Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Burl reviews The Rejuvenator! (1988)



By headbulbs, it’s Burl! I’m here to review another gloopy monster mess from the 80s, ha ha, that breed of picture I love so well in some strange way! These rubber classics usually have a lot of goo in them, a little to a lot of blood, and maybe a creature or two! From Beyond might be the exemplar of the form, or maybe Evil Dead 2, but there are lower shelves too, where you find The Kindred and The Outing and Nightbeast and C.H.U.D.!
Well, I’d seen all those in my teenage movie watching years, but never caught up with The Rejuvenator, which is the picture I’m talking about now! I've always been a bit cuious about it - the fact that it had a credit for Special Makeup Effects on the VHS cover was, I believed, an auspicious omen! And indeed, Ed French, who got the makeup effects credit, certainly must have put in some extra hours  on this one, so bra-zos, French and crew, bra-zos!
For this is by all means an effects picture, or at least it becomes one rather late in the game! Our situation is simple: an obsessive scientist and his assistant are working on a youth serum in a lab filled with TVs, and the TVs and everything else are funded by a rich Norma Desmond-type lady, who declares she’s sick and tired of waiting around in her big richlady bed and she wants the operation NOW! The doctor, who exhibits slightly more principle than most mad scientists of this type, warns of certain dangers, but an angry dowager ultimatum is made! (The old version of the lady is played by Jessica Dublin, who played a similar rich lady who gets her head chopped off by a bulldozer in that unpleasant Greek picture Island of Death! She was also in Fellini Satyricon, Visconti’s The Damned, and several Troma films! Ha ha, what a career!)
Of course the operation at first appears to be a success, and the elderly doyenne emerges from her bandages as a pretty younger lady! In celebration the rejuvinatrix and her doctor enjoy a romantic date in which they dance to circus music as first petals and later sparkles rain down upon them from the sky! Then the doughy doctor gets a boob-grabbing love scene with his patient, ha ha, as the vaguely Germanic manservant, the sort of butler who wears a nightdress to bed, glowers in the corner!
But right away after it’s back to the lab for the doc! “We’ve got to find a way to synthesize the serum!” he cries several times to his ladynerd assistant, Stella! (Stella is tall and serious, and talks to herself a lot, and of course nurses a crush on her fiveheaded boss; and by the third act I was a bit in love with her! Ha ha!) The rejuvinatrix regresses, but she doesn’t turn back into the old lady, but into a brain munching creature! For you see, the serum comes from human brains!
The story ostensibly comes from Simon Nuchtern, who brought us Silent Madness, but really it comes from Roger Corman's 1959 picture The Wasp Woman! Ha ha, it’s not an original tale! But it’s told with some occasional style, thanks to the blue gels the cinematographer was sure to include in his kit, and to some nicely chosen locations! Opportunities for real suspense and horror are largely squandered however, and the picture spins its wheels for a long time, with repetitive scenes of the doctor working in his lab or receiving unwelcome visits from Dr. Germain! Dr. Germain is played by an actor who might be the poor man’s Edmund Purdom or Dan O’Herlihy, but still delivers one of the most on-point performances in the picture!
By the last act the carnage begins! The rejuvinatrix goes out to a club to see the Poison Dollys (an all-girl band, like L7 if L7 were terrible!), where she dances and develops a case of grosshand! Next thing you know she grows a giant purple brain and goes on a rampage: slashing a nurse, ripping through an orderly, twisting the head off a nosy security guard and popping the top off of Stella’s head as though she were a bottle of cherry soda! Finally her big head goes slimy-berserk and starts firing pus everywhere! Ha ha!
It’s a picture that suffers from many debits: poor scripting, hacky editing, mostly indifferent direction, a pep-free first hour! But it livens up toward the end, and there’s some ambition on display throughout, for which the filmmakers are to be commended! It couldn't be more a product of 1988 if Dan Quayle had a cameo, and I give The Rejuvenator one and a half inflating faces!

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Burl reviews Klute! (1971)



Who’s that lurking menacingly in the foreground? Ha ha, it’s Burl, as always, here to review a picture for you! This time it’s a work from Mr. Alan J. Pakula, who made a number of good movies, and this is one of them! It’s Klute, which was the first entry in Pakula’s unofficial trilogy of 70s paranoiac pictures! Ha ha!
Now, Klute is a mystery, but one of its biggest mysteries is why it’s called Klute! Ha ha, the picture’s focus is the character played by Jane Fonda of On Golden Pond fame, and her name is Bree Daniels, not Bree Klute! She’s having funny feelings, as though someone is following and spying on her, and she’s also getting strange phone calls in the night! Now one might think it unsurprising that she should receive strange phone calls in the night, for after all she’s a call girl! But she’s also an aspiring actress - ha ha, the dispiriting humiliation actors, especially female ones, must endure, is drawn very convincingly here - and much is made of the crossover between these two professions!
Meanwhile the Klute of the title, John Klute, is a neophyte private detective from the sticks, in New York on the hunt for a missing man, who also happens to be Klute’s good pal and might be the one harassing Bree! Klute is played by gawky Donald Sutherland, who, you’ll recall, played Scientist At Computer in Billion Dollar Brain, and was of course also in Heaven Help Us! Klute and Bree begin a fractious acquaintanceship, in which he repeatedly asks questions about the mysterious man who’d beaten her up two years earlier, and who may be both the missing man and the mysterious stalker!
But the focus for the most part is on Bree, who goes out on a number of jobs as well as on some auditions, and some visits to her older lady therapist! Ha ha, we see the different sorts of acting she does in each situation, and, through Fonda’s own showy but multileveled performance, we consider the concept of acting itself: as a job, a craft, a habit, a survival technique, and as a natural and constant state of being! Fonda does some capital-A Acting in this picture, but the Academy Award she won for it was well-earned! And I’ll bet her salty talk shocked the people of 1971, especially those people named Henry Fonda! Ha ha!
Sutherland is good too, as is Charles Cioffi from Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, who plays another crucial character! There’s also a very welcome appearance from Roy Scheider, whom we know so well from Jaws and Sorcerer and The Curse of the Living Corpse, playing a slick pimp! Behind the camera we get all sorts of talent: the marvelous, dark photography of Gordon Willis; the plinking, sinister, but generally unobtrusive score by Michael Small; and controlled, considered direction from Pakula, whose second feature outing this was!
It’s a solid character study / mystery-suspense picture, though it does occasionally forget about the mystery-suspense part for longer than I would like! Ha ha, that’s just a matter of taste though, and you may feel differently! On the whole I thought Klute was a heck of a picture, and I give it three Irish accents!

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Burl reviews April in Paris! (1952)



With a handful of posies, it’s Burl, here to review a spring musical for you! Yes, you’ve guessed right: it’s April in Paris, as, currently, it’s April everywhere, for a few more days at least! Ha ha! This picture features the unlikely romantic pairing of Doris Day, whom we know so well from suspense thrillers like Midnight Lace, and Ray Bolger, whose shirt here is stuffed even more than it was in The Wizard of Oz! Ha ha!
The plot is rather contrived, even for a musical! Bolger’s character, S. Winthrop Putnam, is an uptight nebbish who works in the State Department, in the position of Assistant to the assistant to the Deputy Undersecretary to the Assistant to the Secretary of State, or something like that! His grumpy boss is played by Paul Harvey, who sounds just like a more polished Lon Chaney Jr. if you close your eyes! Anyway, they’re planning some kind of arts festival in Paris, for which they propose to gather the crème de la crème of American culture and ship them all to France! But the invitation to Ethel Barrymore goes by mistake to a brassy chorine named Ethel “Dynamite” Jackson, played of course by Day!
After a touching goodbye party from her theatre pals, Bolger arrives to inform her of the mistake, which of course devastates her! Up to this point, I had assumed Bolger’s character was a secondary fussbudget character of the type that used to be played by Franklin Pangborn or Mischa Auer or Edward Everett Horton, and that the romantic lead had simply not showed up yet! Of course I knew Bolger was a great entertainer, and in particular a fantastic dancer, but I was still expecting the real hero to show up any minute, ha ha!
But no! Anyway, after the old “The boss thinks the underling’s decision to represent America with an everywoman instead of a star is inspired” plot twist, Dynamite is back in (Ethel Barrymore’s reaction to the mix-up is never recorded), and the long middle section of the picture takes place (rather unconvincingly) aboard ship! Ha ha, here the Frenchman character played ingratiatingly by Claude Dauphin, whom we know from Phantom of the Rue Morgue, and who later became President of Earth in Barbarella, comes to the fore! Having earlier sung a song apparently called “Give Me Your Lips,” he plays matchmaker, sort of, and this leads to a long scene in the passage outside the adjacent cabins of Day and Bolger, in which their mutual lust is turned up to eleven!
Then we get a fake wedding, which means, by the puritanical rules of the period, that Dauphin and his pal have to act in a very un-French  manner and prevent Day and Bolger from consummating their non-marriage! Their cabins are rigged by the crafty Frenchmen, and this leads to several laffs and some outrage from Bolger’s boss! Finally everybody gets to Paris, which is represented by stock footage and stage sets, and there are further complications and an excellent nightclub number from Dauphin and Day! Ha ha, it’s one of the highlights! There’s also a surprising revelation about our Frenchman, Dauphin, and the last shot is of course set before a dropsheet depiction of the Eiffel Tower!
All of this is fine, even if the whole thing seems to lack the authorial voice a director other than David Butler might have given it! For most of the picture Day and Bolger seem an ill-fitting couple, it being particularly hard to see what the likeably bland Dynamite would see in a nervous prig like S. Winthrop Putnam! Ha ha! But the scene in the passage is a most definite exception: the air is thick with erotic feeling, and one can see reflected in their eyes the sideways bedroom waltz each craves to perform with the other!
It’s a pretty standard 1950s Hollywood musical: bright and colourful; tedious at times, but also occasionally funny; bizarrely moralistic; rah-rah American, though not too obnoxious with it; a few good numbers and some impressive dancing! One wishes the loose-limbed Bolger was given more to do, but after all, he was straitjacketed by his character! He does get a decent tap number in! Ha ha, I give April in Paris two collapsing beds!

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Burl reviews Walpurgis Night! (1935)



Happy (Almost) Walpurgis Night, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, believe it or not Walpurgis Night is nearly upon us once again! It always seems to come up so fast, sneaking up as it does right after that other major spring holiday, The Night I Watch The Fog For The Millionth Time! But of course, the proper way to celebrate Walpurgis Night is to watch Walpurgis Night, and that’s precisely what I have done! Ha ha!
With its waltzy soundtrack and overheated dialogue, it’s just the kind of melodrama Careful modeled itself on, though without quite so many mountains as in that more recent picture! (Ha ha, there is a scene of people skiing in the mountains however, and a nifty ski lodge also!) It’s a love triangle plot, spiced up with some blackmail, some duplicity, and a good deal of misunderstanding! Ha ha, in 1930s Stockholm, apparently a world in which everyone is known by their titles, VP Borg works in his office with his beautiful but shy secretary Lena Bergstrom, who is in love with him! But VP Borg is married to the callow and inconstant Clary, who never wants to have children, and who has scheduled a secret assignation on Walpurgis Night!
Turns out her appointment is with "Dr." Smith, the country abortion doctor (the quotation marks are apparently part of his name), but this is successfully kept a secret both from her husband and from the gossip rags, for the moment at least! Meanwhile Lena quits working for Borg, but not before they have a nice time dancing on Walpurgis Night! Lena’s father, Editor Bergstrom, the editor of the Morning Post, catches wind of the date and believes it to be a full-blown lovemaking affair; and when evidence is found connecting Borg to "Dr." Smith, he jumps to what is for a fellow like Editor Bergstrom the worst possible conclusion! After Lena’s self-removal to the mountains comes a blackmail attempt on Clary, which climaxes in murder! Lena returns from her skiing trip and Editor Bergstrom acts, for a time, like a foolish hardhead; meanwhile VP Borg finds himself in such straits that he runs off and joins the Foreign Legion! Ha ha!
All of this takes up the better part of a year, and by the time the next Walpurgis Night rolls around, a convenient suicide - that staple of the extreme melodrama - has paved the way for a happy ending! And finally, you guessed it, the following spring it’s Walpurgis Night once again and circumstances are finally as the rather puritanical morality of this picture demands they ought to be!
Ingrid Bergman, whom we may remember from Casablanca, from Notorious, and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is somehow at once mousy and meek and radiantly beautiful as Lena! Victor Sjöström, the director who also acted, and is so well known for playing the old professor in Wild Strawberries, essays the role of the hyper-Lutheran Editor Bergstrom! And special note should be made of the bowtie-wearing freelance fellow who, in his weird and strange way, is the true hero of the picture! Ha ha!
So now, with the end of April upon us, Walpurgis Night is nearly here, and, though the picture of the same name is a little chonky and a bit on the artificially harsh side, as melodramas will be, it has the beautiful Bergman, the stern Sjöström, and other solid performances; and you know, after all, it’s more Swedish than a Swedish Fish! I give Walpurgis Night two and a half dropped pens!

Monday, 20 April 2020

Burl reviews Boggy Creek II ...and the Legend Continues! (1983)



Ha ha and hello true believers! Yes, we’re back among the Bigfeet today with an amuse-bouche from Arkansas’ own hitmeister, Charles B. Pierce! Ha ha, his first big success at the ozoners was his 1971 pseudo-documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek; and then by some mysterious circumstance a quasi-sequel that Pierce had nothing to do with, Return to Boggy Creek, came along a handful of years later! Ha ha, and then, after doing a couple of horror pictures and some outdoor extravaganzas, I suppose Pierce figured he may as well do his own sequel: so in 1983 there appeared today’s movie, Boggy Creek II … and the Legend Continues!
Now, many of you may have seen this picture, but with a fellow and two robots gabbing over top of it! There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, not with a movie like this anyway; and indeed their mockery of the Pierce picture is fitfully amusing and generally on point! But all movies are worth giving a chance to without extraneous commentary, if only so you can provide your own!
Pierce himself writes, directs, produces, narrates and stars in the picture, ha ha! He plays Brian C. Lockhart, whose friends call him Doc: a university cryptozoologist trying to prove the existence of the Boggy Creek Creature! He goes on about how trackless and vast these southern Arkansas wildlands are, but really, how vast could they be? Anyway, Doc hears about a sighting of the monster and rounds up a crew consisting of a frequently shirtless skinnybones played by the director’s son, a pretty grad student, and the grad student’s best friend, a cracker princess forever looking for her blush!
Ha ha, eventually the big guy shows up! Doc has set up some kind of perimeter sensors, so the picture gets a chance to lift some beats from Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot! It never gets quite as tense, though, as that bipedal classic! Nor is the movie nearly as good as its close country cuzzin Creature from Black Lake, though there are some townie scenes that recall that marvelous picture! No, frankly, there’s no area in which you can point at Boggy Creek II and say “Ha ha, this is the movie that does that the best!”
Still, it’s a bigfoot movie, and that goes a long mile with me! Old Man Crenshaw, the heavily bearded river rat who shows up in the last portion of the picture, gives the picture a little more of the eccentric rural pep it needs, and to be sure, there is a scene in which the Bigfoot knocks a jet skier off his machine! I wish he’d et the guy too, though! In the end, when you tally it all up, Boggy Creek II is worth no more than an uncle’s promise, and I give it one headless deer!

Friday, 17 April 2020

Burl reviews Nowhere to Run! (1993)



Avec un grand ha ha, c’est Burl! I’m here with a little early-90s action for you, and I know what you’re thinking: Seagal! But nope, it’s the other one, Van Damme, the punchfighter we know so well from Universal Soldier: Regeneration! The movie I’m talking about is graced with one of the most generic titles in action history: Nowhere to Run!
There was a period during which I and my pal Pellonpaa, who might have been my roommate at the time, would settle in and watch one Van Damme movie or another, and at some point we watched this one! As soon as it was over, we both had the same feeling: like we had somehow glitched through the past hour and a half in some kind of mental stasis! It was as though absolutely nothing had happened during that time, as though an incredibly localized black hole had sucked, not physical objects, but ninety minutes of time itself into some netherworld from which it could never be recovered! Ha ha!
Well, that was how we felt at the time, and it was a curiosity over whether that would happen on a repeat viewing that led me to, somewhat incredibly, watch this same movie again! Now, it’s always fascinating to see what explanation they would make for his French accent (why did they bother, when they rarely did it for Schwarzenegger!), and here, as in Death Warrant, he’s a Québecois fellow, but a bank robber instead of a Mountie!
Rosanna Arquette from Crash and After Hours is the pretty widow lady with two adorable moppets who is being forced off her land by evil developers! The Jabba-like Joss Ackland, from The Hunt For Red October, is the smirky, overconfident boss who has hired strong-arm man Ted Levine, whom we all know from Love at Large and The Mangler, to toss Arquette and her kids off the land! Ha ha, Levine’s character is called “Mr. Dunston!”
Meanwhile Van Damme, calling himself Le Sam, escapes from his prison bus with the help of a buddy, quickly finds himself alone when the buddy is shot, and stakes himself out a spot in the woods on Arquette’s property, where he sets up a tent and reads from a magazine called Top Heavy! Ha ha, the family finds Le Sam, and, after initial doubts, take to him, especially the little boy! (The boy’s desperation for a father is the picture’s only effective emotional angle!) The local lawman who nurses a crush on Arquette isn’t happy about this, and the stage is set for conflict! And when it all goes down, whose side will the lawman take?
There are surprisingly few punchfights in this picture! In fact its heart doesn’t seem to be in the action much at all, though there are some effective moments in a car chase here or a punchout there! Van Damme emotes even less than usual, but Levine leers at him enough for two actors, and his almost psychotically intense Midwestern drawl serves his evil designs well! Eventually Mr. Dunston checks out, but he puts up a pretty good fight!
It comes from the director of The Hitcher, which is a solid picture pulled off with some style! Nowhere to Run offers the occasional attempt at its own kind of style, like a speeding bullet P.O.V. or a comically apparent grad filter on some of the landscape shots, but eventually throws up its hands and grudgingly gives up the Van Dammage in the most quotidian manner possible! But there’s not a surfeit of thrills to be had, one must admit! It’s a curious concoction that somehow took the combined screenwriters of Basic Instinct, Dante’s Peak, and Tango & Cash, and the director of Return of the Jedi, to come up with!
It’s nice to see Luana Anders, from great pictures like Night Tide, Easy Rider and The Trip, even in a small role as a waitress, but otherwise Nowhere to Run hasn’t much to offer! It’s as unmemorable as it ever was, and I give the picture one rumpled suit!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Burl reviews Outland! (1981)



Ha ha troubleshooters, it’s Burl, here with an outer space Western for you! The picture under discussion is not Battle Beyond the Stars or Space Rage, but a much bigger-budget affair: the Peter Hyams-directed bonspiel known as Outland!
Now: in the U.S.A. Outland was rated R for foul language, violence, drugs usage and bursting people; but here in Canada we kids could go see it ourselves, and I, as an apple-cheeked pre-pubescent, did just that! Ha ha, I may have done it more than once, in fact! And it made a big impression on me, because the material was pretty adult, the bursting-people scenes were impactful, and after all, ha ha, it was set in space! That’ll get a ten year-old every time!
The movie is in fact set in a mining colony on Io, the third moon of Jupiter! A bearded Sean Connery from Never Say Never Again and The Hunt for Red October and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade plays the newly-arrived Marshall in charge of policing the place! But, ha ha, he’s troubled first by the sudden departure of his wife and son, who don’t want to hang around such a gloomy depressing space colony, and then by all the workers who suddenly go banana-monster and expose themselves to the atmospheric pressures of Io, and inflate and then burst like ticks! Yikes! Turns out the nasty company, represented by bearded, golf-obsessed mine manager Peter Boyle from Walker, is feeding mind drugs to the workers, which makes them work harder but also fills their brains with cracklin’ bran! Marshall Connery’s only allies are his bearded deputy and an irascible doctor played by Frances Sternhagen from Misery, who isn’t bearded but may as well be! Ha ha!
So it’s a real beard-off, especially so when one of Connery’s allies proves inconstant! Eventually some hired killers come in on the shuttle and the movie settles into being a space-remake of High Noon! Like Coop, Connery stands virtually alone! It’s up to him to burst all his enemies (or else simply punch them out) and rejoin his family on their way to Earth!
Watching the picture recently, I was less thrilled with it than when I was ten! Ha ha, I guess that’s natural! But aside from the bursting people, which is still both funny and disturbing in equal measure, there’s not much about it that’s memorable! Some of the acting is fine - the scenes between Connery and Sternhagen are the heart of the movie, inasmuch as it has a heart, and Boyle mixes a fair tonic of ruthless and jocular, even if he isn’t on balance a very effective bad guy - but the characters are pretty thin paper, and the real concern of writer-director-possibly cinematographer Hyams seems to be showing off the many sets! Ha ha, even Mad magazine, which satirized the movie under what could only have been the title Outlandish, made this point!
It has its moments, but it really lacks a certain something - ha ha, let’s call it pep! I’ll always hold it close to my heart because of seeing it on the big screen at such a tender age, but there’s no particular reason you should embrace it! I give Outland two ill-advised gunshots!

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Burl reviews A Canterbury Tale! (1944)



Cor blimey it’s Burl, here with a picture set in Blighty right smack in the middle of the war! It’s a Kentish sort of a film, one of the extraordinary works by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, also known as the Archers! Ha ha, I’ve long enjoyed their work: pictures like The 49th Parallel, I Know Where I’m Going, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, The Tales of Hoffmann and the fantastic A Matter of Life and Death, are all great favourites!
But I’d never seen A Canterbury Tale before, and knew it only in the way Powell, in his lengthy autobiography, had characterized it: their first failure! Ha ha, in any case, in a very eccentric filmography it’s certainly among their most eccentric pictures! It’s also among their most personal, seeing it was shot in Kent, the area in which Powell grew up and for which he had great nostalgic fondness!
Perhaps it was the combination of rose-coloured wistfulness and wartime weirdness that put audiences off the picture, but I have a feeling it was just a tremendously difficult picture to market, and that the title led people to erroneously but reasonably assume it was a literature-based period piece! But the Chaucer-speak and olde-tyme pilgrim footage come only in the first few minutes of the picture; the rest is a contemporary story of modern-day pilgrims who, for most of the story, don’t even realize they are pilgrims! Ha ha!
We have three principal characters-cum-pilgrims who find themselves in a village just outside Canterbury, in which, wouldn't you know it, a glue man is on the loose! American soldier Sergeant John Sweet, who looks like a kid in a Bruce Weber photograph and speaks in a high-pitched drawl, plays Sergeant Bob Johnson! He comes off as slightly dim and provincial at first, but quickly emerges a likeable and savvy sort! Ha ha, they don’t come folksier! A land girl, in Kent to take on some of the farming work that needs doing and played by Sheila Sim from the even loonier Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, is a victim of the glue man on her first night in town! And there’s an English soldier played by Dennis Price from Tower of Evil, who, in civilian life, is a cinema organist with a  secret dream!
These three characters take it upon themselves to spend the week-end solving the mystery of the glue man! A fourth character, a local squire played by Eric Portman from We Dive At Dawn, comes under suspicion of being the glue man almost immediately! Each of the investigating trio have their own moments of deductive brilliance in solving the riddle, and the local boys, who have become martialized as boys will in wartime, are conscripted to help out!
What is a glue man, you may be wondering? Ha ha, it’s a man who, in a crazed bid to maintain traditional English values, runs around under cover of darkness and rubs glue in the hair of young women keeping company with soldiers! While the mystery of the glue man’s identity is never very compelling (ha ha, it’s the squire!) there are several compelling and even suspenseful sequences associated with it!
But the meat of this strange and beautiful film is not the glue man mystery, but the pilgrimage to Canterbury! In the last act of the picture all four main characters share a train compartment to the famous cathedral town to receive their various blessings, or, in the case of the glue man, not receive them! Ha ha! The ending works extremely well thanks to the care Powell and Pressburger took in the long, unhurried set-up, and it’s a marvelous piece of work! One regrets the inclusion of the village idiot, however, and scratches one’s head at the glue man and his motivation!
There are fantastic scenes scattered throughout, like the conversation about wood between Sergeant Bob and a local logsman! As they had done before in The Edge of the World and did again later in I Know Where I’m Going, the Archers succeed in making myth and magic of their location, with the extra effort from Powell, given his personal connection to Kent, at times a little over-apparent! Perhaps this is why it failed on its initial release! This is easily forgiven, however, and the picture will work its magic on just about anyone who gives it a shot! It’s not my favourite Powell & Pressberger, but it’s up there! I give A Canterbury Tale three blackout curtains!

Friday, 10 April 2020

Burl reviews The Dark! (1993)



Ha ha, eh? It’s Burl here with a little Canadian horror, a movie so Toronto it includes “The Taco Bell at King & Dufferin” in its special thanks at the end! It’s a monster picture called The Dark! (And no, it's not that The Dark!) Believe it or not I saw this one not just in the theatre, but on a double bill with another low-budget Canadian horror movie, The Club! That one is so Toronto it was shot in Casa Loma! You don’t get much more concentrated Hogtown than that, except maybe Highpoint, where the guy falls off the CN Tower! Ha ha!
But these two works of dubious cultural benefit were probably the last real B movies I saw in a first-run house! I’d seen many before, like Time Walker and Witchboard and The First Power, but after this, cheap monster movies like The Dark went right to video! That’s sort of their natural home, but there’s no substitute for seeing something on the big screen with an audience to laugh and gasp with!
Well, the movie theatres will be back! In the meantime we'll talk about The Dark, which begins with Brion James, the movie’s American star, familiar from Blade Runner and The Horror Show, playing a cop and running through a graveyard with his partner! But the partner gets the claw, and meanwhile, who’s that slumped against a gravestone guzzling booze from a paper bag? It’s no mere hobo, but our male lead, Stephen McHattie, whom we know so well from Death Valley and Moving Violation! He’s Hunter, or maybe Gary, and after tangling with a big rodent creature, he’s shot by James’ angry-cop character! But slime from the giant rat makes him better or something! Then James takes him down to the station house and puts a pounding on him!
Well, soon enough it’s several years later, and McHattie, who, as it turns out, is a motorcycle jacket scientist of some kind, has, ever since his graveyard encounter, been tracking the rat creature in an attempt to capture it alive and harness its restorative powers for the good of mankind! James in the intervening years has become crazed with a desire for blood vengeance and a strong need to kill the thing that clawed his partner! As in Silent Rage, there’s a wandering motorcycle gang causing second-string trouble, and after an encounter with them, McHattie teams up with a waitress played by Cynthia Belliveau from A New Life, who quickly becomes his partner in both love and ratcatching!
Meanwhile we are also introduced to a pair of gravediggers, an older veteran and a fearful younger neophyte, whose relationship sits somewhere between that of James Karen and Thom Matthews in Return of the Living Dead, and Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse! Ha ha, having gravediggers in a story is always a good move, because it injects a little otherwise unearned Shakespearean heft to the piece!
Still more characters are introduced, namely some cops, one of whom is played by a pre-Scream Neve Campbell! Eventually all these characters converge in the graveyard, and there is a lot of running around both above ground and below, in the network of fake-looking, waterlogged tunnels the monster has burrowed out! But the monster hardly kills anyone, because, you see, as is spelled out in the amazingly on-the-nose dialogue, the increasingly deranged James is “worse than the creature!” The monster itself is meant to be sympathetic, but given the stiffness of its features and limits of its articulation, it’s hard to really connect to it on an emotional level!
With a surfeit of characters (leading, frankly, to a character-to-incident ratio that is not favorable to the picture), a sophomoric script (from the same lad who wrote The Club), mediocre performances (though not outright bad; these actors are too professional for that) and really underwhelming direction, the conclusion must and can only be that The Dark is not a very good movie! Ha ha! I’m still glad to have seen it in a double bill with my girlfriend at the cinema, because that’s an experience I’ll always treasure! The cinema and the girl may both be gone, but The Dark still sits in VHS form in my basement, and I give it one and a half bottles of rat goo!

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Burl reviews The Guns of Navarone! (1961)



Like a false Englishman it’s Burl, here with a review for you! It’s a World War II picture today, a purely fictional one, but a reasonably thrilling and involving tale of derring-do nevertheless! Yes, I’m here to tell you now about the big-budget Columbia Pictures British-American superproduction The Guns of Navarone!
Ha ha, you’ve probably heard of this one! It was a big hit in its day, with a multinational cast of stars and a solid hook on which to hang its story! We start with Gregory Peck from Spellbound, arriving on a plane to meet up with the jolly-looking James Robertson Justice! Ha ha, now there’s an actor I’d like to see more of! Anyway, the mission is to destroy two giant guns the Nazis have set up in the Aegean Sea so that a British flotilla is able to sail past and rescue a couple of thousand stranded soldiers! Ha ha, David Niven from Murder By Death, Anthony Quinn from The Last Action Hero, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, and Moondoggie himself, James Darren, make up the rest of the commando brigade!
The urgency of the mission, the near-impossibility of it (enhanced by the assumption by chief planner Justice that it is impossible), and the consequences should it fail, are set out with great clarity in the early part of the picture! From there it’s a series of suspenseful near-misses and daredevil cliffclimbing actions and bursts of gunfire and unfortunate setbacks! Ha ha, it truly seems like an ill-fated venture for the sextet, even after they meet up with two lady members of the Greek Resistance, doughty Irene Papas and beautiful, mute Gia Scala!
Perhaps to offset the presentation of wartime as a grand, if risky, boys’ adventure story, there is plenty of dialogue about the ethics of doing this or that ruthless action on behalf of the greater good! Ha ha, there’s perhaps a bit too much of it, in fact, though I appreciate the general anti-war sentiment that is the cumulative effect of these often heated discussions! And you didn’t often see Peck shout and bluster and wave his gun around, but by the last act, wracked with guilt and uncertainty, that’s what he’s doing all right!
A curious thing about Peck’s character: he’s supposed to be an Englishman, but Peck makes no attempt whatever to put on an accent or use English phraseology! Ha ha, this lack of limey jargon could be because the script was written by American screenwriter/producer Carl Foreman, then fresh off the blacklist! In any case, I spent most of the movie assuming Peck was supposed to be a visiting American, and I assume many other viewers assumed the same!
In the end, The Guns of Navarone is nothing more than a solid Hollywood product with pretty fair trick effects (though the cliffclimbing scene is pretty obviously just the actors flat on their bellies!) and some noble intentions! It’s thoroughly middlebrow, reasonably entertaining, and fun to pair up with something like 10 to Midnight or Happy Birthday To Me, which came from the same director, J. Lee Thompson! The big guns at the end are a little creepy, but impressive; and it’s satisfying to see the Nazis who’ve been running the things get blown to flinders! Ha ha! I give The Guns of Navarone two and a half surprise popout seagulls!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Burl reviews Upgrade! (2018)



Ha ha, it’s the state-of-the-art system known as Burl! I’m reviewing one of the newer action pictures for you today, a sweet goofula called Upgrade, which is not to be confused with that beloved character from Idiocracy, Uppgrayyde! Now, this picture is in fact not that new - the director has already made a new picture since, about an invisible guy apparently, and I’m sure I’ll have a look at that one sooner or later! Ha ha, I’d have made more of an effort to see it in the movie palace had I only known! But I trust the cinemas will rise again in time, and I fervently hope so, for there’s no better way to see a movie than on the big screen!
With that public service announcement out of the way, I’ll say a few words about Upgrade! Ha ha, the plot is fairly simple: it’s the near future, with electric self-driving cars and smart houses and so forth, and our main character, Grey, is one of those fellows who still plays records and tinkers with 1970s muscle cars! Well, he and his wife are simply too happy for us to not realize a tragedy is in the works, and pretty soon their self-driving car goes berserk and drives them to a place where a violence gang can perform their outrages!
The upshot is that Grey’s wife is killed and he is paralyzed from the waist down, with his mother as caretaker like the guy in Monkey Shines! Luckily a computer genius for whom Grey has been restoring a muscle car offers help: a computer chip that will aid him in walking, moving, and downright kung-fu fighting! But his mobility comes at a price: the chip has a name, STEM, and a voice only Grey can hear, and an increasingly demanding and peevish personality!
STEM encourages Grey to take revenge on the thugs who killed his wife, which he is able to do without much problem! Everybody else continues to believe he’s a helpless quardiplegic, but he nevertheless becomes a police suspect almost right away, ha ha, thanks to a savvy lady investigator! But the story has a few twists in it, and even if they don’t bear up under any sort of scrutiny, they seem right and even clever in the moment!
The scenes of STEM-powered vengeance-fu are the highlights of the picture, ha ha, and the physical aspects of the performance of Logan Marshall-Green from Prometheus, in the role of Grey, deserve special note! He really does a fine job of selling the idea that he’s a computer-powered human not quite in control of his own body, or sometimes in control and sometimes not, and sometimes struggling between the two! Ha ha, it’s safe to say that if the actor had not pulled this off, the movie would not have worked! And the same goes for the vocal performance by the actor playing STEM, who is in some ways the most complex character in the picture!
Altogether it’s a picture that might easily not have played, but does, thanks to a happy combination of assured direction, committed performances and solid craftsmanship from the technical crew! It’s no game-changer, but it’s a zesty little genre picture with a conclusion partially inspired by, of all films, Brazil! I give Upgrade two and a half deadly sneezes!

Monday, 6 April 2020

Burl reviews The Devil's Gift! (1984)



Ha ha and ching ching ching, it’s Burl! I’m here to review a little and little-known 1980s horror picture called The Devil’s Gift! Some people will know this better from the long excerpts used in a movie from the same director which was titled Merlin’s Shop of Magical Wonders and was made well-known from its mockery by the space robots! Chunks of The Devil’s Gift were cobbled together with scenes involving Ernest Borgnine and a kid, ha ha! I never watched it and I never will!
But I have seen The Devil’s Gift! It begins with some apparent but still impressive model work, taking us past an old crankly tree and into the top cupola of a dipsomaniacal medium’s house! An unwelcome ghost visits, her toys seem to come to life, a pair of miniature cymbals clang, and in short order she and her cupola are blasted to flinders by an errant bolt of lightning! Ha ha!
Then comes the main body of the picture, in which a young boy is made a present of what everyone assumes to be a wonderful and wholesome birthday gift: a sinister toy monkey! Yes, it was the same monkey we saw clang his cymbals just before the medium’s demise! And now, after many scenes designed to confirm the father’s love for his little boy, and humourous scenes involving the bearded neighbor, the artful simian sets to work! It seems that with a single clang of his cymbals, the little ape can channel the devil’s power to kill!
Only gradually does the father begin to suspect the monkey’s awful intentions! By then several plants have been dried out, a harmless fly has dropped from the sky, and the house dog has been overcome by smoke! It is then that the man’s girlfriend - responsible for bringing the scourge into the previously harmonious household, for it was she who purchased the satanic gift - plays her card! She tries to drown the boy in his bath!
But a fatal tumble off the steps takes care of her! Even as the monkey’s clang still echoes, it somehow hooks up the household shower to spray first scalding water and then sewer poo! Ha ha, this is enough for the man, who by now sees what evil is plaguing his domicile! He takes the monkey and tries to bury it, as the very ground itself opens to claim him! Only by inches does he escape the terrifying chasm! And then a tree - perhaps the same crankly tree from the opening - falls on his head!
It seems the story is over, ha ha! But the man survives his clonking by the tree, and, though he’s been battered, all seems well in the household! But then grandma arrives with a gift for the little boy, and I won’t tell you what happens, except it involves a cut to black and the sound of a house exploding! Ha ha!
The Devil’s Gift is not itself much of a gift: it goes on too long for the story it has, and even this minimal story seems largely to have been, ha ha, “borrowed” from Stephen King! (The setting, style, and atmosphere on the other hand seem purloined from Don Dohler, most specifically from Fiend!) But the attention lavished on the miniature special effects in the picture’s opening minutes, with the thunder and hoot owl sound effects and whatnot, lend an initial impression that this picture is trying harder than most of its ilk; and while the uncanny atmosphere of wholesomeness and long stretches of domestic uneventfulness undercut this impression, it never quite leaves, and is bolstered somewhat by the conclusion already described! It’s nothing to fervently hunt down, though - it’s no Blood Beach, ha ha -  and I give The Devil’s Gift one starfish medallion!

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Burl reviews Getting Even! (1986)



Ha ha y’all, it’s Burl, here with a little Texas action for you! No, it’s not Action U.S.A., or 2020 Texas Gladiators (as apt as that would be in this pestilential year, ha ha!), or Silent Rage, but a minor and largely forgotten morgenstern called Getting Even! It's early work from the little director of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, ha ha!
Edward Albert from When Time Ran Out and Galaxy of Terror stars as Tag Taggar, a millionaire industrialist from the Lone Star State who doubles, we see in the opening sequence, as the leader of a commando band made up of his friends and employees! Ha ha, it’s almost like the red states wanted their own Buckaroo Banzai, but instead of a rock star / brain surgeon / physicist-hipster with an alliterative name, they came up with a businessman / mercenary / good ol’ boy with an alliterative name!
Tag’s mission in Afghanistan or wherever involves securing several canisters of poison gas, which he then brings back to Texas and places inside a glass cupboard! Meanwhile Tag Taggart’s business rival, a big, robust, evil industrialist called King Kenderson, who seethes with bitter jealousy at every Tag Tagger success, plots to steal the deadly chemical! Since the substance, in its bright yellow cannisters, is kept in full view in the glass cupboard, his operatives succeed easily! Ha ha!
Joe Don Baker, from Fletch, The Living Daylights, and Tomorrow Never Dies, plays King Kenderson, and his performance is one of the picture’s great assets! He manages to make King a properly hateful bad guy in a very human and understandable way, while injecting his character with some humour and the general sense of having a good time! Audrey Landers, meanwhile, plays Paige Starson, an old flame of Tag Taggert’s, who also represents some kind of government law enforcement agency! While her performance is nothing special, the character, in a welcome change from most 80s action, is presented as competent and intelligent, and is deeply involved in the action! Ha ha, by the end, after figuring out some allergy-based clues, she’s piloting a helicopter while firing a machine gun out the door of it while the putative hero is hanging helplessly off a building!
The picture spins its narrative wheels for a good chunk of the middle act as Tag Taggartt and Paige Starson try to figure out who stole the gas! Since we, the audience, have known from the beginning, a certain impatience sets in! Luckily we’re still jazzed from the scene where King Kenderson sends his girlfriend in to test the gas on a hamster, and, after an accident cracks the hamster’s terrarium, can only watch in hysterical horror as she and her assistant melt down into slag puddles! Ha ha, this part reminded me of the more elaborate meltdown in Spasms, which involves Al Waxman and the venom of a giant snake! (An interesting fact: Waxman, as you know, played The King of Kensington, whereas this picture features King Kenderson!)
There are a few faces lurking about that are familiar from various Texas horror pictures! Blue Deckert from The Outing plays the ill-fated Kurt, Tag Tagertt’s good friend whose melted corpse is found hanging from a tree! Caroline Williams from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 plays the equally ill-fated lady scientist; Dan Shackleford from Deadly Blessing is Raoul, a henchman; and Tommy Splittgerber from Race With the Devil plays a dimwitted gun shop owner! We also get an appearance from Woody Watson of Eddie Macon’s Run!
Except for the narrative glaciation of the second act, the picture moves briskly enough! It could use more meltdowns, and one eagerly anticipates King Kenderson having his own run-in with the gas, but we wait for this in vain! Still, the movie punches a little above its weight in its action scenes, and there’s some impressive stunt work along the way! Getting Even is no masterpiece, not even close, but it’s a night out (or, these days, I should say strictly a night in), and I give it two exploding hamsters!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Burl reviews Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb! (1964)



Ha ha, it’s Burl here, living it up on Condition Red! Yes, I’m here to review one of the best movies I can think of, a fine work from Mr. Stanley Kubrick, the maker of pictures like The Shining and Full Metal Jacket! Of course I’m talking about the great Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, a movie I’ve seen many times! It’s one of my father’s two favourite motion pictures, the other one being Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings!
Do we all know the plot of this anti-war satire? Ha ha, of course we do: it’s more or less the same as Fail Safe, the movie in which Henry Fonda was inducted as President In Movies For Life! In Kubrick’s movie, it seems that General Jack D. Ripper, played by Sterling Hayden from such marvelous pictures as The Asphalt Jungle and The Long Goodbye, has gone hot bananas and decided to start World War III by sending impossible-to-countermand orders to his in-flight bomber pilots! Ha ha, he’s worried about precious bodily fluids and whatnot, so naturally global decimation is the only solution!
Peter Sellers, whom we know from Down Among the Z Men and Being There, plays three roles in the movie: a visiting British officer stationed at Ripper’s air base, and morally tasked with trying to talk him out of his mad plan; the American president, Merkin Muffley, desperately trying to convince his Soviet counterpart that the nuclear firestorm shortly to ravage his country was not delivered purposefully, or at least not purposefully by him; and of course the good doctor of the title, the cartoonish ex-Nazi Strangelove!  
George C. Scott from Exorcist III plays another manic general who indulges in a little fighting in the War Room, and makes the odd comment to his pal Jack Creley from Tulips; and, back at the air base near the end of the picture, Keenan Wynn from Piranha and The Dark and Herbie Rides Again appears as the blockheaded Colonel Bat Guano! In the airplane, our third major location, we find Slim Pickens from This House Possessed and White Line Fever and a young James Earl Jones from The Hunt for Red October! It’s really a pretty incredible cast, ha ha!
And there’s not much else I can say that you folks don’t already know! It’s a precision satire machine that scores strategic hits on an array of targets! It’s a beautifully shot, designed, directed and acted picture that might lean a little heavily on shticky gags here and there, but doesn’t ever stray from its noble, hilarious course! I love the picture and so should you, and I have to give a special mention to Sterling Hayden and his marvelous performance! Ha ha, I give Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb four deviated preverts!