Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 26 June 2020

Burl reviews Doin' Time on Planet Earth! (1988)

Well hello there, it’s Burl, here to review an 80s oddity for you, as I’ve done many times before! This one comes from those Golan-Globus boys, but it’s one of their more obscure efforts and an altogether kooky concoction! Believe it or not, it was directed by Walter Matthau’s son Charles, and the picture’s called Doin’ Time on Planet Earth!
I recall many years ago reading an article about this movie in a magazine called Cinemafantastique (a combination Fangoria and Starlog for the wispy-moustache set), but I nevertheless knew little about it, other than a spinning restaurant is somehow involved! Ha ha, and indeed that proved to be true! But for much of its scant running time it seems like a belated, point-missing entry in the teen science whiz subgenre, with a clever black sheep family-oddball type called Ryan who is roundly loathed or at best barely tolerated by his family!
Ryan’s dad, played by Hugh Gillin from Psycho II, runs the Holiday Inn with the spinning restaurant on top; his mom is a ghostly nonentity; his brother hates him and is about to get married (the brother’s wedding plays a bigger part here than the comparable event does in My Brother’s Wedding); and his sister, played by Paula Irvine from Phantasm II, hates him even more, in fact detests him beyond even the pathological rage of the sister in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or the justifiable contempt of the one in Teen Lust!
Meanwhile, as in an ordinary 80s high school picture, the gormless Ryan’s main concern is Losin’ It! Ha ha, and the object of his virginal desire, a lounge singer at the revolving hotel played by Andrea Thompson from Hot Splash, returns his puppy love with the same opprobrium he receives from his family! Only a weird bus-driving couple played by Adam West from The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (and who I met at a car show once!) and Candice Azzara from Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? show Ryan any respect, and that’s because they believe him to be born of alien DNA just as they and their Heaven’s Gate-type followers are; and furthermore that he is the star navigator who will lead them back to their home planet in the spaceship that is currently disguised as a revolving Holiday Inn restaurant! Ha ha!
It’s a movie that tries to be many things at once: a high school coming-of-age comedy, an oddball comedy about feeling out of step with the world, a speculative sci-fi eccentricity! If it aspires to anything, it’s to join the ranks of Repo Man, Rubin & Ed and UFOria! But it doesn’t accomplish this to any satisfying degree, despite a few lightly amusing lines and cameos from old warhorses like Roddy McDowell from Fright Night and Heads, here playing a preacher, and Maureen Stapleton from Interiors and The Money Pit as a wacky balloon lady! Ha ha, even the big chocolate bar-munching oaf from Friday the 13th part V shows up!
None of it works terribly well thanks to inconstant direction, some dicey performances, and a script carved from real butter! The revolving restaurant is theoretically a nice touch, and to be sure it’s featured heavily, but in the end, like the narrative itself, all it does is go round and round! (I did like the band that plays the climactic wedding party though, led by a non-singer singer called Cecil Hill!) Ha ha, I watched this with my fairly uncritical eight year-old, and even he complained about the unsatisfying resolution! Doin’ Time on Planet Earth is obscure, but, while I appreciate that it’s trying something different, and its heart is in the right place, so far as I’m concerned it’s not something that requires rediscovery; so after all is said and done I give it one and a half helium inhalations!

Burl reviews Cheerleader Camp! (1988)

Gimme an H, gimmie an A, and what does that spell? Ha ha, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here with a review of a cheerleader picture for you; and not just a cheerleader picture, but a cheerleader summer camp picture; and not just a cheerleader summer camp picture, but a cheerleader summer camp slasher picture! Ha ha, as you might well have guessed by now, the movie I’m talking about is called Cheerleader Camp!
The setting is remote Camp Hurrah, where the big cheering competition is underway, and our protagonists are a cheerleading crew made up of Betsy Russell from Tomboy and Private School, Lorie Griffen from Teen Wolf, Terri Weigel from Innocent Blood, and Rebecca Ferratti from ¡Three Amigos!, and also, oddly, a couple of fellows: a receding-hairline dick played by Leif Garrett from The Banker, and a portly jokester essayed by Travis McKenna, known for his apposite portrayal of an oaf in Real Men, and from his appearances in Quiet Cool and Road House! Rounding out this gang is the cute alligator mascot played by Lucinda Dickey from Ninja III: The Domination!
And of course George “Buck” Flower, whom we remember from The Fog and Teen Lust, is on hand to play a lasciviously sinister handyman who drawls and leers at all the girls, with one eyebrow raised and a bloated pink tongue, wet and glistening as a molded cherry jello, lolling slowly from his mouth to drag itself across moist, liver-slab lips to the accompaniment of slurping sounds and a graveling groan that suggests some extreme of erotic contemplation has been achieved! Ha ha, classic George “Buck” Flower!
There are plenty of catty little fights and love dramas going on at the camp, and viewers will be forgiven for occasionally forgetting this is a slasher picture at all! But eventually the murders begin, and the picture reveals itself as a whodunit with some of the reddest herrings this side of Dr. Seuss! Near the end we get a party at which the portly fellow wears a hat holding a half-dozen beers at once, straws running down to his mouth, but this hat notwithstanding he cracks yet another beer, roaring in drunken, oafish triumph when he manages to get the cap off!
The murders appear at first blush to be gory, but that impression comes from copious blood rather than proper Special Makeup Effects, along with a certain slight inventiveness of method! Ha ha, most notable among these are an incident involving some garden shears, later seen in several repeating shots with worms dancing on the tips, and another featuring a bear trap and a sheriff’s head! But the more horror-based scenes in the movie are so ineptly done that these images are utterly denuded of any gruesome power they might have otherwise had!
In fact the picture as a whole is bedeviled by the point-and-shoot direction of a filmmaker whose idea of style is having George “Buck” Flower repeatedly turn his flashlight on and off! Worse still are the characters: while some of the ladies are likeable enough, even the ditzy one, Garrett’s fiveheaded jerk is utterly intolerable, and his portly buddy, always hanging his enormous moons and blasting people with his flatulence, is just annoying! I didn’t care for the picture - it lacked pep and failed to live up to its minimal potential! I give Cheerleader Camp one giant pants!

Thursday 25 June 2020

Burl reviews Nothing But Trouble! (1991)

Ha ha and ham candies, it’s Burl, here to review one of the stranger Celebrity Dream Projects ever to have been made: Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble! Ha ha, I’ve been consuming information about this thing for years, but until yesterday I’d never seen it! Everything, but everything I’d heard was bad, though; and Aykroyd is by all accounts an unusual fellow, so the prospect of a weird-looking movie written and directed by him, and of course featuring him as some sort of bloated, scab-covered old man, was a daunting one! I was prepared for a truly terrible movie-viewing experience, ha ha!
The picture’s original title was Valkenvania, and I maintain that whatever timid, unimaginative studio exec decided it should instead be called Nothing But Trouble did both the picture and its legacy a grave disservice! Ha ha, what’s in a name you might say, especially if the film itself is as inept and pointlessly grotesque as people say it is! But movies, even bad ones, are fragile and finely-wrought creations, like pixies or unicorns, and so with them everything matters, and the slightest misstep can be like coughing on a house of cards!
There’s a strong comedy cast: not just Aykroyd from Ghostbusters, but also Chevy Chase from Vacation, who must have got along with Aykroyd when they worked together on Spies Like Us, and John Candy, with whom Aykroyd co-starred in The Great Outdoors! Demi Moore, well known from her role in Parasite (the original; accept no substitute, ha ha!), is in here too, along with familiar faces like Taylor Negron (with whom I had lunch once, and who was a garrulous and maximally entertaining dining companion) and Brian Doyle-Murray!
Chase plays some sort of Manhattan financial player who meets his new neighbor Moore, a lawyer, and almost immediately offers her a ride to some kind of event in Atlantic City! With two annoying faux-Brazillians tagging along, they detour through the town of Valkenvania, where they run afoul of local constable Candy! He escorts the BMW full of yuppies to Valkenvania’s reeve, an ancient crank played by Aykroyd in leperous maquillage, who entraps them in his mansion/junkyard/funhouse and torments them with conveyer belts, pop-ups, and piles of bones!
Malefactors whom the reeve likes even less are sent immediately to Mister Bonestripper, a big machine that grinds people into skeletons! Ha ha! Meanwhile, Moore is stuck with two enormous, filthy diaper babies, one of whom is also played by Aykroyd! Ha ha, with all that time in the makeup trailer it’s amazing he had time to direct the movie! But direct it he did, and while I won’t say he did a great job, I can say I’ve seen worse! The busy production design and experienced cinematographer (the portly Dean Cundey, who shot The Thing and many other fine films was behind the camera here) certainly help the picture seem professionally made!
It’s really just an elaborate comedy version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which already had its elaborate comedy version, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), but merely the fact that it was this story and no other that Aykroyd wanted to tell in his directorial debut is simply delightful! Ha ha, it’s true that Chase puts in a particularly low-key, possibly even lazy performance, and it’s true the narrative is shapeless and deflated, like something I might have written in high school, but I nevertheless found plenty of laffs in the picture! It’s weird and gross and goofy-bad, but it's undeniably ebullient, and I felt very much that I was on its wavelength, that I was picking up whatever it was Aykroyd was laying down! (I sort of wish I’d been wearing gloves though, ha ha!)
The big diaper babies alone make it an irresistible treat! There are some extremely annoying characters you wish could take a trip through Mister Bonestripper post-haste, but there’s also an obliging hip hop crew who perform a number and who are freed by the reeve possibly because one of them, like the reeve himself, wears a false nose; and there’s a second, mute performance by Candy as a lady with unearthly strength! I wasn’t expecting to like this picture, but I did! I give Nothing But Trouble, alias Valkenvania, three cans of Hawaiian Tropic!

Friday 19 June 2020

Burl reviews Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins...! (1985)

Sweet Johnny-on-a-junk-sheet, it’s Burl, already back and here to review mid-80s action! Ha ha, here’s a movie I saw in the theatre, back in the days when I used to bus on downtown and catch anything that looked the least bit interesting to my teenage self: mid-budget bunberries like Black Moon Rising, F/X, Dreamscape, or this one, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins…!
And guess who directed it? Ha ha, that’s right, Guy Hamilton! It seems to be all Hamilton all the time around here, and the fellow didn’t even direct all that many pictures! This was one of the last movies he made, and I suppose he got the gig because of his Bond experience, seeing as how Remo Williams was an attempt to create a blue collar, meat-and-potatoes all-American version of the superspy! Ha ha, and from the fact that they made only one Remo Williams picture, you can guess how it turned out! Performed Below Expectations, as they say in Hollywood, or at least as they used to say back when there were expectations!
Fred Ward, that busy actor from Escape From Alcatraz, The Right Stuff, Secret Admirer, UFOria and of course Summer Catch, was the slightly unlikely choice to portray this rough-edged hero! He starts out as a New York cop with a false nose and a black moustache, courtesy I suppose of Special Makeup Effects man Carl Fullerton, whose work we know from Friday the 13th part 2! This cop is dumped into the East River, kidnapped and has his face changed by plastic surgery, all by a secret agency headed by none other than Wilford Brimley from The Thing, Death Valley and High Road to China! (Ha ha, of all these outrages, the plastic surgery is the one Remo minds the least!) Then he gets trained in the ancient art of a made-up martial technique by an even more heavily made-up Joel Grey, whom we know from Kafka and who plays the role of the Korean chopsman Chiun! Yes, that’s right, we have a white actor playing a Korean, because I suppose there were simply no Korean actors who could be hired! I’m sure they looked their hardest, but the fact that there were simply no Asian actors to be found in the mid-80s stymied even their best efforts!
Of course I’m being bitterly sarcastic here! Grey does a fine job in the part, and the makeup is well-done, but the fact that he’s just some white guy playing an old Korean is a constant, puzzling distraction, and I remember being puzzled by it even back in 1985! At least the only other agent in Brimley’s super-secret three-person organization is played by a genuine actor of colour, namely J.A. Preston from Real Life!
Much of the picture is given over to the training and the odd-couple relationship between Remo and Chiun, and eating rice and crawling through sand piles like a mole and so forth, but we get occasional shots of Brimley sitting in the office he never leaves and squinting concernedly at his computer screen, which shows shots of the picture’s bad guy, an arms manufacturer played by cold-eyed Charles Cioffi from Klute, whom Remo will eventually get around to fighting! Others on the bad guy team include crooked general George Coe from Best Seller; a grinning, diamond-toothed henchman played by Patrick Kilpatrick from Death Warrant; and stalwart Michael Pataki from The Bat People and Graduation Day!
The only female presence in the picture is army lady Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek: Nemesis, who discovers discrepancies of some kind, and is constantly fending off sexist comments and ham-handed pick-up attempts! She doesn’t get a whole lot to do, however, and it’s left to the dubious charisma of Remo himself to carry the picture! You’d think maybe the action scenes would help matters, but they’re either very darkly shot, as in a long warehouse-based dog-evasion scene; or curiously pep-free, as when Remo spends the entire climax hanging from a suspended tree! If there’s an action centerpiece to the picture, it’s the scene on the Statue of Liberty, which they made a big deal of in the movie’s promotion, as you can see, but which is only a moderately satisfying sequence!
So the picture was not a success, and the beginning of Remo’s adventure was also the end (outside of a TV movie or two)! There are compensations: a few funny lines here and there, some impressive physical feats from Ward, and a parade of familiar faces in the margins, like Reginald VelJohnson from Die Hard, Jon Polito from Highlander and William Hickey from The Sentinel! But for the most part it’s a simple, flat bafaloukas, and I give Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins… one bowl of rice!

Burl reviews The Mirror Crack'd! (1980)

Pondering the mysteries of life, it’s Burl, here with a touch of Christie for you! Yes, today I’m reviewing one of the star-studded Agatha Christie whodunits, but not Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, no! This is a distinctly lesser effort that came trailing along later: The Mirror Crack’d!
It’s set in a little English village, so it lacks the exoticism of the earlier grander efforts; but there are still any number of Hollywood glamour-pusses reeling about, even if well beyond their sell-by date! The story, set in 1953, begins promisingly with a movie-within-a-movie: a mystery picture screening at the vicarage, which resident biddysleuth Miss Marple, played by a well-cast Angela Lansbury, solves when the film breaks just as the killer is about to be revealed!
The tale proper involves an invasion of the village by Hollywood moviemakers, who are for some reason shooting an Elizabethan drama in this tweedy Tudor town, which, we are led to believe, is home to a large studio facility! The film’s star is fragile, violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor, famed from her role in Night Watch; its director is the Taylor character’s husband, played by Rock Hudson from Written on the Wind and Seconds! Hudson seems to be having an affair with his assistant, the hay fever-ridden Geraldine Chaplin from The Moderns and The Forbidden Room; and soon enough a boorish producer, played by Tony Curtis from The Manitou, arrives on the scene with his wife, another actress, and a nasty, bitter rival to Taylor, played by Kim Novak from Vertigo! And guess who else shows up, playing the Mayor: none other than Thick Wilson, whom we certainly recall from Sex With the Stars, Strange Brew and Bullies!
At a party for the village noteables, held in the estate where the movie’s above-the-liners are staying, there is an unexpected death! But who was the glass of poison really meant for, and will the killer strike again? On the case of course is Miss Marple, though she must engage with it remotely for the most part, due to a sprained ankle! Most of the legwork is undertaken by Marple’s nephew, a Scotland Yard detective played by Edward Fox from Never Say Never Again!
The catty byplay between the starlets is fun at first, but wears thin quickly! Ditto the provincial eccentricities of the townsfolk! Curtis’s crass producer is a caricature to be sure, but we can tell the actor is injecting some of the realities he’d encountered in his career into the performance! Rock Hudson, also clearly channeling some Hollywood reality, bestrides about the place, towering over everybody else in the picture! Ha ha, maybe this was a more subtle jab at Hollywood and stardom: to make no effort, with camera angles and apple boxes, to prevent Curtis, Fox, and certainly Lansbury, from looking like midgets in comparison!
Like The Man With the Golden Gun, which I watched on the same evening, this picture was directed by Guy Hamilton! This unintentional Hamilton double header did not elevate my estimation of his filmmaking talents, I’m afraid, though it was not necessarily a representative sampler! There’s not a great deal of style or atmosphere on display in The Mirror Crack’d; little more than you might find in a BBC television production of a Miss Marple story, anyway! It all relies too much on the aging stars, who march about like automatons mechanically uttering lines that might have played better on a West End stage forty years earlier!
It all wraps up with a pretty unconvincing twist ending, and the solution to the mystery, after ninety minutes of determinately keeping Miss Marple away from all the action for some unknown reason, comes to her in the middle of the night apropos of nothing, with the blue-haired sleuth sitting up in bed to exclaim “The vicar!” When you compare it to a really good English village mystery like Green For Danger, or even A Canterbury Tale, which isn’t even principally a mystery, it comes up pretty short! I give The Mirror Crack’d one and a half jars of Kensington gore!

Burl reviews The Man with the Golden Gun! (1974)

The name is Burl, James Burl! No, ha ha, my name’s just plain Burl, but I am here with a review of another Bond picture for you! It’s another Roger Moore one, in fact, and while I’m a great fan of Roger Moore as a person (so far as I know about him, which isn’t much) and as an actor in pictures like ffolkes, but I’ve always thought he was a terrible Bond! He looked wrong, somehow - he was good-looking, sure, but in the wrong way! There’s not a part of him that’s a brawler!
The plot begins when a golden bullet inscribed with 007 is sent to MI6, but though a threat to his life seems clearly implied and his bosses are concerned, Bond, well used to gold-obsessed villains, is not himself for one moment daunted! He sets out to find the notorious assassin Scaramanga, known for his deadly aim, his golden bullets, his one million dollar fee, and his unbroken record of success! Scaramanga is thankfully played by Christopher Lee from Nothing But the Night, and, lucky are we once again, he has a midget manservant called Nick-Nack played by Hervé Villachaize from Seizure and Forbidden Zone! Ha ha, and these fellows enjoy nothing more than to invite other assassins to their special Chinese island and stick them in a sort of funhouse-shooting gallery they’ve created!
To give the story the global stakes Bond viewers are used to, we get something about some kind of solar energy device, but all that is clearly appended to what the writers hoped would be a thrilling mano-a-mano between two steely-eyed, evenly-matched killers! Except they forgot that Moore was still their Bond, so the steely-eyed bit was out; and they undercut their villain by revealing halfway through the picture that he hadn’t initiated the conflict after all, and had no real interest in a contest with Bond until he suddenly is at the end!
In some ways it’s the sleaziest of the Bond pictures, or at least one of the most risqué! There are lasciviously-shot scenes at a strip club called Bottoms Up, and Benny Hill himself might have written some of the double entendres, ha ha! Even the theme song, sung by Lulu, contains more leering innuendo than usual! It’s more sexist, too, with an inept and bumbling British Intelligence agent named Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ekland from Endless Night and Fraternity Vacation, forever being kidnapped and pressing the wrong buttons with her bikini-clad bum! Maud Adams, who we know from The Christian Licorice Store, and who tangled with Bond again almost a decade later in Octopussy, at least seems a little more intelligent, and for this she is repeatedly raped by Scaramanga, and later dismissively killed by him!
To make matters worse, Clifton James from Juggernaut shows up playing the same Roscoe P. Coltrane-type he was in Live and Let Die! (James is a good actor; it’s the character who’s intolerable!) The action is set in China and Thailand, so this baccy-chawing cracker ought to have been the last person we had to worry about, ha ha! He’s involved in one of the greatest stunts in the entire Bond series, the corkscrew jump, which the filmmakers shot blandly, and to which they idiotically added a slide whistle sound effect!
It’s all pretty terrible! There’s not much action and precious little style, and for Guy Hamilton, usually one of the more reliable Bond directors, it represents a calamitous drop in quality from the heights of Goldfinger! On the other hand there are some lovely locations, some decent trick effects, and Lee does his best with the character he was given! None of this is enough to save it, I’m afraid, so I give The Man with the Golden Gun only one fake nipple!

Thursday 18 June 2020

Burl reviews Volcano! (1976)

Ha ha: Burl here with a dash of reality for you! Yes, it’s a documentary, one I saw years ago and recently revisited! It’s called Volcano, but the full title is, I think, Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry! Ha ha, that’s a mouthful! But as I recall the title card on the movie itself is simply Volcano, so that’s what I’ll go with, even though some may confuse it with Volcano from 1997! That would require a good deal of confusion, and cause even more!
Because this Volcano is an almost experimental Canadian documentary about Malcolm Lowry and his great creation, and possibly my all-time favourite novel, Under the Volcano! Boy oh boy, I read the Penguin edition of that thing when I was twenty years old, and I was by golly hooked! I return to it regularly, in fact, that same battered copy! Ha ha!
The documentary, which came along seven or eight years before the John Huston adaptation of the book, with a great drunkard act from Albert Finney as the Consul, uses interviews and location footage, and one curious courtroom re-creation scene, to give a full biography of Lowry from cradle to grave, packed with every detail you might want to know and several you might not! The portrait is of a tormented genius; a desperate, devoted inebriate; a disordered emotional state and crippling lack of self-confidence! It’s not a pretty picture, but if you’ve read Under the Volcano, it’s precisely what you’d expect!
Lowry, born into comfort in England, leaves this behind to become a cabin boy on the high seas, and then, after some schooling, writes his first book, Ultramarine! Ha ha, the movie doesn’t mention this, but my understanding is that, en route to a publisher, the young author left his only manuscript in a cab, which then drove away, and he had to rewrite the entire book from scratch! Soon after that Lowry was married, and spent some harrowing time in New York where his copious mental health problems erupted into full bloom, and he ended up in Bellevue! Next he went to Mexico, where he began work on the manuscript that would become Under the Volcano, and where his wife called it quits on their troubled marriage! He married again and moved to a small shack outside Vancouver, where the book was finished, rejected by every publisher there is, and then rewritten and, after eight years, finished again!
The rest of the tale contains both triumph and tragedy, and many atmospheric shots of the Mexican volcano Popocatépetl! On the soundtrack we have plentiful narration from director Donald Brittain (who also gave us Sweetheart: The Hal C. Banks Story), a lot of Lowry readings from Under the Volcano or from letters, voiced perfectly by Richard Burton from Exorcist II: The Heretic, and an eerie avant-garde music score by Alain Clavier! Many of the interviews, and the interviewees themselves, are horribly fascinating, and are just the type of eccentric old Brits that I’ve met quite a few of myself!
On the debit side, the picture is quite definitively just a bit too long: removing just a few volcano shots and other Mexican material might have helped! And it seems to revel a bit too much in the harshest aspects of Lowry’s life! But these are very minor complaints: I find Lowry fascinating, his book spellbinding, and Volcano an exceedingly worthwhile account of both! Ha ha, I give it three and a half unnecessary photos of syphilis victims!

Burl reviews The Baby-Sitters Club! (1995)

Hi, hi, and hello, it’s Burl here, once again dredging up a c. 1990s movie review from back in my old reviewing days! I suppose I was asked to see the picture at some kind of advance preview screening, and I can’t imagine I was too excited about the prospect! As with If Lucy Fell, this is something I saw at a review screening back when it came out, have never watched since and will never watch again; so in keeping with my goal to eventually review all the movies on this site, I’ll transcribe my 1995 notice for you here and call it done! The picture in question, by the way, was based on a popular series of tween-girl books by someone with a name similar to that of the woman who played Alice on The Brady Bunch, and is called The Baby-Sitters Club!
The Baby-Sitters Club takes place in Stoneybrook, a small American town more friendly and benign than Blue Velvet’s Lumberton, but no less creepily artificial! Here, everyone fits into a comfy middle-income bracket (ha ha, those who don’t do not stay long), and even the kids are savvy, capitalistic pursuers of the American Dream!
In this eerie bourgeois paradise, seven tweenage girls have carved out a profitable niche in the babysitting business! They work together to provide the town with reliable, one-stop child care: if one sitter isn’t available to work, another will be! The club is never hard up for employment, as the parents of Stoneybrook are only, endlessly interested in stepping out for the evening so as to briefly escape the boredom of their snug middle-class lives!
The girls have their own problems, ha ha! One needs to pass a summer school science test (it’s nice to see an Asian kid in a picture who for once isn’t a natural science whiz); one wants to hide her diabetes and young age from her seventeen year-old Swiss boyfriend; and the main girl, Kristy, is troubled when her estranged father returns to town and for some reason makes her swear to keep his presence a secret from her mother! As Kristy is torn asunder by conflicting loyalties, the club faces such additional obstacles as three wicked girls who hate them for no reason, and an evil next-door neighbor played by Ellen Burstyn from The King of Marvin Gardens, whose distrust of pubescent girls might be excused by her experience with Regan in The Exorcist!
Drably directed by Melanie Mayron, whose acting we may recall from Drop Zone, the picture is as rote and flat as one of those Disney Sunday Night Movies, like Rock and Roll Mom or some other! It was shot by Willy Kurant, the French cinematographer who photographed Godard’s great banana Masculin/Feminin, but on this one he was unable to give over much visual pep, I’m sorry to say!
On the other hand the girls are all talented actors, and there’s a gallery of familiar faces in the margins around them: Bruce Davison from Lies and Spies Like Us, Brooke Adams from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Dead Zone, Peter Horton from Children of the Corn, Colleen Camp from D.A.R.Y.L. and Track 29, and Harris Yulin from Night Moves and Fatal Beauty! Some welcome humour is derived from the weird behavior of the little kids enrolled in the club’s summer day care, so while young teenage girls would probably enjoy the picture just by default, it’s antic enough for younger folk to appreciate as well! It’s not my kind of movie, but I guess even taking that into consideration I’m going to give The Baby-Sitters Club only one and a half plaid ballcaps!

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Burl reviews The Killer Elite! (1975)

Good day, gumchewers! Yes, it’s Burl, and I’m here with a review for you, and guess what: it’s just a touch of Peckinpah! This is from the director’s days of decline, it must be said, but not yet the curious blauchup that is The Osterman Weekend! No, today’s action picture is in fact The Killer Elite!
We open with a neatly-edited credit sequence showing dynamite bombs being set and other close-quarters activities! Then a building explodes and we meet our hero, played by James Caan from Misery, and his co-worker and goodbuddy Robert Duvall from The Paper and Jack Reacher! They work for some kind of mysterious company which does secret killings and explodings and rescues on behalf of, you guessed it, the CIA! Ha ha, but beneath all the 70s macho posturing, sexist joking and maniacal laughter, the stage is set for betrayal: Duvall surprises his pal by blasting chunks out of his elbow and kneecap and announcing to the writhing Caan that he is henceforth retired!
For some reason the picture then chooses to focus on Caan’s surgeries and his long recovery process! As in An American Werewolf in London, the patient leaves the hospital in the company of his nurse, and they set up house together! Caan is limpy and be-caned, but he takes martial arts lessons and learns to biff and bonk with his cane, in effect to use his disability as a weapon! Company representative Arthur Hill, whom we may recall from from Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, offers Caan a job: to protect a Japanese politician played by Mako from Armed Response! Caan needs a team, so he in turn recruits Bo Hopkins from Mutant, playing a demented marksman, and Burt Young from Blood Beach, playing a more reserved version of just the sort of character Burt Young was so good at playing!
Hopkins does the same kind of crazy routine he did for Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch, only this time wearing glasses! Another Peckin-veteran is Gig Young, who gave a boozy, eccentric performance in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, and gives another one here! Ha ha, it’s most entertaining! The climax of the picture, featuring Caan versus Duvall in some kind of shipyard along with various ninja henchmen and of course Caan’s backup crew, has plenty of action but is still somewhat underwhelming! However, if you’ve ever wanted to see Burt Young fight ninjas, this is probably your one and only chance! Ha ha!
The whole movie is a bit clunky and confused, but it certainly has its moments! The cast alone makes it worth watching, and the nice 70s look given it by cinematographer Philip Lathrop, who also shot The Monster of Piedras Blancas, is a pleasant icing atop the cake! It’s no classic, but I’m glad I watched it, and I give The Killer Elite two gin and fizzes!

Saturday 13 June 2020

Burl reviews My Brother's Wedding! (1983)

Burl here, friends, and it’s nice to see you too! Today we’re going 80s indie, which often yields fine results! And so it is here, with the second feature film from Charles Burnett, who’d already made Killer of Sheep and would go on to the allegorical houseguest drama To Sleep With Anger! This particular comedy-drama of mischance and bad choices is called My Brother’s Wedding!
Ha ha, some time in the last year or two I saw Burnett give a talk on filmmaking, and he was a pretty interesting character! I’m glad to have finally caught up to this early work, which apparently was lost for some time, ha ha! Well, you know, it happens! But My Brother’s Wedding, which is a sort of slice of life and a bit of a character study was well worth rediscovering!
Our setting is South Central LA and our main character is Pierce, a thirty year-old fellow working in his parents’ dry cleaning establishment and doing his best in the neighborhood and in the world! Ha ha, the trouble is that, though he’s a decent man, his best is often perplexingly terrible! It comes down to his inability to negotiate the different worlds in his orbit: on the one hand his friend Soldier, a troublemaking influence, has just been released from jail, and Pierce has promised his sweet old mother that he will not let Soldier get into more trouble! Ha ha, easier said than done, for Soldier, in ways Pierce finds increasingly hard to ignore, is a significantly terrible person!
On the other hand are his family obligations: not just to his parents but to his brother, whose nuptials are upcoming! Pierce’s brother Wendell is a lawyer, and his fiancée is another lawyer, who comes from a rich family! (Ha ha, the fiancée’s father, a doctor, is played by the only actor in the picture I recognized, Sy Richardson from Repo Man, Walker, Mystery Train, They Live, Tapeheads, Bad Dreams, and so many more!) But Pierce, a determined underachiever, doesn’t get along with his brother, and less still with his hoity-toity fiancée, who, as Pierce accurately points out, is forever signifying! A dinner scene with the two families is especially awkward in a movie filled with awkward scenes!
At a certain point tragedy strikes, and come Saturday Pierce faces an agonizing choice between two obligations! Of course he tries to choose both and by that effort accomplishes neither, and the very last shot of the picture reveals just how profoundly he’s messed things up! Ha ha, as a chronic double-booker who wants to please everybody, I really felt for him, even though I like to think I’d have managed things a little more elegantly than Pierce does!
It’s a compelling picture, often funny, sometimes harrowing, but thankfully never miserablist, as I initially feared it might be! Burnett’s cast is almost entirely made up of amateur non-actors, and though some might be bothered by the occasionally amateurish performances, I was not! Pierce, the picture’s focus, is perfectly good, as is the woman who plays his mother! Ha ha, the mysterious wrestling matches Pierce and his father frequently engage in was a nice touch, and the whole movie is filled with neighborhood details that give it a fine flavor of reality! The scenes are short and the movie never bores, and I enjoyed it! Ha ha, I give My Brother’s Wedding three saucepans!

Burl reviews On Golden Pond! (1981)

With a geriatric halloo, it’s Burl, here to review the movie about old folks! Ha ha, of course there are other movies about the elderlies and their shenanigans: surely you remember the twin triumphs of Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men! But if you want to go back a little further, but not so far back as, say, Make Way For Tomorrow or one of Ozu’s oldpeople films, you might want to settle on today’s picture: the exercise in lakeside gentility that is On Golden Pond!
Our main characters are a couple of greyhairs making a springtime return to their cottage on the lake, which is very definitely a lake and not a pond, it should be noted! Of course these geezers are played by Henry Fonda from Once Upon A Time in the West and Tentacles, and Katherine Hepburn from The African Queen! Ha ha, it’s their forty-eighth summer On Golden Pond (or “OGP” as the kids would say), and as they arrive we are treated to some character-establishing moments: Fonda, as old Norman Thayer, is crotchety and forgetful and kind of a jerk a lot of the time, and Hepburn’s Ethel wears bonnets, brings in firewood, and picks mushrooms and berries at every opportunity!
A sort of plot asserts itself when their daughter Chelsea, played by Fonda’s real daughter Jane, whom we may recall from Klute, arrives OGP with her new boyfriend and his son in tow! The youngster, who at first shows all the signs of being an irredeemable rascal, is played by Doug McKeon from Mischief, and the boyfriend is none other than a bearded Dabney Coleman from pictures like Rolling Thunder and Cloak & Dagger and Dragnet! Ha ha, it sure is funny to see Fonda and Coleman spending affectionate times together after all their troubles in 9 to 5!
But soon enough Coleman and the younger Fonda have decamped for all the capitols of Europe, leaving the boy to rusticate OGP with the elders! Thankfully the lad, for all his talk of cruising chicks and sucking face, is not the unpleasant imp one initially fears! Outside of a few moments in which he declares himself bored, or castigates old Norman for being too crabby, he’s fairly pleasant company for the superannuated duo! Ha ha, pretty soon they’re fishing together for the monster trout Walter, and crashing boats in Purgatory Cove! Ha ha, the shot of old Fonda flying out of the front of the boat is tragically funny, even though it breaks the heart to see that beautiful Chris Craft get smashed against a rock!
But there are no truly serious consequences OGP! Everyone stays friends, and then when Jane returns she and her father have it out about him being an emotionally unavailable grump, and of course one searches the faces of both actors for the helping of reality we know is present in these exchanges! It’s all quite stagy, though Mark Rydell, the director, does his best to get people outdoors and fishing or swimming or just boating around! It’s all shot very nicely by Billy Williams, a talented lensman; and composer Dave Grusin thankfully concentrates on tinkly pianos instead of the elevator jazz in which he too often trades!
So everything’s A-OK OGP! As a movie, though, it’s well-crafted but treacly, and bougie and bland! I think Henry Fonda’s performance is pretty darn good, though, and everyone else is fine enough too! It’s crafted and stogy and exactly what you think it is, ha ha, and so I give On Golden Pond two games of Parcheesi!

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Burl reviews Psycho II! (1983)

Ha ha and c-c-c-cutlery murders, it’s Burl, here to review a long-gestating sequel! Yes, it took them twenty-two years to make a follow-up to the great-granddaddy of slasher mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and, although the original book’s author Robert Bloch had written his own follow-up, in which Norman Bates travels to Hollywood and puts a poking on some people making a movie of his life, for this movie the filmmakers chose to keep the character in the same motel and creepy house-based environment as in his original adventure!
As the picture opens, Norman, having been pronounced nervous but sane, is being released from his long years of psycho-incarceration! His friendly psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Loggia, whom we recall from Innocent Blood and The Ninth Configuration, sets him up in his old house and with a job as a short-order sous-chef; but there is plenty of opposition to his release too! This mainly comes from nasty Lila Loomis, the sister of Janet Leigh’s character in the first picture, played as in the original by Verna Bloom from Into the Night! She embarks on a relentless campaign to send Norman back to the bughouse!
But, ha ha, other influences are afoot! Pixie-cutie Meg Tilly, whom we remember from Impulse, also works at the diner, and becomes a part of Norman’s life, soon even living with him in that iconic house! There’s also the crass motel manager played by Dennis Franz from The Fury and Die Hard 2! It’s the kind of part he could do in his sleep, but he does a fine job with it and of course meets a sticky end when the cutlery murders start! It being the 1980s, these are a little gorier than they were back in Hitchcock’s day, with some welcome Special Makeup Effects pepping things up here and there!
Now, it’s no Psycho, but, ha ha, that’s a given! Director Richard Franklin, who brought us pictures like Road Games, Link and of course Cloak & Dagger, does a perfectly acceptable job, though I’d like to see what Brian De Palma might have done with it! Anthony Perkins, whom we recall from ffolkes, is the big draw here, and makes Norman as innocent and likeable as you might want! Ha ha, you’re really pulling for him here! Anyway, secrets are revealed, twists are taken, there’s a terrific score from Jerry Goldsmith and nice cinematography from Dean Cundey, and it's got a solid supporting cast! It doesn't always make sense, in particular much having to do with Tilly's character, whatever her motivations, but it's still a good stately slasher!
I’ve always liked the film, perhaps more than it really deserves, and have thought of it as a worthy if obviously inferior follow-up to the original! I’m enamoured of Perkins’s slightly wacky but very good performance: though we can’t help thinking of Norman now as a cliché, this is hardly his fault; and in the end, thanks in part to work Perkins does in the sequels, and in defiance of the cartoonizing of the serial killer momma’s boy type, he feels very like a real person! Also I think Franklin directed it with some restraint, plucking mainly from his own toolbox rather than from Sir Alfred’s! And I like that it’s a little gory, as is number III as well! So, for an admiration that’s freely mixed in with fond reminiscence and the comfort of repeat viewings at a formative age, I give Psycho II three breaking chairs!

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Burl reviews If Lucy Fell! (1996)

Ha ha, Burl here with a forgotten 90s romantic comedy called If Lucy Fell! First, though, a confession: I haven’t seen this picture since before its original release, when I saw it at a special free sneak preview, and this review is taken largely from the notice I wrote for a local publication at that time! It's hard to believe I saw this while ignoring actual decent New York pictures like The Daytrippers - ha ha, what a crazy decade the 90s was!
I remember quite a bit about that If Lucy Fell screening, however, even if the movie itself has entirely disappeared from the cultural consciousness! I recall that the girl sitting in front of me had the worst cough in the world! She sounded like she was dying, quite frankly! Halfway through the movie she went off to the bathroom, returning ten minutes later to report to her friends that she had barfed her guts out! Then she coughed some more; but not once, apparently, did she consider simply leaving to go home and lie down! Thus was the power If Lucy Fell held over this poor soul! Ha ha!
But I did not share this powerful thrall! I thought If Lucy Fell was a garden-variety romantic comedy with a few amusing moments but many more unlikely situations and shouting matches! Striving for Woody Allen-style New York erudition, the picture is instead relentlessly anti-intellectual, more Annie Wilkes than Annie Hall!
Eric Schaeffer, also the writer and director of the movie, plays an artist called (if I’m spelling this right) Joe MacGonaughgill, who lives with his best and most platonic friend, a therapist named Lucy Ackerman played by Sarah Jessica Parker from Footloose! She’s dating Ben Stiller from Next of Kin, here playing a guy named Dick or Rick or Bwick, but is unsatisfied with this; Joe, meanwhile, spies on his pretty neighbor Elle MacPherson, but hasn’t made sweet love  to anyone but his pillow in five long years! So neither of them are very pleased with their romantic lives, and the big, scoff-worthy hook in the movie is their mutual vow to jump hand-in-hand off the Brooklyn Bridge if nothing changes within thirty days!
Ha ha! Would I be breaking a confidence if I told you this was all a preamble to Joe and Lucy realizing that their true loves were each other? I don’t think so - it’s a conclusion a blind moleman with a head concussion could see coming! Maybe if we even once got the impression they really might leap to their deaths, we might care whether or not they discovered happiness! Or maybe we’d just continue to think of them as spoiled, smug fauxhemians with no real problems who take things much too hard!
For all its talk of love, what If Lucy Fell lacks is a real sense of romance! Schaeffer’s screenplay is much too concerned with making the characters hip, likeable and witty, which they are only in the briefest and most infrequent of flashes! The picture is too forcibly cute to be good, too obvious to be involving, and too facile to be truly romantic! For all that, it was still better than another so-called romantic comedy that I saw around the same time, called Beautiful Girls! That one was a double stinker, rated pee-yoooo! Ha ha, I give If Lucy Fell one Bwick short of a load!