the Picassos, Cézannes, Braques, Renoirs, Mìros etc. etc. from the Nazis, the tough questions are asked: how many lives are a trainload of paintings worth? Ha ha, or, is that even a fair equation?
Of course the picture has a fantastic French cast: Jeanne Moreau is in there as a wan war widow; Suzanne Flon and Albert Rémy both make appearances, and the great Michel Simon plays the dyspeptic Papa Boule! And there are Germans too of course, most notably Wolfgang Preiss, who was always playing German officers in pictures like Von Ryan’s Express (another wartime train picture, ha ha!), and who plays another one here! He does a particularly good job of it, and is a good foil for Scofield, particularly near the end!
But the puff-puff itself might be the real star! Well, ha ha, I’d give it and Lancaster equal billing I suppose, because both turn in the most extraordinarily physical performances! Lancaster is forever sliding down ladders, leaping on and falling off moving trains, rolling down hills and leaping over gullies, often while in real life suffering from a leg injured when he stepped into a gopher hole while golfing on his day off! Meanwhile the train steams grimly ahead, slipping off sabotaged rails or charging ahead like black lighting, a scream of warning issuing from its whistle!
There’s a great train collision that has to be seen to be believed, and this was accomplished not with models or other trickery, but by simply smashing one real train into another, at speed! Ha ha, my hat is tipped to Frankenheimer, his great camera crew, and all the stunt and trick effects folk who worked so hard to make this spectacle! And we should pour one out to all the cameras that obviously got mangled while capturing, in their last moments, these titanic clashes of steam, wood and metal! Ha ha, this is a fine war picture, and I give The Train three and a half one-franc pieces!

Friday 20 March 2020

Burl reviews High Test Girls! (1980)

Ha ha and hi-test, it’s Burl, here with a review of a picture that’s not pornoo, but darn near! In fact, as with The Sensuous Caterer, some choppy and abrupt editing leads me to believe the original version probably did dally in the realm of hardcore pornoo, but, ha ha, I’m just fine with the R rated version thank you very much! The picture in question is the work of the prolific German erotechnician Erwin C. Dietrich, and, among other assorted monikers, (Six Swedes At A Pump, Swedish Gas Pump Girls) it’s called High Test Girls!
Brigitte Lahaie, from Night of the Hunted and other Jean Rollin pictures, plays one of a sextet (ha ha!) of Swedish girls who operate a gas station and restaurant called GROTTO in some small Bavarian mountain town! Well, it’s of course a station that offers FULL SERVICE, and this has the burgomeister of the town in a real tizzy! It’s a moral outrage, or so he claims!
Ha ha, the English dubbing voice this burgomeister has been given is a real hum-dinger, and I’m pretty sure I may have heard it before in either Melody in Love or Summer Night Fever! At any rate, the movie is crowded with scenes of the burgomeister arriving for a council meeting and grumping that one member is late; then the council member shows up and makes excuses! Ha ha, but what the burgomaster doesn’t know is that each time a member is late to the five-person council, it’s because he’s been playing a game of bedroom quoits with the burgomeister’s wife!
In between these scenes we get some of the various erotic vignettes that occur at GROTTO, including one bizarre and fastastical scene involving a bearded fellow on television who is able to effect physical manipulation of a lady over the airwaves, providing she gets close enough to her TV! Ha ha, talk about your high definition! And of course every time a gentleman pulls up at the gas bar, one of the Swedes jumps to the pump with an offer of FULL SERVICE! That one never gets old!
As you might have discerned, this is a pretty plotless movie! So far as it has a narrative, it involves the town council’s very slow move toward shutting down the Swedish girls’ service station, or at least investigating it more closely! At the same time, however, all the council and many of the townsmen are members of the local oompah band, which needs a place to practice for the upcoming town fete! They settle on using GROTTO as their practice location, and in an climax scored to endless oompah music, the members of the oompah band head upstairs one by one to visit one or another of the Swedes! Ha ha, and by the end everyone is friends, even the burgomaster, and the Swedes are free to continue delivering FULL SERVICE to the gentlemen of the town!
Ha ha, movies don’t get much clunkier than this! There’s hardly anything you’d call a movie here at all, in fact: just a series of scenes! And yet there’s amusement to be had, in the weird dubbing, in the bizarre concepts, in the scenery! So it’s not a total loss! But I do have to say, as many times as the Swedes remove their clothing, the picture is never very sexy! It’s odd, but rarely erotic! Oh well! If you like oompah music, you’ll consider this eighty minutes well spent, ha ha! As for me, I give High Test Girls one Citroën!

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Burl reviews Tomorrow Never Dies! (1997)

Hi there, it’s Burl, shaken but not stirred! Yes, I thought I might give you a little review of yet another James Bond picture, this one featuring not Sean Connery from You Only Live Twice; not Roger Moore from Moonraker; not Timothy Dalton from The Living Daylights nor Daniel Craig from Spectre, but Pierce Brosnan, an actor we know from Dante’s Peak and The World’s End! Ha ha, the picture, his second appearance in the role, is Tomorrow Never Dies!
The plot is pretty boilerplate Bond! We’ve got a Rupert Murdoch-type media mogul played by Jonathan Pryce from Brazil, who’s got the following: a gizmo which fools ships into misapprehending their location; a stealth ship that can’t be detected by radar, sonar or other means; a big extendable drill that can bore through ship hulls and cause crazy chaos; and a number of henchmen and subcontractors, played by the likes of Ricky Jay from Boogie Nights, Götz Otto from Iron Sky, and Vincent Schiavelli from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! Pryce’s plan is to use his toys to foment war between Great Britain and China, and then be on the front lines with his reportage! Ha ha!
Bond comes on the scene fairly quickly, rekindling a romance with Teri Hatcher from Tango & Cash and then teaming up with a fast-action lady played by Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! Ha ha, Yeoh is a terrific partner to Bond in this one, and it would have been nice to have her be a repeating character! Strangely, as happened in the first Brosnan Bond, GoldenEye, an American CIA agent shows up to help out, but for some reason it isn’t Felix Leiter! No, it’s a crude-talkin’ Texan played by Joe Don Baker from Fletch! Why didn’t they still have Baker play him, but simply make him Leiter instead of “Wade?” Ha ha, who knows; and to make things even more complicated, Baker played a bad guy in The Living Daylights!
The action moves along at a fair clip - at 119 minutes, for a modern Bond picture it’s really quite slim! There are a couple of fun scenes, like the one in the parking garage with the remote control car which Bond drives from the back seat, or the motorcycle-helicopter chase, and all of this is reasonably well-handled by Roger Spottiswoode, who also brought us Terror Train, ha ha; but Pryce’s character is a weak villain (ha ha, that’s why he gets so many henchpeople, I guess!) and there are a few hints of the poor writing and extreme silliness which would infect the second and last two Brosnan efforts, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day!
Mostly it seems like a construction on which to hang a few quips and some observations about the media-driven, post-O.J. world we lived in back in 1997! (Ha ha, in fact, these days it feels slightly prescient!) Really, the best thing about it is that, Citizen Kane callbacks aside, it doesn’t try too hard to be anything but a simple-minded Bond picture! I give Tomorrow Never Dies two bossyboots car voices!

Monday 16 March 2020

Burl reviews It Happens Every Spring! (1949)

Batter up, it’s Burl, with a picture about baseball! Ha ha, yes, in these pestilential times perhaps a lighthearted tale of the horsehide is just the picker-upper we all need! I know it did the trick for me! Ha ha, the picture I’m talking about, the movie that upped my spirits and might do the same for yours, is a little puffballer called It Happens Every Spring!
I happen to love movies from the 30s, 40s and 50s set on college campuses! (Okay, I’ll add the 20s too, so College and The Freshman get in there!) The first act of this picture really hits that sweet spot, as we are introduced to a bookish, baseball-loving chemistry professor called Vernon, who might have been written for Gary Cooper but Coop had other things to do, so Ray Milland from Premature Burial played the part instead! Vernon’s pretty ladyfriend Miss Greanleaf, very cheerily played by Jean Peters from Niagara, wishes him to express some commitment, but the poorly-paid Vernon wants to make some marryin’ money first! When an errant baseball obliterates Vernon’s prize experiment, along with, he believes, his career and his love life, Vernon is despondent, before noticing the curious behavior of a nearby baseball!
The upshot is this: Vernon has accidentally invented a substance that repels baseballs from wood! Ha ha, I italicize this to emphasize the specificity of the chemical’s properties! Naturally, Vernon’s first instinct is to drop out completely from his previous life and run off to join the St. Louis Cardinals under the nom de bal “King Kelly!” There’s a lot of baseball after this, and plenty of animated baseballs hopping in little loops to avoid the batsmens’ timbers!
The Cards’ dog-faced catcher Monk, played by Paul Douglas, is ordered by the front office to keep a close eye on Vernon because he’s so weird, but just becomes his pal instead! Ha ha, Douglas looks about twenty years older than Milland here (an impression heightened by Monk’s regular use of “kid” to describe or address his new buddy), but was in fact a few months younger! Ha ha, at any rate I suppose it makes sense on those lonely away games for the pitcher to room with the catcher!
It all comes down to baseball, of course, and, with our modern sensibilities encumbered by too many ethics, we expect it to come down to some heartfelt scene in which Vernon realizes it’s wrong to cheat, or he is found out and shamed, or some such thing! But no, it all wraps up in a perfectly happy, non-judgmental ending with a very pleasant mob scene on a train platform!
There’s a pretty classic cast, ha ha! Team owner Edgar Stone is played by Ed Begley from Billion Dollar Brain, and his manager of course is Ted de Corsia! The dean, and father of Vernon’s ladyfriend, is played by Ray Collins from Francis, and from a bunch of other baseball movies, and a bunch of Orson Welles pictures too, ha ha! Jesse Royce Landis, whom we love so well from To Catch A Thief and North By Northwest, is his lady wife! Everybody’s here - even Alan Hale Jr., so well known from The Giant Spider Invasion!
It’s probably got too much baseball for the romantic comedy fans, but maybe they will be more forgiving because Vernon is doing it all for love! But everybody will enjoy the scenes in which other ball players, believing Vernon’s formula to be a hair tonic, comb it into their lush locks, and then find their hair flapping around anytime they bring a wooden hairbrush near it! Ha ha, they end up looking like Moe from the Three Stooges, which is a fairly short trip since most of these mugs look a lot like Moe already! Anyway, these scenes made me laugh out loud! Ha ha!
It’s no classic, but it’s charming and funny at times, and ridiculous at other times, and a little confounding! Does Vernon run out of his solution and find himself at the World Series trying to win without the help of his miracle pitches? Ha ha, that would be telling! I’m going to give It Happens Every Spring three broken hands!

Sunday 15 March 2020

Burl reviews Silent Rage! (1982)

With vocal jocularity, ha ha, it’s Burl, here to give you a taste of Silent Rage! Yes, we’re talking about the Chuck Norris horror movie made by the portly director of Class Reunion! (Chuck apparently did another horror picture later on, called Hellbound, but I’ve never seen it and am not at all certain it really exists! Ha ha!)
This picture begins in a rooming house, where a mentalsman called John Kirby, played by Brian Libby from Dreamscape, sweats and mutters, then grabs an axe and gives a couple of unfortunate folks the chop! But pretty soon Sheriff Chuck Norris arrives on the scene, and there is a scuffle! The end result is the raging, flailing maniac blasted repeatedly by police revolvers! Ha ha, end of story!
But no, not so fast! The dying maniac is transported to some kind of clinic, where a trio of medicos played by Ron Silver from Timecop, Steven Keats from Black Sunday, and William Finlay from The Fury, do some Dr. Frankenstein science on him and render him invulnerable! Ha ha, just what everyone needs, good going fellows! Silver isn’t actually a part of the resuscitation - in fact he considers it unwise, while Keats acts out the monomaniacal mad scientist routine and Finlay just helps!
Pretty soon, of course, the undying maniac is loose, and on the prowl for people to kill! He settles on Silver and his wife, and there’s a good, tense scene at their appealingly bohemian house, with a great final shocker! Ha ha, this scene is perhaps the movie’s finest! Chuck, meanwhile, is having a romance with Silver’s sister and battling a biker gang; and Stephen Furst from The Unseen plays a developmentally delayed deputy whom Norris has deemed trainable! They must all go up against the terrible maniac with his self-healing flesh and superstrength muscles!
Now, as I’ve said, there are some genuinely tense and well-handled suspense scenes here; but for every one of those there are two that are muffed, bungled, or otherwise befumbled! So it’s not a classic picture, but the concept, “kung-fu sheriff vs. undead, indestructible psychopath,” is strong enough to paper over some of the stumbles! There’s an odd quality to the cinematography that I find appealing, and Chuck tries so hard to emulate human behaviour that it becomes endearing!
It’s a curio mainly, ha ha, and for that it gets some extra credit, and you can't deny it has the courage of its loopy convictions! But equally you can’t make the claim that it’s a good picture, so on balance I’m going to give Silent Rage two tragic dog stories!

Monday 9 March 2020

Burl reviews Satan's Blade! (1982)

Ha ha and big bears, it’s Burl, here with another movie to review! No, there are no big bears in this picture, but I believe it was shot in the vicinity of Big Bear, California, several years before its release! Ha ha, the picture is called Satan’s Blade, and it’s usually listed as a movie from 1984, but the copyright date at the end is 1982, so that’s what I went with!
But whenever it was made, Satan’s Blade is a bit of a cronkité! It starts off with a bank robbery which appears to be taking place in somebody’s rumpus room, and leaves two lady tellers gutshot and groaning on the floor! These deaths are typical of the movie’s approach to murder, which generally involves a splash of blood (ha ha, no Special Makeup Effects here!) and the victim writhing around and moaning for about a minute before succumbing! It’s like watching an acting class reel with all the students attempting their own version of a death scene!
Anyway, the big reveal is that the bank robbers were ladies themselves, and then we get a betrayal and another long moaning-and-writhing death, and finally a killing involving the titular blade! After that we move into the meat of the picture: two groups of people, a quartet of galpals here and a pair of couples there, arrive at a snow resort and install themselves in cabins! There’s a lot of chatting, some flirting by the flirtiest of the galpals, much drinking of Jack, incidents of jealousy and a heartwarming scene of near-adultery, and some other doorway dramas; and eventually the local legend of the Very Big Man, who will kill anybody who befouls his territory with their presence, comes to pass, with the devilish knife put to work on the snow resort’s guests! Ha ha, it’s pokings galore!
However, they’re not very good pokings, nor scary ones neither! But what about the Very Big Man, you ask? Ha ha, that sounds interesting! Is it a spirit of Indigenous vengeance, as we saw in The Ghost Dance? Well, sort of! Unlike the similarly real estate-based slashers The Devil Rider or A Bay of Blood, it’s definitely a possession-based situation, but I won’t give away who the possessed one is! I’ll just say it’s one of those slasher movies with a downer ending, like The Dorm That Dripped Blood or something similar! Perhaps the movie this is most similar to is The Slayer, if you removed all of The Slayer’s atmosphere and Special Makeup Effects!
What I’m saying is, Satan’s Blade isn’t a movie I can recommend with one of my trademark laughs of jollity! Ha ha! No, although there was a bit of novelty to the location, and the back story had potential, and the movie follows through on the aura of misanthropy it projects from the opening scenes, and some of the actors performed their characters amusingly (the flirty galpal is my favourite), I’m afraid the utter lack of style and, almost as criminal, the exclusion of any Special Makeup Effects, prevent me from giving Satan’s Blade more than one fast talkin’ radio deputy!

Sunday 8 March 2020

Burl reviews Three O' Clock High! (1987)

Attention students, it’s Burl, here to review a comedy of scholastic drama! Now, this picture, Three O’ Clock High, was among a group of pictures that were all clustered together in my mind! Maybe we could call it “mid-budget style,” but all these movies - Three O’ Clock High, Fandango, Vamp, a few others - have some notable commonalities, including fancy camera angles and tricks, a mildly comedic tone, and young directors who, having made their flashy feature debuts, dropped the film brat showoffery in their subsequent works! This particular movie was the grand premiere of Phil Joanou, who went on to make serious crime drama pictures like State of Grace and Heaven’s Prisoners, both of which I’ve seen, but neither of which I can remember! Ha ha!
But I can remember this one, and fondly! Of course that’s because I was in high school at the time, and very into movies, and susceptible to the sort of sub-Scorsese style with which this picture is lavished! And of course it’s also a story of fighting back against a bully, and you can’t go wrong with a story like that!
Casey Siemaszko, who was always a juvenile delinquent in such pictures as Back to the Future and Stand By Me, or a pal of the lead in things like Secret Admirer and Biloxi Blues, here plays Jerry, a middle-caste high schooler with nerdish tendencies! His thing is being on time, doing his homework and managing the school store! Ha ha, that’s his bag, man! But on this particular day his routine will be upset, for this is the day the legendary badman Buddy Revell, who is said to have twisted off heads in his previous schools, becomes a part of the student body!
Jerry quickly runs afoul of the new boy, and is challenged to an after-school punch-fight! The bulk of the picture is the increasingly panicked Jerry’s attempts to get out of the fight, or calm Buddy down, or hire a football jock to dissuade the bully, or to simply escape! But because this is another one of those weird American high schools with its own security brigade - it reminded me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in that way - Jerry is prevented from simply leaving by a golf cart-driving stormtrooper played by Mitch Pileggi, the electromaniac in Shocker! Ha ha!
Siemaszko does a pretty terrific job in the role of Jerry, I do so assert, and the rest of the young cast is solid too! There’s  great gallery of older faces as well: Jeffrey Tambor from No Small Affair as a passionate teacher; Philip Baker Hall from This House Possessed as an iron-nosed cop; John P. Ryan from The King of Marvin Gardens, The Right Stuff, and Avenging Force as the tough principal; Charles Macaulay from The House of Seven Corpses as the school’s Master of Discipline; Shirley Stoler from Splitz in a friendly appearance as Eva; and once again Large Marge, which is to say Alice Nunn from Holy Wednesday and The Fury, as the school nurse! Plus there’s a beauteous teacher played by Caitlin O’Heaney from Wolfen and He Knows You’re Alone!
It’s a fun little picture with the sort of simple-minded 80s concept - John Hughes riffs on High Noon! - that is just barely strong enough to hang a series of gags and stylistic hoo-haws on without it collapsing into complete nonsense! Ha ha, we learn virtually nothing about the characters, so it’s all surface and nothing else; most of the 80s teenpic cliches are present and accounted for; and one wishes for a stronger ending than the one we get! But it’s enjoyable, and is more fondly remembered than many of the more po-faced teen pictures of its time! I’m going to give Three O’ Clock High two and a half yin-yang neck brooches!

Monday 2 March 2020

Burl reviews The Fury! (1978)

By the power of the mind, it’s Burl, here to review a Brian De Palma picture for you! Now, it’s not one of his best movies, like Blow Out, nor his most popular, like Mission: Impossible, nor his most impersonal, like Wise Guys, nor, certainly, is it among his most characteristic pictures, like Dressed to Kill or Body Double, but it’s a solid piece of Hollywood entertainment! The picture I’m palavering about is, of course, his very Carrie-like follow-up to Carrie, The Fury!
The story is a little bit bifurcated, but I think it’s safe to say our hero is Peter Sandza, a secret agent of an undetermined variety played, with his usual vigour, by the recently late Kirk Douglas, whose work we all loved in Two Weeks in Another Town and Eddie Macon’s Run! Peter has a son, Robin, played by Andrew Stevens from Massacre at Central High and 10 to Midnight, and Robin’s bad luck is that he’s extremely psychic! Next thing you know, Kirk’s colleague and supposed pal Childress, essayed in “picking up a paycheque so I can make my own movies” mode by John Cassavetes from Incubus, kidnaps Robin and tries to kill Peter! Ha ha!
Dateline Chicago, one year later! The other half of the bifurcation is the story of Gillian, pronounced with a hard G and played by Amy Irving from Crossing Delancy! Ha ha, she too is psychic of course, and doesn’t wish to be! But she soon finds herself in a special school run by Charles Durning from Stick and The Hudsucker Proxy, and staffed by, among others, Carrie Snodgress from Homework and Large Marge herself, Alice Nunn! Snodgress is secretly in love with Kirk, and is going to help him find his son, who has lately been living it up in a big house under the tender care and caresses of Fiona Lewis from Strange Invaders and Innerspace! But the tests and treatments administered by Cassavetes are unwinding him psychologically, as we see in a sequence involving an indoor funfair, two Arab princes, and an out-of-control carousel ride!
Kirk’s search for Robin mainly takes the form of an adventure-comedy picture, though horror and tragedy rear their heads throughout! Kirk’s stint with the Nuckells family is one of the comic passages, and a chase scene involving poor Dennis Franz (whom we know so well from Die Hard 2) worrying about his newly purchased car is another! But the story ends in terrible tragedy, though I won’t detail it for you! But there is a coda, probably the moment for which this picture is best known, which involves Cassavetes and Irving, a pair of blue eyes, the trick effects artistry of a young Rick Baker, and several pounds of explosives! Ha ha, it’s pretty spectacular, and it looks like they had about seven cameras rolling on it at once!
On the downside, the story is a little confused and not completely satisfying; but this is De Palma, ha ha, so whaddaya want! Worse is the sketchy character development: when Robin’s personality changes completely at the end, it doesn’t mean very much, as we are largely unaware of what his personality has changed from! Kirk’s motivation is apparent enough, but that’s about all we get - ha ha, we’re never even told the name of the agency that he and Cassavetes work for! It’s just another one of those “agencies you’ve never heard of,” as we’re told several times! And the ladies, mainly Shodgress and Irving, get even shorter shrift, though their performances are very good! Still, for all this, I enjoy the picture, with its glossy 70s studio feel and its lush John Williams score! I give The Fury two and a half episodes of M*A*S*H!

Sunday 1 March 2020

Burl reviews Sleeper! (1973)

From the future, it’s Burl, here to review the futuristic science-adventure picture Sleeper! Ha ha, yes, this is a Woody Allen picture, the same fellow who brought us Interiors and Midnight in Paris, but it’s one of his earlier ones, from before he was painted with the two-inch brush of disrepute! So, ha ha, I hope you’ll forgive me a little old fashioned movie reviewin’ on one of the bespectacled fellow’s pictures!
Sleeper tells the tale of Miles Monroe, a 1973-era health food store owner who, after a minor operation goes wrong, was freeze-dried, and now, as the picture opens in the year 2573, is being resuscitated by a group of science doctors! Ha ha the many doctors in this picture include Mary Gregory from Troop Beverly Hills, Don Keefer from Creepshow, John McLiam from The End of August, Mews Small from Class Reunion, and Peter Hobbs from The Man With Two Brains!
Of course Miles is surprised to find himself five hundred years in the future, and further shocked to discover the world is has become an anti-intellectual dystopia in which a dopey elite live for pleasure alone! Ha ha! Diane Keaton from The Godfather exemplifies the bubblehead class as Luna, Miles’s unwitting and unwilling partner in crime; but she later becomes radicalized against the government when she meets a revolutionary called Erno, played by John Beck, Pov himself from Paperback Hero!
There are lots of goofy chases set to Dixieland music, and plenty of funny stuff with the domestic robots, one of which Miles must disguise himself as for a time! It all adds up to slapstick aplenty! The best bits, though, are scenes like the one in which Miles identifies (or uproariously misidentifies) twentieth-century people and items for the inquisitive Buck Rogers-era science doctors!
Now, there’s not a lot to this picture, but I’ve always found it clever and jolly! There are plenty of laffs, and according to the editor, Ralph Rosenblum, there were many minutes of deleted scenes that are every bit of funny! But, ha ha, they were probably right to keep it under 90 minutes - a two and a half hour version would likely try the patience, though it might also address the impression I always get of opportunities missed and gags not taken! As is, the picture is little more than an amusing will-o’-the-wisp!
But I’m glad it exists, and it always tickles me to see how little effort they made in creating their future world! Ha ha, but that was the trend in those days: look at the Apes movies, or Soylent Green, or Logan’s Run! Sleeper is funnier than almost all those movies, plus it’s got Rags the robot dog, so I give it two and a half backpack copters!