Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 30 January 2021

Burl reviews L.A. Story! (1991)


A jolly Left Coast hello to you all, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a movie I remember seeing when it came out! I saw it on a date with a girl named Catherine, and I think it was the only movie date we went on! It’s a romantic movie, though, and as I recall it was a reasonably romantic date as well! But the particulars have been lost to time and to the hazy vicissitudes of memory, and so all I really have left of that date is the movie we went to see: L.A. Story!

Steve Martin from ¡Three Amigos! and Planes, Trains & Automobiles is the star of the picture, ha ha, and he also wrote it! He plays Harris Telemacher, the wackiest weatherman in Southern California, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s vaguely dissatisfied with his life! Fortunately the magic of Los Angeles is such that its freeway information signs are sentient, benevolent entities who live only to help well-heeled but vaguely dissatisfied white guys with their minor problems!

One such signpost stops him on the side of the road one night and informs the befuddled weatherman that it wants to help, and that he should look out for the weather! It also delivers unto him a riddle, ha ha! From here the movie becomes a combo plate of absurdist satire and yearning romance regularly infused with Enya tunes and the incessant twirling of Sarah Jessica Parker, who is even more footloose here than she was in Footloose!

The principal object of Telemacher’s ardor is Victoria Tennant, who co-starred with Martin in All of Me, and, I think, married him! She plays a flibbertigibbet journalist in town to do a story on the city and its people! There’s a romantic quillici, or at least a perceived one, between her, Telemacher, the flax-brained earth child played by Parker, and a good-natured Brit essayed by Richard E. Grant from Withnail and I! Marilu Henner from Johnny Dangerously is in there too I guess, as Telemacher’s ladyfriend who turns out to be having an affair with his agent, played by Kevin Pollack from Grumpy Old Men! “Ha ha, I thought they were only supposed to take ten percent!” Telemacher grouses!

The name “Harris Telemacher,” which is a little bit weird and a bit stuffy too, gives you an idea of the comedic tone of the movie: it has one foot in the goofology of, say, The Man With Two Brains, and the other in the more classical romanticism of Roxanne! There’s a general undergraduate Shakespeareishness to the whole enterprise, but the takeaway is unclear! Perhaps we're meant to realize that, within our own sphere of existence, each of us is our own Prospero! At any rate, the literary pretensions offer the opportunity for a cameo from Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters fame, who plays the gravedigger from Hamlet! (Remember that in Strange Brew, Moranis played a hoser version of either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, so he comes by the experience honestly!) Further cameos come from Patrick Stewart, best known from Lifeforce; Chevy Chase of Fletch fame; and Woody Harrelson from Wildcats!

The movie comes from the director of Volcano, which is another L.A. movie! Ha ha, the two films might make a nice, highly specific little double feature - both of them, after all, are in their own way love letters to the City of Angels, and each of them contains an earthquake in the first reel, too! L.A. Story is a wisp of a puff of a thing, but it’s got plenty of amusing moments and good-natured performances, and if its satire doesn’t really leave any marks, that’s because its target is covered in Teflon! Ha ha! I give L.A. Story two and a half high colonics!


Friday 29 January 2021

Burl reviews Purple Noon! (1960)


Allons-y sur le bateau, c’est Burl! Yes, it’s a French picture today, the first cinematic adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s debut Ripley novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley! The movie was retitled Plain Soleil, but is known to the English speaking world by the nonsensical but evocative title Purple Noon! So it’s a story virtually everyone is familiar with, from seeing The American Friend or The Talented Mr. Ripley; but for Purple Noon , the initial kick at the can, they really Frenched it up! And that’s no bad thing!

Tom Ripley, played by Alain Delon from Un Flic, is the poor hanger-on who has apparently been asked by the father of a rich playboy called Philippe Greenleaf, essayed by Maurice Ronet from Elevator to the Gallows, to bring his wayward Philippe to San Francisco! Whether this is actually the case is questionable: Ripley, we discover, is the sort of fellow who’ll say whatever is most convenient to him whether it’s true or not; and at one point Philippe claims to hardly know him!

By the time the characters are sailing around on a beautiful yacht, it’s pretty clear that Ripley’s default mode is covetousness, and that what he covets are Philippe’s lifestyle and his ladyfriend Marge, impressively played by first-time actor Marie Laforêt! Philippe treats her abominably; in one harrowing scene, outraged that she’s not giving all of her attention exclusively to him, Philippe tosses the manuscript she’s working on, about the fresco painter Fra Angelico, overboard and into the sea! Perhaps it’s at that moment that Ripley decides he must be killed; certainly it was when I decided it, ha ha!

But Tom doesn’t kill Philippe because he thinks there’s anything wrong with his behavior - indeed, he himself wants to behave just like Philippe! Billy Kearns from Playtime is another playboy, Freddy Miles, an American friend of Philippe’s who dislikes Ripley and becomes suspicious of him, and so must be disposed of by a violent bonking! And when this is done, Ripley, by clever manipulation of poor Marge, is ready to repattern his life as Philippe’s, and the only thing standing in his way is the filmmakers’ determination to end their movie differently than Highsmith ended her book! Ha ha!

For a movie that contains exactly zero characters one is disposed to like, and traded a perfectly sensible ending for one redolent of Production Code morals, this is an awfully nifty work of picturemaking! Ha ha, Delon’s performance nails the character exactly: a good-looking guy most people dislike on sight, who can play along with the fun times and is quick and clever enough to extemporize his way out of almost any situation, but who still exudes an air of dull desperation! The rest of the performances are excellent as well, and the Mediterranean location shooting from master lens-smith Henri Dëcae is fabulous, like a bright colour version of the same year’s L’ Avventura! René Clement, the director, pulls off the required tone without seeming to try anything specific at all, and that counts as an achievement in my book! It’s got a rich texture and a quiverful of subtleties, and beautiful people to look at and loathe! It’s a terrific picture and I give Purple Noon three dangling hands!

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Burl reviews Enter the Dragon! (1973)


Kaa-chop, it’s Burl, with a little of the classic martial arts for you! Now, I’m not talking about Bruce Le, star of Infra-Man and Enter the Game of Death; nor Bruce Li, who toplined Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger and Blind Fist of Bruce; nor Bruce Lei from Enter the Deadly Dragon; nor Bruce K. L. Lea from Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave and Silent Assassins! No, today we have none other than the real-deal Bruce Lee in his final proper film appearance: that great favourite Enter the Dragon!

If you’re looking for a complex and unpredictable narrative, this is not the film for you! The story is simplicity itself: a martial arts expert is recruited by a toffee-nosed Hong Kong Brit to take part in a fight competition held on the private island of suspected drugs lord Han! He’s especially game for this because Han’s men were responsible for the death of Bruce’s beloved sister! Other participants in the competition are charismatic soul brother Jim Kelly, and, of all people, John Saxon, the iron-nosed cop from, your choice, Black Christmas, Blood Beach, or A Nightmare on Elm Street! He’s not a cop here, just a playa who does kung fu!

All the James Bond-y things you’d expect, like the skulking around and the fighting with henchmen, and the murder of the most likeable character, come to pass, and there are regular infusions of mano-a-mano, some of which are over unexpectedly quickly, others which are quite epic, and one of which doesn’t happen at all: on the boat trip to the island, where the old Purple Noon trick is pulled on an objectionable Kiwi! At one point we get to witness Bruce's impressive skill at twirling the nun-chuck-as, and that's a sight to behold! Ultimate vengeance comes in the hall of mirrors as Bruce battles the savage wolf claws of Han! Ha ha!

Of course director Robert Clouse tried this same story again a dozen years later in Gymkata, and the results were not stellar! In fact the results were downright Gymkata! But with Enter the Dragon, of course, he has such advantages as Bruce Lee, a good supporting cast, a decent budget, and again, Bruce Lee! And that means a world of difference, because Lee had style to burn and skills all day long, ha ha! What a genuinely terrible  shame that a cerebral edema got such a vital man at such a young age!

I guess there’s not a lot more to say about this iconic picture! The Lalo Schifrin score is not one of his more memorable, but it serves the purpose! Clouse’s direction is similarly nothing special, but he keeps it all moving and lets the fighters do their thing! It’s nice to see such familiar faces as Bolo Yeung, Sammo Hung and even, they say, Jackie Chan operating in the margins of this important movie! (Although Bolo is featured fairly heavily, and how could it be otherwise with a guy like Bolo!) Taking everything into perfect consideration, the proper thing to do is to give Enter the Dragon two and a half souvenir handbones!

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Burl reviews Johnny Dangerously! (1984)


All bastiges be on the lookout! Ha ha, yes, it’s Burl here to review a mid-80s would-be crazycomedy that tries to play in the sandboxes already occupied by Top Secret on the one hand and, let’s say, City Heat on the other! Now those are two very distinct sandboxes, so it’s no real surprise that today’s picture, Johnny Dangerously, can’t really pull off whatever it’s trying to do!

The very first gag, with an ahh-oooga car crashing into the numbers “1935,” primes us for a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker free-for-all, which the movie only sporadically delivers on! It’s a flashback picture, with a pet store owner played by Michael Keaton from The Paper telling a local rapscallion the story of his entrée into the gangster lifestyle, which arises from a need to pay for the constant medical treatments required by his old Irish washerwoman ma, played by Maureen Stapleton from Interiors and The Money Pit!

We follow Johnny’s adventures as he bonds with his crime mentor, Jocko Dundee, essayed by Peter Boyle from Outland, romances a songbird called Lil, undertaken by Marilu Henner from L.A. Story, and clashes with his primary enemy, Danny Vermin, as personified by Joe Piscopo from Dead Heat! In the meantime Johnny’s little brother, played by Griffin Dunne from An American Werewolf in London, goes through law school and becomes a crime-fighting assistant D.A.! And among all this we get malapropisms galore from a rival crime boss, and this truly was the only element I could recall from seeing the picture on home videocassette with my friends back in 1985 or so! (Ha ha, I suspect we rented it from the 7-11 at the end of Dave's street!)

There are lots of cameo appearances from familiar people, like Danny DeVito from The Van and Ruthless People as a corrupt D.A., and Ray Walston from Silver Streak as an afflicted news vendor, along with Dick Butkus from Gremlins 2, Joe Flaherty from Club Paradise, Jack Nance from Ghoulies, and Alan Hale Jr. from The Giant Spider Invasion! The trouble is that the movie invites very few horselaughs, though there are smiles to be found here and there! The performers all try hard, but can only do so much when the movie around them is so bereft of pep, wit, or craft! (Brian De Palma apparently loved it however, and hired Piscopo and De Vito to be in his own gangster comedy Wise Guys on the strength of their performances here! Ha ha!)

It’s trying to parody the Warner Bros. gangster pictures of the 30s, but nobody involved seems to have watched very many of them beyond The Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, and the 1949 throwback White Heat! There’s no atmosphere in the photography, which looks more Channel 5 than chiaroscuro! And I’m afraid it simply isn’t uproarious enough! The picture has its moments, but too few of them by far; and I know some people are fond of it but me not so much; and so after all this is calculated I award Johnny Dangerously only one and a half fargin iceholes!

Monday 25 January 2021

Burl reviews Creature with the Atom Brain! (1955)


By the atom brains it’s Burl, here to review a tale of nuclear zombie-men! Yes, we’re in the low-budget realm here, the territory of the little genre programmer, talking about an ephemeral movie that was never intended to be watched, spoken of or written about beyond its initial theatrical release, or possibly a television sale later on! Of course the picture I’m talking about is Creature with the Atom Brain, and how could it be any other? Ha ha!

We open with what turns out to be the most atmospheric shot in the entire movie: a bulky, pudding-faced man clumps up the street, looking and acting halfway between Boris Karloff and Tor Johnson! He’s an atomic zombie on a mission, putting a casino baron into a fatal bundabeya, then lumbering back to his car oblivious to the hail of lead being fired into his back by henchmen! Ha ha, turns out he's being radio-controlled by a formerly exiled gangster who, having hooked up with an ex-Nazi scientist and covertly returned to America, is stealing corpses, wiring up their brains, and sending them out to fold, spindle and mutilate the people responsible for his conviction and deportation!

Richard Denning from The Black Scorpion and The Oklahoma Woman, and of course The Creature from the Black Lagoon, plays the police laboratory man who’s puzzled by the strange clues left behind at the murder scenes: splashes of radioactive blood, glow-in-the-dark footprints, victims whose bones have been crushed! And there’s what seems like a separate mystery, but isn’t: the bodies of gangsters gone missing from the morgue! Denning's atomic zombie theories are made fun of by a local television anchor, but the newspaper writers seem to swallow them whole! Why, just look at those headlines!



The gangster behind it all is named Frank Buchanan, and he’s played by Michael Granger from Murder By Contract! Buchanan and his scientist pal have holed themselves up in a lead-lined mansion within which they and their equipment are undetectable by the boogie-cars roaming the city in search of telltale radioactivities! Meanwhile Denning and his partner/buddy Uncle Dave (as he’s known in the Denning household) try to convince the local newshounds that there really are atomic zombies, and do their darndest to find Granger’s hideout!

There’s lots of pipe smoking in this picture, but also some actual detective work, which, in concert with the goofy premise, gives the picture a unique tone that straddles police noirs like The Big Heat and genre goofs like producer Sam Katzman’s Zombies of Mora Tau! It gets some extra credit from me for using squibs to illustrate bullet hits when the zombies are shot - ha ha, I can’t think of any earlier movies that did that! And it gets more credit still for inspiring a fine Roky Erickson song!

It’s a little poky and repetitive, and the tiny budget hurts it occasionally, but I do tend to go easy on movies that take ridiculous ideas seriously! There’s some good ‘50s domestic stuff, but it bugged me whenever Denning, who blabs freely about the case to everyone else, shooed his wife from the room so he could talk about new developments with Uncle Dave! I think the way the wife is treated must have seemed old-fashioned and cruelly dismissive even at the time! Well, Curt Siodmack, who wrote the picture, was an old-ish guy by the mid 50s, I suppose, and not too hep! All things considered, and with due acknowledgement of its low-track enjoyability, I give Creature with the Atom Brain one and a half emanations!

Sunday 24 January 2021

Burl reviews The Running Man! (1987)


Ha ha, I told you I’d be back! And so I am, with another 80s Arnie extravaganza! I remember that I saw this in the theatre on my seventeenth birthday, and went from there around the corner to the local punk bar to see the marvelous band NoMeansNo play and sing their goodtime rock and roll music! I bought a copy of their wonderful album Wrong on that snowy November night, so to this day I feel a strange association between that watershed of heavy punk music and the movie under review, which is The Running Man!

Arnold, whom we know so well from Conan the Barbarian and Raw Deal, stars as a fellow sporting the traditional Austrian name Ben Richards! He’s a police helicopter pilot in a dystopian, game show-loving future who balks when asked to slaughter hundreds of people protesting a lack of available comestibles! Next thing you know he’s in prison, framed for the crime of slaughtering a hungry crowd, and he’s teamed up with Yaphet Kotto from Truck Turner and Marvin J. McIntyre from Fandango to escape the future jail, where if you cross a certain line at the wrong time, your head will explode like one of those watermelons David Letterman used to toss off a five story tower!

After hijacking Maria Conchita Alonso (whom we recall from Fear City and Extreme Prejudice) in more or less the same way he did Rae Dawn Chong in Commando, Arnie is netted by police and recruited by evil game show impresario Richard Dawson to guest star on his program The Running Man! In this telecast, hapless contestants run from a series of “stalkers,” played by the likes of Erland Van Lidth De Jeude from Alone in the Dark, Jim Brown from The Slams, Gus Rethwisch from The Concorde… Airport ’79 and Professor Toru Tanaka from Darkman! Ha ha, there are a lot of big men in this movie, and plus there’s ginormous Sven-Ole Thorson from Nowhere to Run, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura from Predator!

Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa, both of whom look thin as feathers compared to their bulky co-stars, play some underground resistance fellows with whom Arnie hooks up after he’s battled all the novelty warriors! Ha ha, these battle scenes are fairly perfunctory, and Arnie seems to pause and deliver at least two catch phrases for each victory! “Here is Subzero, now plain zero!” is at once the most famous and the least sensical of them! The climax, too, is pretty shoddy, with a little bit of running around and some machine guns going off, yawn; but at least there's a satisfying disposal of the villain!

The picture was directed by Starsky himself, Paul Michael Glaser, whom we know from his starring appearance in Phobia, and he tries to apply some of that Miami Vice gloss to the movie, but it never really sticks! He’s not the most accomplished action director either, and the fighting and chasing and car crashes are never as exciting as they ought to be! Only the tube cars which convey the contestants down to the boring wasteland in which they compete manage to stick in the memory!

It’s not all bad! Arnie is on autopilot most of the time, but manages a few good lines! Richard Dawson is very convincing as the nasty gamesman, so much so that I now look at old episodes of Family Feud slightly askance, ha ha! The cast altogether is a little weird, that’s for sure, which is all to the good; but imagine what it could have been like with real imagination behind the camera, giving us stuff more along the line of the Thunderdome scenes in the third Mad Max picture! Kinetic and bizarre and thrilling, more punk rock and less dancing: those would all have been good choices to make for this film, but few of these values are found! It’s a film of some vaguely approached but in the end entirely squandered potential, and I give The Running Man one and a half neck bombs!

Burl reviews Iced! (1989)


Schuss schuss, it’s Burl, here on the slopes to review a tale of downhill slashing! Of course there are earlier examples of ski lodge horror, most notably Snowbeast, but this picture, Iced, is probably the first time a slasher got to work on the hard pack!

Like many slashers, this one starts with the Traumatic Inciting Incident From Several Years Before! We find ourselves in the midst of a group of ski-happy puffhairs having lifestyle fun at the winter resort! But there’s a conflict, and the tightly-wound Jeff, who suffers first a romantic setback and then a humiliation on the slopes, complains to an unseen person that his so-called pals appear to be questioning his integrity as a skier! Jeff then goes for a nighttime rip and ends up plummeting chest-first onto a rock!

Five years later the surviving friends all get mysterious invitations to a free vacation at Snow Peak, a new and unimaginatively-named mountaintop resort! But the weekend goes decidedly off-piste when a mysterious figure in a powder-blue snowsuit and cracked goggles gets out the old carving ski and goes to work! Although "goes to work" is not quite accurate, ha ha! The killer flattens one of the pals with a snowplow before the unlucky victim has a chance to even arrive at the resort, much less unpack, but after that the maniac waits a very long time to resume his killing spree!

This time is filled with the kind of late-80s horror-soap drama familiar to anyone who’s seen Bloodmoon! The histrionics are enacted by actors of varying levels of talent, several of whom should have known what was coming, as they've had trouble with slashers before! Trina, played by Debra De Liso from The Slumber Party Massacre, is the main lady here, and her husband Cory is Doug Stevenson from The Prowler! Wednesday Addams herself, Lisa Loring from Blood Frenzy, is the resident hot tamale, and Joseph Alan Johnson from Berserker and Hollywood Hot Tubs, who also wrote the script for this confunction, is the guy trying-but-not-trying to sell time shares of the ski resort cabin! And there’s an ill-fated couple played by John C. Cooke from The Puppet Masters and Elizabeth Gorcey from Footloose, Grandview U.S.A. and Teen Wolf!

On paper, the picture delivers the goods one expects from a slasher, with several scenes of both real and imagined bohankie, and a few Special Makeup Effects sprinkled here and there! Ha ha, the ski pole through the neck and the icicle in the eye are highlights (and in this latter effect, the movie beats Renny Harlin to the punch, as his use of icicles as murder weapons in Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger came only later!), and the luring of the rattail-sporting drugs fiend into a garden of bear traps has a certain grisly impact! But for all this it’s not terribly memorable - there’s precious little pep in the filmmaking, and the characters are by and large intolerable!

For a ski resort picture there’s not much skiing, which is fine, and the lodge itself is strangely anodyne! This atmosphere extends to nearly the whole picture, with a few small exceptions! The climax has the main lady running around in a ski jacket, however no pants; and the post-climax codicil is a delightful burst of absurdity involving a snowman! Ha ha! Most of the picture is pretty tiresome though, with a full load of melodrama to endure and not much vim to leaven it! The mystery aspect is underdone as well! It’s all very late-80s, and that will be a draw for some I suppose; and with that in mind I give Iced one Rockadiles shirt!

Thursday 21 January 2021

Burl reviews And No Birds Sing! (1969)


Ha ha and hello, it’s Burl here! Today I’ve got a real obscurity for you: a short feature, or maybe a long short, ha ha, made by a university student’s union in the late 60s, shot in glorious black and white, minimalist in plot and only just over forty minutes long, but with plenty of groovy music, entitled And No Birds Sing!

It’s set in and around a university campus in the 60s, so that’s a pretty marvelous starting point! Our main character is a soporific nonentity called Joey, played as though mostly asleep by one-and-done actor Ian Malcolm! (Ha ha, no, he’s not the leather jacket professor played by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park!) Joey, bereft of intellectual ambition, of vigor, or of character traits of any kind, is fixated on a fellow student named Virginia, played by Marsha Sadoway! He’s already got a girlfriend though, a perfectly sweet young lady, and though in his brief bit of narration at the beginning of the movie Joey allows that this puts him “in kind of a bind,” he seems to entirely lack any means to deal with it!

Joey’s pal is Alvin, a straight-talking glasses nerd played by Michael Posner in the picture’s best performance! We see these fellows in their classes (one of them an English class taught by Victor Cowie who was in Careful, and who also wrote and directed this picture, in which he discusses the Keats ballad “La Belle Dame sans Merci, containing the line “And no birds sing”) and discover that Joey seems to have no interest in anything but the girl with which he is obsessed, while Alvin is more engaged in the subject at hand!

Joey is just as dissociated from his tolerant-to-a-fault girlfriend, and it only takes a scene or two of the couple conversing to convince you that she should really find someone a little more fun to be with! Ha ha, the guy’s a real drip, and besides, hey lady, Alvin's right there! Anyway, after some scenes on the campus, a bit of outasight nightclub stuff, and shots of Virginia running through the forest looking alternately coy and fearful (which I take to be Joey’s daydreams of his crush acting the dryad), we finally get to the big party scene, held in a house that looked somewhat familiar to me! The people certainly looked familiar - ha ha, I’ve seen photos of my parents attending just such parties!

This is a good, Canadian, Trudeau-the-Elder-era party, with plenty of stubby beer bottles and boxes of Old Dutch chips, and hippies lurking in the corners! Here, Joey manages to ditch his girlfriend, corner Virginia, and profess his devotion; but he gets a bit creepy, and worse than that boring, and ends up passed out on the coat bed! Ha ha! So much for his romantic quest!

The picture has exactly the feel of a movie made by a students’ union, ha ha! I didn’t much care for Joey, who I suppose was meant to be a Ben Braddock of the North, but I did like a couple of his friends and the places he went! Miscommunication seems to be the movie’s abiding theme, as characters frequently misinterpret, don’t understand, or simply don’t seem to hear what the others are saying to them, and again, Joey is the standard bearer for this! In the end it’s a classic example of a movie that follows closely a character who never comes close to earning such devotional scrutiny! I give And No Birds Sing two peace buttons!

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Burl reviews Red Planet! (2000)

Ha ha and Mars-men, it’s Burl, here to review a picture that takes us on a forgettable journey to the fourth planet from the sun! I know it’s forgettable because, despite seeing it (I think!) in the theatre on its initial run back in 2000, I couldn’t recall a single thing about it, except that it involves astronauts flying to Mars and things not going well for the crew! Ha ha, am I talking about Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars? Nope, the other one: Red Planet!

Well, I watched it again the other night and I figure I’d better review it quick, before the particulars disappear from my mind again as they most assuredly will! Already they’re fading! But I can tell you this much: the year is 2057 or thereabouts, and humans have wrecked and degraded the planet Earth to such a degree that we’re casting around for an alternate world on which to live! Ha ha, sound familiar? Well, Mars is the obvious candidate, and to that end, Earth scientists have been bombarding the crimson planet with algaes in the hope that this will create a breathable atmosphere! However, the algaes have not taken, and an all-white crew of astronauts has been assembled to travel there and find out why!

Val Kilmer, well-known from his roles in Top Secret and Real Genius, plays the space janitor, and the ship is captained by Carrie-Anne Moss, whom we recall from Pompeii! Other crew members include Tom Sizemore, famous for his role in Passenger 57; Benjamin Bratt from Demolition Man; Simon Baker from Land of the Dead; and Terence Stamp, whom we all celebrate for his role in Link! Stamp speaks in the same barbiturated cadence he used in Alien Nation - ha ha, I guess that’s the acting style he reserves for middling, forgettable sci-fi pictures!

Everything goes wrong for this bunch almost the very second they reach the planet - before that, even! A fire breaks out on the ship, and Moss is left to deal with that as the fellows jettison to the surface of Mars! They crash land, their habitat (built, I wonder, by whom, as these are supposedly the first humans on the planet) is all busted and the supplies gone, one of them dies of a busted spleen and another by taking a header off a precipice, and a robot dog becomes angry at them! And still this is only the beginning of their trials!

Thanks to some mystical pronouncements early in the film made by Stamp’s character - by name Chamomile, or Cantinflas, or some such - one assumes there’s some kind of galactic metaphysical hocus-pocus at work here, but the explanations, when they come, are fairly science-based! But truly, nothing seems to go right for the gang! One of the good parts of the movie comes when they crash land on the planet and some special balloons deploy! They get a pretty good shake up when the balloon ship rolls off the edge of Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system! Ha ha!

But good parts are fairly few and far between in this picture! Other than Kilmer harboring a crush on Moss, and Stamp’s avuncular flakiness, there’s not much to these characters! One guy reveals himself to be a jerk - not a full-on bad guy, just a jerk - but then immediately tumbles off a cliff! The Kilmer and Sizemore characters both have the same laid-back persona, and are fairly interchangeable! The robot dog  proves their greatest foe, but it’s not a very thrilling one! There are also some space fleas!

All in all, I remember now why I forgot this movie! Ha ha, I fully intend to do so again, in fact: completely and utterly! It’s not terrible I suppose, and the trick effects are good, and the photography by the always-solid Peter Suschitzky is fine; but for all that, the locations still look like Australia with a red filter over the lens! All in all it’s pretty baloney, so I give Red Planet one and a half talking space suits!

Monday 11 January 2021

Burl reviews Darkman! (1990)


Biff, bash, bang and boom, it’s Burl, here to review a comics-based superhero picture! But it’s not your everyday superhero picture, thank the business! No, this is a Sam Raimi picture, and not the Raimi who made all those Spider-Man pictures either! Though, to be fair, it’s not the Raimi who made The Evil Dead, either! No, this picture is more from the Raimi who made Army of Darkness, and yes, ha ha, I’m talking about Darkman!

I had a good time at the movie theatre with this one, as I recall! Like Army of Darkness it’s a studio picture, but it has lots of the stylistic quirks we remember and love from pictures like Evil Dead 2 - the zooms and tilts and the weird montages and all of what have you! But you also get a cast of familiars, like Liam Neeson from Next of Kin and Taken 2 as the driven scientist looking for a way to make artificial skin, but frustrated because it always goes bloop at the end of ninety-nine minutes when exposed to the light!

Meanwhile, his lawyer girlfriend, played by Frances McDormand from Moonrise Kingdom, gets mixed up with gangsters through no fault of her own! These baddies, on the quest for an incriminating document, invade Neeson’s lab, kill his assistant, and blow him and his research sky-high! He ends up floating in the river with the complexion of a well-done coppa steak, an uncontrollable grumpy streak, and an inability to feel pain! The front-line bad guy responsible for this is Durant, played by Larry Drake of Dr. Giggles and Dark Night of the Scarecrow! He’s the sort of heavy who for some reason likes to collect the fingers of his victims, which he chops off with a cigar guillotine and keeps in a cigarette box - ha ha, presumably he takes these severed digits home and smokes them in the privacy of his den after his family has gone to bed!

Colin Friels, who returned to the dark later in Dark City, plays the bad guy behind the bad guy, dancing among the girders of a skyscraper under construction! But leading up to this is Darkman’s journey from crispy, wounded scientist to a rage-filled superhero wearing false faces as he disrupts the business affairs of the Detroit mob!  There are some fine action scenes in here, climaxing in a grand helicopter war, and several henchman expirations along the way!

All sorts of familiar faces show up in the movie’s margins, from Jenny Agutter, of An American Werewolf in London, as a heartless, pin-poking doctor, to Julius Harris from King Kong as a gravedigger, to Professor Toru Tanaka of Dead Heat as a Chinese warrior! And we get more director cameos than in a John Landis movie, including one from John Landis himself, along with William Dear, who directed Timerider, William Lustig, who directed Maniac Cop, and both Joel and Ethan Coen, who directed many fine pictures like The Hudsucker Proxy! Producers like Sean Daniel and Stuart Cornfeld also get a look in, as do Raimi cronies like Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel, and of course Bruce Campbell, who appears at the end as a Final Shemp!

There’s no wasted time in this scrappy picture, and though disbelief must frequently be suspended throughout its running time, the viewing experience is fun enough to make that effort both worthwhile and painless! Ha ha, it’s safe to say I’m a Raimi supporter, though I never have seen his baseball picture, nor his Oz sequel neither! Maybe one day! And although Darkman is not my favourite of his works, I did and do enjoy it, and so I give it a robust three dipping birds!

Friday 8 January 2021

Burl reviews Gymkata! (1985)


Hi-ya and yakmalla, it’s Burl, here to review a well-loved classic of le bad cinema! I’ve owned a big-box MGM/UA VHS tape of this entry for a long time, but until the other night had never bothered to sit down and watch the thing! (I’ve also never watched Ninja III: The Domination, another legendarily enjoyable bad movie released by MGM/UA, but then again I don’t own a copy of that one! One day I’ll catch up to it, though!) And, though you may already have guessed it, the picture I’d like to talk about today is Gymkata!

Yes, ha ha, Gymkata! I think we all know this movie! Evidently, in the wake of the 1984 Olympics, someone, somewhere, decided that gymnast Kurt Thomas should become an action hero, and developed a story in which he becomes the master of a gymnastic martial art called gymkata! (I don’t recall them ever saying the word “gymkata” aloud in the movie, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose!) And the big secret of gymkata is to be sure there’s a bar or a pole or a pommel horse close by so that you can swing around it and kick people in the head! And if there happens to be no athletic equipment close at hand, you can do a bunch of flips, somersaults, and cartwheels! Ha ha, economy of movement is evidently not a central precept of this particular defensive art!

The plot is, quite simply, a crazy nonsense! The little nation of Parmistan, famed for its citizens' love of hard cheese and their constant cries of “Yakmalla,” is also known for its harsh immigration policy: every newcomer must undertake the inevitably fatal “Game,” which consists of being chased across the countryside by commandos and negotiating such obstacles as a steep gorge, a sheer cliff, a confusing forest, and a town populated exclusively by maniacs who keep a carved-stone pommel horse in their square! The US wants to put a secret Star Wars radar base in the country, but diplomacy has failed to achieve this end, and straight force is out of the question!

Clearly a secret agent-gymnast is the hero required for this mission, and the government, represented here by Edward Michael Bell from The Premonition, has one on standby! It’s Jonathan Cabot, a hoppy-jumpy dwarf unburdened by personality, who’s willing to master The Game by learning new techniques from a series of teachers! These techniques include flip-wrestling and walking up the stairs on his hands! He also receives counsel from the Princess of Parmistan herself, played by the comely Filipina Tetchie Agbayani, well known from The Money Pit!

Once he arrives in Parmistan and begins to play The Game, Cabot finds enemies around every corner! Richard Norton, who did about a million low-rent action pictures and also showed up in Mad Max: Fury Road, plays Commander Zamir, in charge of both maintaining The Game’s rules and subverting The Game’s rules! Bob Schott from Vamp and Head of the Family plays Thorg, a rival player determined to kill Cabot for his propensity to spring about like a leprechaun!

And then there’s The Khan, the country’s leading shouter of “Yakmalla!” and a personage unaccountably played by muscle-bound homunculus Buck Kartalian, from Please Don’t Eat My Mother and The Outlaw Josey Wales! Ha ha, he wears a big fur hat and plays The Khan like a conventioneer at a costume party, and seems never to stop shouting “Yakmalla!” He’s a good guy, as it turns out!

Robert Clouse, who directed The Pack, was in charge of all this lunacy, and indeed one must admit that the fights, as dumb as they are, contain some impressive athleticism from Kurt Thomas! I liked that there was some 80s action gore sprinkled here and there, which is something that always improves a picture; and of course the convenient, horselaugh-inducing presence of the pommel horse and other gymnastic necessities provides plenty of entertainment value! The performances stink, and there’s a backbreaking cape of stupidity draped across the whole thing, but that’s to be expected! I’m glad I watched it, I suppose, and I look forward to Ninja III! In the meantime I give Gymkata one and a half reverse faces! Yakmalla!

Thursday 7 January 2021

Burl reviews The Capture of Bigfoot! (1979)


Fellow Rebaniacs, ho! It’s Burl here to review one of the Wisconsin auteur’s more polished works! Ha ha, do you know who I’m talking about? Can you name any famous filmmakers from Wisconsin? Well sure, there’s Orson Welles, but today I’m talking about Bill Rebane, who came from Latvia and settled in the snowy wastes of the Upper Midwest, and was never shy about showing off the area in all its wintery goodness in his films! And he does so in spades with this picture, The Capture of Bigfoot!

Like Invasion From Inner Earth, The Demons of Ludlow, and several other Rebane movies, this one was shot in the dead of winter with the actors all wearing parkas, issuing plumes of steam with every exhale, and crunching through calf-deep snow! I don’t know why Rebane made so many of his movies in the winter, because it’s really hard to do - believe me, I know! Ha ha, I saw somebody go crazy on a winter night shoot once, just fall down on the ground and run in circles jabbering in tongues like Homer Simpson! I suppose Rebane just likes the look, or perhaps that was simply when people were available!

Anyway, The Capture of Bigfoot is a very snowy picture, and frankly a very enjoyable one as well! First of all it’s a Bigfoot movie, and you know how I like those! Ha ha, I made one myself once! Also, it’s got some pretty good small-town atmosphere and some moments of uproariousness, as when the bad guy, in response to a sasquatch-related setback, punches one of his henchmen right out of a window! You have to see it to properly appreciate it, ha ha! There’s also a terrific dance club scene with some truly wonderfully awful songs and a fire crackling merrily in the hearth! Snowbeast, for all its virtues, would have benefited from such a scene!

It takes quite a while to get to the titular capture, and while some viewers may consider self-administering a dose of strychnine as they wait, they would be wrong to do so! Getting there is half the fun in a Rebane movie, after all! Here we have a town made up of woodsmen in earflap hats, swingin' young folk, humdrum cops, and greedy businessmen, or at least one greedy businessman, who through the course of the narrative is driven mad by his own ambition! Ha ha!

It all begins with some loutish trappers who’ve caught a strange creature and have it in a box on their dogsled! But a big tall snowsquatch pops out of the bushes and tosses these fellows around like rag dolls in an SCTV skit, and it turns out that the creature in the box is a teenage bigfoot with a kindly-old-man face! The local robber baron conceives of a plan: recapture the cryptids, put them on display, and make bank! Ha ha, it’s a misguided scheme as old as Carl Denham, and of course it ends with explosions!

There are a few more recognizable faces than we usually see in a Rebane project! Stafford Morgan, who later appeared in Die Hard 2, plays the local lawman who ends up freeing the captured Bigfoot from the cave cage he's been put in! Richard Kennedy from Holy Wednesday essays the role of nasty Mr. Olsen, who just gets meaner as the picture goes on! Otis Young from Blood Beach and John Goff from The Fog, Alligator, and The Candy Tangerine Man are Olsen’s hapless henchmen, Jason and Burt! And of course the great George “Buck” Flower, well known from pictures like Teen Lust, Cheerleader Camp, and Pumpkinhead, is a sympathetic local oaf! As with so many regional genre pictures, the cast here skews to the older side, and while they’re not quite as elderly as we find in, say, Bog, they’re up there!

It moves at its own pace and to its own logic, but I enjoyed the picture! Maybe it helped that I watched it most recently just a few days ago out in the snowy winter wilderness, in an actual cabin in the woods with the dim outlines of snow-fringed pines receding into a dusky enfilade! Bigfoot might have peeked in the window at any moment, ha ha! But if you’re a Rebaniac, and I assume you are, you’ll enjoy the thing to some degree wherever you watch it! I give The Capture of Bigfoot two red jumpsuits!

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Burl reviews Rushmore! (1998)


Sweet school greetings, it’s Burl, here to review a marvelous little picture! It’s an early work from the dapper fellow who brought us such equally dapper pictures as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom! But this is a smaller-scale work than any of those, and probably I’m fonder of it than I am of the bigger pictures! Ha ha, the movie in question is Rushmore!

I saw this picture on a date, as I recall, and it was the single and only date I went on with this particular lady, as it turned out! But that wasn’t the movie’s fault, since we both enjoyed it heartily! In fact it was no one’s fault - ha ha, it was just one of those things, and for the best too, as right after that each of us started going out with the person we would end up marrying! So I guess Rushmore has the important distinction of being the last movie date I was on with a person not my wife! Ha ha!

And so to the movie itself! We’re all familiar with these Wes Anderson pictures by now, and I for enjoy them quite a lot, though not everybody does! Back when Rushmore came out his style was still very fresh, and had not yet been dismissed as overstyled, mannered, or twee! Moreover he was able to show Bill Murray, still best known at that time as part of the famous team of Ghostbusters, in a new comedeo-dramatic light, and that’s an achievement worthy of some good will!

Rushmore tells the tale of Max Fischer, an ambitious overachiever and academic underperformer at Rushmore Academy, who battles for the affections of a comely teacher played by Olivia Williams from Maps to the Stars! Max, played by a young Jason Schwartzman, who would later appear in such pictures as CQ and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, can be an annoyingly obsessive twerp, a condescending jerk, and a monstrously self-centered diapersman, but he’s not a bad sort in the end, ha ha - just a teenager!

Olivia Williams from Maps to the Stars plays the pretty teacher on whom Max sets his cap, and Seymour Cassel, well-known for his roles in Eye of the Tiger, Best Seller, and any number of John Cassavetes pictures, plays his barbershop dad, who delivers his gemstone dialogue in a totally endearing deadpan! Brian Cox from The Ring is the Rushmore Academy principal, and Mason Gamble from Bad Moon gives one of the all-time great kid performances as Max’s little buddy! The waxing and waning of Max’s relationships with all these characters provides the dramatic impetus for the picture, and the comedy comes from all the details packed in like M&Ms all around!

I like the weird behavior that no one remarks upon, like the depressed industrialist and precocious teenager who easily and naturally become best pals, and later romantic rivals! I like the escalating prank war Schwartzman and Murray engage in! Ha ha, I like the little kid who makes the picture of the jellyfish! I like Mr. Littlejeans and the way he steps back as Bill Murray’s out-of-control car rolls toward him! I like Max’s plays and that nobody associated with the production cared how impossible they would be for high schoolers to stage!

The story takes place from September through January, which we know thanks to some little curtain cards, and I like those too! The songs used on the soundtrack are well-chosen, and though this picture, as most Wes Anderson pictures, leans a little heavily on them, borrowing what emotion it can from them rather blatantly, it’s heard to take issue with that because the songs are so good! All in all, it would be fair to say I like this picture and don’t mind the heavily-ladled artifice! Ha ha, I give Rushmore three and a half handjobs by the pool!