Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Burl reviews A View To A Kill! (1985)

Double-0 Burl, reporting for duty! Ha ha, yes, it’s yet another Bond picture today, and indeed yet another Roger Moore Bond picture, and here it was his last: A View to a Kill! And I’m going to say it straight up without any coy talk or beating about the bush: this, friends, is as bad as the famous action franchise ever got! Perhaps the worst thing is that whenever Bond is attacked or is otherwise in peril, he emits a terrified howl entirely unbecoming of a double-naught spy! The movie is leering, insipid and cartoonish in all the worst ways, with the glossy production values here seeming more superficial than ever before or since, and with a star well past his best before date! Ha ha, it’s like Cannon Films made a Bond picture!
We begin with Moore, or rather his stunt double, skiing around on glaciers and down radical slopes, at times on a proto-snowboard and accompanied by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” instead of the John Barry action music! This is truly the depths of nonsensery, a return to the same imbecilic frame of mind that brought us the slide whistle in The Man With the Golden Gun! The ski stunts are impressive, but so obviously the work of doubles not just for Moore, but for the entire crew - it was all second unit stuff of course - that it feels like somebody just threaded up a ten minute Mike Marvin or Willy Bogner short completely separate from and incidental to the spy story we’re putatively enjoying!
From here we move to a plot concerning microchips and horse racing, and our bad guy, Max Zorin, is played by a grinning, blond Christopher Walken, the actor whose face is familiar to us from such productions as The Dead Zone and McBain! Grace Jones from Vamp is wasted in the role of Zorin’s assistant, and we eventually discover that the bad man's nefarious plot has something to do with setting off an earthquake to flood Silicon Valley while he rides around in a big blimp with his name on it, laughing! Along the way Bond's friends are constantly being strangled by someone who pops up in the back seat of whatever car they’re driving, and there’s first a dumb taxi chase in Paris and then a completely superfluous San Francisco fire truck chase scene that I used to think was cool because the bright red of the hook-and-ladder truck made me think of the terrific old TV show Emergency! But now it just seems like another one of this elderly Bond’s many unforced errors, riddled with more of those pathetic, panicky howls as he hangs from the truck as Tanya Roberts drives crazily through the streets of the city!
On the other hand, John Barry contributes a particularly good score here, ha ha, and I quite like the Duran Duran theme song, despite nonsensical lyrics like “Night bugs cover me,” and the most abysmal, thuddingly literal title sequence old Maurice Binder ever came up with! Also it was nice to see Patrick Macnee, of The Howling and Sweet Sixteen and of course a fictional spy in his own right, pop up in the mostly comic role of a dapper horse trainer forced to pretend he's an abused valet! In addition there are many of the usual Bond folks, now superannuated, but it’s still a pleasure to see them, and a feeling both melancholy and relieved to remember that it was for several their last go-round! Yes, Moneypenny, I'm looking at you! And there are some familiar faces to spot around the edges of the picture, like Alison Doody (ha ha!) from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Dolph Lundgren from I Come In Peace!
Well, as you can see I don’t have a lot of love for this picture, but I’ll always have a certain fondness for it, as I do for Octopussy, because, as bad as they both are, I went to see each of them in the theater under pleasant circumstances, with groups of friends on a hot summer’s day! Nevertheless, I can muster only one fishhook butterfly for A View To A Kill! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Crash! (1996)

Beep beep, it’s Burl, here to review a car-crash picture! But it’s sure not one of your hayseed yee-haw skid-out epics like Redneck County or Smokey Bites the Dust, ha ha no sir! If those movies have a polar opposite, David Cronenberg’s chrome-blue, super-citified, anti-action drama Crash is it!
Videodrome is good and weird, but I think Crash was Cronenberg’s first real return to experimental filmmaking since the early half-features Stereo and Crimes of the Future! So for that reason I think it’s a noteworthy work, and of course it’s a serious-minded sex picture with more than sex on its mind, and also tremendously funny! I’ve been watching Cronenberg pictures for a long time, and have loved them over the years on different, highly varied plains, receiving renewed doses of satisfaction from them multiple times for each different genre cloak in which they appear to me! First, horror or science fiction movies! Then Important Cultural Artifacts! After that, perfectly crafted cult pictures! And finally, and I think ultimately, comedies! Cronenberg has claimed it himself, ha ha!
Not only is Crash based on a J.G. Ballard book, but the lead character, played by James Spader from Team-Mates, Tuff Turf, and Pretty in Pink, is named James Ballard! He’s married to Deborah Kara Unger from The Game, and both of them are so jaded by their high-rise Toronto lives that they play games of bohankie with whomever they come across in their daily lives, be they strange men in airplane hangars or simple, sexy camera assistants! Ha ha! But one night a distracted Spader loses control of his auto and runs into a car containing Holly Hunter from The Burning and also her husband! The husband is killed and Hunter injured, and she and Ballard end up recuperating in the very same hospital! They meet a local car-crash enthusiast named Vaughan, played marvelously by Elias Koteas from Some Kind of Wonderful, and become enmeshed in a strange subculture of people obsessed by the remaking by car crash of both the human body and human culture!
Rosanna Arquette from After Hours and Nowhere to Run appears in a small role as one of these subcultists, but she doesn’t have much to do except show off her leg braces and scars, accrued from the many crashes her character has endured! Meanwhile, Vaughan and his cohorts restage famous crack-ups, notably the one between James Dean and Donald Turnipseed! Meanwhile again there is lots of, ha ha, autoerotica going on, with all the characters having car sex with each other, and even old Vaughan catching a bummy at one point! But things take a turn for the alarming, and Spader and his wife are finally consumed by the fender-bending obsession!
This picture worked its automotive magic on me when I saw it in its big-screen run! I think I saw it at some kind of preview screening, and when I came driving up from the parking garage after the show, it seemed to me, as it had to the characters after their near-fatal freeway accidents, that there was now at least three times as much traffic on the road and that a collision was surely imminent! Even if this doesn’t happen to you, you’ll surely be caught up in the strange, defiantly unique atmosphere the movie induces! Ha ha! Some might call it goofball, but I think the movie knows more than its critics do, and I count it as a real accomplishment - perhaps one of Cronenberg’s finest! I give Crash three and a half hood ornaments!

Sunday 9 August 2020

Burl reviews The Penalty! (1920)

Shh, it’s Burl! I’ve got a silent picture from a century ago to review for you today: in fact a starring vehicle for the great Lon Chaney! Ha ha, yes, this must be one of the absolute jewels in his crown, as we have on view all at the same time his astonishing physical feats, his makeup prowess, and his tremendous acting! And maybe I’m just not listening in the right places, but I don’t hear this one talked about as much as I do some other Chaney pictures! It’s The Penalty!
It’s a crime-horror-melodrama as rich as a ripe pear! Ha ha, it even has nudity in it! It begins in the past, with a boy who has been injured by traffic brought in to the surgery of a young and untested doctor! The sawbones lives up to that colloquial name for his profession and saws the boy’s bones! But an older doctor arrives and instantly diagnoses that the boy’s legs didn’t need to be cut off after all! The older medico reluctantly pledges to cover for the younger one’s mistake, but the boy overhears this exchange, and thus begins a lifetime of rage and resentment, and the longest-term revenge plot outside of Oldboy!
Twenty-seven years after his unfortunate dismemberment, the boy has grown into Blizzard, music lover and legless genius of the underworld! Ha ha, Chaney’s performance as this near-demonic crime czar is really something to behold, and it’s no surprise when the sculptress daughter of his great doctor enemy asks him in all innocence to pose for a bust of the Ol’ Scratch she’s making! There are times when Chaney’s face becomes so devilish you expect to see horns, and it’s impossible to say whether at those times he’s wearing one of the crazy makeups he was such a genius at, or was just harnessing the power of gurning like no actor before him or since!
The story, by Gouvernor Morris (ha ha, just what did he gouvern, if anything?), is intensely melodramatic in that crazy silent movie fashion, and if you don’t like that sort of thing this will not be for you! But if you don’t mind implausibilities stacked like cordwood, impenetrable motivations (to our twenty-first century minds, anyway), and what some may consider wild overacting, you’ll stand a good chance of loving this picture as much as I did! Ha ha, can you buy a scheme that might have inspired Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, but involves the secret manufacture of hundreds of pretty straw hats? Or a special brain operation that will transform a raging, evil lunatic into a nice and helpful guy? I did, and felt amply rewarded for my open-mindedness!
It’s got some great sets and beautiful inky cinematography, and the direction by Wallace Worsley is effective enough that you wonder why Worsley, despite his premature passing and the fame of his Hunchback of Notre Dame, he wasn’t more famous! It’s black as pitch and sports a tragic ending - the penalty of the title, in fact - and so, as silent films go, this is most certainly not The Lonedale Operator! I give The Penalty three and a half leather stumpholders!

Burl reviews Deadly Blessing! (1981)

With a chinbeard and a fearsome frown it’s Burl, here to review culty cornpone horror! Yes, it’s an early, which is to say pre-Elm Street, effort from Wes Craven; not one of his better-loved pictures, it’s true, but it’s also not Swamp Thing! It’s a movie about something deadly, but it’s not Deadly Friend! No no, gumchewers, today we’re talking about the one and only Deadly Blessing!
I’ve seen this one a few times over the years, and I’ll admit to you right now that I’ve never gotten a handle on it! I could never really remember what it was - a slasher movie? a killer cult story? supernatural demon horror? I guess I still don’t really know, except that it might be all of them, ha ha!
It’s a Texas picture all right, but I suspect it’s meant to be set in Pennsylvania somewhere! It’s set on a colony of “Hittites,” which don’t seem to be connected in any way to the ancient civilization, but are more like real far gone Hutterites! “They make the Amish look like swingers,” Sharon Stone says!
Yes, Sharon Stone, whom we know from Total Recall and The Quick and the Dead and of course Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, is in this picture, looking very gorgeous too, but the main character is Martha, played by Maren Jensen! It seems her husband Jim, an ex-Hittite, has a fatal encounter with a tractor one night in the barn! Now a widow, Martha invites her two friends, Stone’s Lana and another one called Vicky, to stay with her on the farm, “Our Blessing,” it’s called, situated right next door to the Hittite colony! But of course the Hittites fear and despise the outlanders, or at least some of them do, and heretics like Jim especially, so they do not make very good neighbours! A manchild played by Michael Berryman from Weird Science keeps popping over to accuse Martha of being the incubus, but this isn’t Incubus after all, and she’s quite innocent of the charge! (Seeing poor Berryman run around in the hot Texas sun, knowing that in real life he is unable to sweat and is thus highly susceptible to heat exhaustion, really made me feel for the poor guy!)
Ernest Borgnine, famous for his role in When Time Ran Out, struts around being psychotically stern and dementedly pious, while Jeff East from Up the Creek and Pumpkinhead plays a sympathetic young Hittite who begins a tentative romance with Vicky! Bloodless knife murders very occasionally spice things up; a snake turns up in the bath; and Craven gets in some of his soon-to-be-patented dream sequences! And then at the very end the floor busts open and things get decidedly supernatural for the downbeat ending! Ha ha!
There are a few darn good moments in the picture, which I had either forgotten of never previously appreciated! But there are quite a few dull patches too, and for long stretches the thing feels like a somnolent rural horror picture in the vein of, say, Funeral Home! I’d imagine that if you’re not in the proper mood, it might come off as a little dull! But it manages some countryside atmosphere and a few good shocks, and the mighty Borgnine gives a good performance as the sort of holy jerk to whom you want to deliver a sharp kick to the inner rectus! Ha ha, I give Deadly Blessing one and a half spiders in the mouth!

Saturday 8 August 2020

Burl reviews Humanoids From the Deep! (1980)

Blub-blub, it’s Burl, here with monster terror from beneath the waves! It’s New World Pictures time, and more specifically it’s one of their early-80s monster pictures, like Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World, the kind of thing they were loading full of gore and monsters and nudity and all the stuff that the drive-in patrons of the day truly appreciated! The picture in question is none other than the notorious Humanoids From the Deep!
Now, ha ha, I’ll get into the major notoriety issues later, but first we should address that inaccurate title! For, while the monsters do indeed swim and come up from the water, they never seem to get very deep, and they certainly don’t live in the depths! No, they dwell in the caves and indents of the Pacific Northwest coast, specifically around the small fishing town of Noyo, home of the Salmon Fest!
Doug McClure from Tapeheads and 52 Pick Up is the fisherman hero, a little reminiscent of the Tom Atkins character in The Fog; and while he has an appealing teddy bear presence, by the climax he’s getting some pretty weird ideas! Anyway, it seems that the fishing around Noyo has been poor of late, and meanwhile a big company is thinking of opening a cannery in the area! Most of the townsfolk, including the town jerk played by Vic Morrow, are for the cannery, but the local Indigenous population doesn’t want their land appropriated and their waters polluted! It’s a reasonable position, but tensions are at a boiling point, and when something kills all the dogs who hang out at the pier, a big fistfight is the result!
Most of the actors have to spend the rest of the picture with bruise and abrasion makeups on their faces as a result of this fistfight! They all putt-putt around in little boats with tiny Johnson motors on them, while Morrow and his boys spy and plot strategies against the Indigenous folks! Meanwhile, humanoids created by the young, hungry, and unstoppable trick effects genius Rob Bottin are popping up here and there, slashing at the menfolk with their big long arms and forcing themselves upon the community’s ample stock of young women! For a movie directed by a woman, Barbara Peeters, it seems awfully rapey, but thankfully these scenes - which, indeed, may have been added later by male filmmakers, thus the controversy - are displayed in quick cuts and without much detail; but they’re still most unsavory!
After McClure, his buddy Johnny Eagle, and the lady scientist from the canning company played by Ann Turkel have an encounter with the fishmen and manage to kill a few of them and bring one back to the town, it becomes apparent what scale (ha ha!) of problem Noyo has! Turkel admits that her salmon experiments must have gone terribly wrong! Urgent, immediate action is clearly required, so she shows her new friends a film about frogs! But in the meantime Noyo’s Salmon Festival is about to commence, with the funfair action on the harborside pier, and the local radio announcer celebrating by pronouncing the L in “salmon;” and the next thing you know humanoids are busting up all over, slaughtering folk, slashing at them, pulling off their heads, or just plain ripping off their brassieres! It’s the Corman exploitation philosophy in a seven-minute nutshell, and on some level you’ve simply got to admire it! And Peeters carries it all off with real conviction, ha ha!
Not everything makes sense, though! McClure’s idea to firehose fuel all over the place and set the harbor adjacent to the funfair on fire is a decidedly odd one, and doesn’t help things in any way! Is it an attempt to burn up the creatures, or merely to distract them? He manages to shoot one or two humanoids, but otherwise this supposed hero is virtually useless!
And then there’s the footage Peeters didn’t even shoot - the extra added rape stuff, and the bellybusting birth scene at the end! The knowledge that these were added by male filmmakers after the real director, a woman, was given a pat on the head and told to go home gives the whole thing a distinctly skeevy, unpleasantly old-fashioned edge! But at the same time, if you make the effort, it’s possible to watch Humanoids from the Deep and see the marvelously unpretentious B-movie Peeters intended to make! It’s well-crafted, decently acted, and punches well above its weight in areas such as James Horner's score and Bottin's trick makeup effects! Ha ha, I give Humanoids from the Deep two groovy brown ca-trucks!

Burl reviews Earthquake! (1974)

With a rumble and a crack, it’s Burl, here with some more 70s disaster! Yes, it’s Earthquake, and while it wasn’t the first 70s disaster picture (Airport and The Poseidon Adventure came first), nor the best (The Towering Inferno, released the same year is a lot better, and so is Juggernaut of course), nor the most popular (Inferno beat it out at the box office), nor the worst (Ha ha, I’m looking at you, When Time Ran Out!), it is in many ways the quintessence of the form!
There are strange rumblings in the ground, and at the Earthquake Institute, the young graduate student warns of an impending quake, but receives only derisive laughter in return! There are rumblings too in the marriage of Charlton Heston, the ruddyman we know from Touch of Evil and In the Mouth of Madness, and Ava Gardner, familiar from such eccentric pictures as Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and Tam Lin! They don’t get along, and while Ava complains to her father, the only slightly older Lorne Green (well known from his cameo in The Errand Boy), Charleton seeks comfort in the ropey arms of lovely Genevieve Bujold from Dead Ringers!
That’s the soap opera part of the plot, and we have other threads too, like dedicated uniform cop George Kennedy, in trouble for destroying Zsa Zsa Gabor’s hedgerow; and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree from The Banker, as Miles, the motorcycle daredevil who’s trying to get his spiral run right; and perm-haired creepazoid Marjoe Gortner, from Mausoleum, as the bag boy Jody, a weekend warrior who goes mad with power and also with lust for the even more perm-haired Victoria Principal!
At some point the drum and shake of Sensurround takes hold: the buildings sway, the windows shatter, the elevators plummet, and the cows jump over the moon! Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings of a shattered Hollywood are paraded across the screen as though he’s been given one of those virtual gallery openings which artists must suffer in these pestilent days; but his work is great as always! On the physical effects side plenty of concrete rains down, chasms yawn, bridges fall, the big dam begins to crack, Lorne Green succumbs to a heart attack of all things, and we get all the faux destruction that Universal Studios can provide!
Amid the rubble is a veritable terrarium of familiar faces, like John Randolph from Christmas Vacation, Donald Moffat from The Thing, Jesse Vint from Forbidden World, Kip Niven from Damnation Alley, and, in a cameo under a name I shall not attempt to spell, and wearing an outrageous outfit which I dare not describe, is none other than Walter Matthau from Bigger Than Life! Ha ha, he sits in a bar making drunken remarks, and then later, in a shelter for displaced people, he dances a merry inebriate’s jig, then falls over to the intense amusement of the crowd!
It’s not a good movie, not by a long chalk, ha ha! However, it hits all the 70s disaster bases, never gets boring despite the dumb soapy stuff, has some appealing weirdness here and there (Matthau’s hat, ha ha!), and dares to end things on a muddy, unexpectedly dour, tragically uxorious note! I award Earthquake one and a half truckloads of cows!