Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Burl reviews One False Move! (1992)


Ha ha, it’s Burl here to review crime drama! Yes, here’s a picture I’ve been hearing about for years, and hearing plenty of plaudits about, along with commentary in the nature of it being an unheralded gem! Ha ha, it seems plenty heralded to me! But still maybe not enough, because it turns out to be a very solid movie! The picture in question is One False Move!

If the movie ever makes the titular move it might be with the title, which is boring and meaningless! Otherwise we have some pretty good stuff here, and it all opens with a terrible drugs massacree perpetrated by Ray and Pluto, two vicious goons played by co-screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton, whom we recall from Hunter’s Blood and The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Michael Beach from The Abyss! Ray is your basic Billy Bob Thornton character, greasy, violent, touchy and dim, while Pluto wears elegant specs and is much smarter, but is bigger and stronger and even more brutal in his methods! The third leg of this little gang is Fantasia, a.k.a. Lila, played by Cynda Williams, and it’s evident that she didn’t think it was going to be a massacree, or at least had convinced herself that it wasn’t going to be!

The L.A. cops in charge of the investigation include Cole, played by Jim Metzler from Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, and McFeel, played by Earl Billings from Con Air; and soon they’re tracking down a clue that leads them to Star City, Arkansas, a little backwater policed by a garrulous striver played in full cornpone mode by Bill Paxton, beloved of Aliens and Weird Science and so many others! This is one of his very best performances: his Sheriff, known to all as Hurricane for his constantly running mouth and inability to sit still for restaurant meals, is an annoying big talker who’s not a bad guy but just does not get it, ha ha! I don’t think many actors could have pulled the character off quite as well as Paxton, especially once things really start happening and we learn more about Hurricane and his secrets!

Of course our nasty bad guys are on their way to Star City, each for their own reasons, and the Arkansas constabulary is monumentally ill-equipped to deal with such human monsters! I won’t tell any more plot, ha ha, as the unfolding of the story is one of the movie’s major pleasures! Another is the acting, which is stellar all around; and yet another is the film’s subtly realistic portrayal of race relations! Half the characters are black and half white, some characters are half black half white, and while a big deal is not made of any of this, it’s a deal nonetheless, and few American films have grappled with the issue in quite this way! The film was written by white fellows and directed by a black man, Carl Franklin, and perhaps this racial bifurcation behind the camera is responsible for the elegantly worked-out theme before it! In any case, it’s something strange and unique!

Franklin, whose previous picture was the Roger Corman submarine picture Full Fathom Five, does excellent work here, and though the picture has some rough patches for the more sensitive souls among us, the ultimate result is a hard-boiled crime delight in the spirit of Jim Thompson! It probably is underappreciated, but on the other hand it started Franklin and Thornton on fine careers and gave Paxton a marvelous showcase too, so it’s hardly unappreciated! Certainly not by me, anyway: I give One False Move three and a half shin kicks!

Friday 19 March 2021

Burl reviews Little Shop of Horrors! (1986)


With a song in my heart, it’s Burl, here to review a movie musical! Here’s another one I saw in the movie theater, and when I think of this movie I think of my friend Jamie, whom I saw it with, and who is now deceased! So there’s always an element of melancholy connected with this picture, Little Shop of Horrors, but there’s delight too as I recall the strange adventures Jamie and I had the night we saw it! Ha ha, we witnessed a pair of toddlers speeding down the street at the wheel of a car, with nary an adult in sight! We saw a piece of garbage paper blown by the wind: it circled twice in the air then dove out of sight below a curb, emerging a second later as a living, flying bird! A cigarette butt blown along by that same wind struck Jamie in the chest and exploded in a starburst like a Tie fighter hitting the Death Star! Ha ha!

So all of these strange events, which are preserved not just in my memory but in the lyrics of a song Jamie and I wrote for our high school rock band, come to mind when I consider Little Shop of Horrors! Of course I was already a fan of the old non-musical Roger Corman version, because of course that one featured Dick Miller in a supporting role as the flower-eater Burson Fouch! I was slightly chagrined to see that the Fouch character had not been carried over from the original movie to the musical stage adaptation or the big-budget movie currently under discussion here; but thinking about it, I realized that the adaptors must have known they simply couldn’t find anyone as good as Miller to fill the role if they had maintained it! Of course they could have hired Miller himself, who was around and active when this movie was made, but I guess they didn’t think of that!

Still, the cast they ended up with is a pretty remarkable bunch of comedy superstars! Rick Moranis from Strange Brew and Streets of Fire plays Seymour Krelborn, the slightly-renamed nebbish working in the flower store and being constantly yelled at by his boss Mr. Mushnik, played by the aptly-named Vincent Gardenia from Death Wish II! Also working in the shop is the daffy spin case Audrey, played with great gusto by Ellen Greene from Wagons East!; and, as in the Corman original, one wonders how a Skid Row flower shop entirely bereft of custom can afford so many employees! Ha ha!

Further down the cast list comes a true galaxy of starpower! Steve Martin from L.A. Story and All of Me plays Audrey’s truly despicable boyfriend, a biker-dentist named Orin Scrivello! John Candy from The Great Outdoors does a marvelous job as a wacky radio host; Bill Murray from Meatballs shows up in the Jack Nicholson role of the masochistic patient; Christopher Guest from The Princess Bride does an excellent turn as a flower store customer – the closest analogue to the Dick Miller character, in fact; and Jim Belushi from The Fury appears without making much of an impact!

Of course the real star is Audrey II, the voracious monster plant Seymour discovers and begins feeding blood and bodies to! The trick effects used to bring the big flytrap to life are truly impressive, from the big reaching tentacles to the expressive lips; and the voicing, from Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs, is ideal! Almost as impressive are the three ladies who act as the story’s Greek chorus – ha ha, I thought they were terrific! And on balance I thought Frank Oz managed some fine staging on his Sesame Street sets, though a little more pep and dynamism wouldn’t have gone amiss!

But Frank shouldn’t have listened to those outraged preview audiences who detested the original apocalyptic ending of the story, in which the plant devours Seymour and Audrey, spawns equally hungry offspring, grows to immense size and goes on a Godzilla-like rampage! Ha ha, they must have been pretty angry audiences to convince a studio to dump a huge multi-million dollar sequence and replace it with a gormless happy ending involving a playhouse! It does a real injury to the movie, I think! I didn’t realize they’d monkeyed with it, not until I read an article in Cinefantastique magazine anyway, but I could still tell there was something missing! It’s never been restored, though you can watch it on the internet! And considering all this, I’m forced to give Little Shop of Horrors two and a half bandaged fingers!

Thursday 18 March 2021

Burl reviews The Kid with the 200 I.Q.! (1983)


With a demand to know whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, it’s Burl, here to review a movie featuring that undersized imp of cinema and television Gary Coleman, whom we may recall from Dirty Work! Ha ha, he had a real corner on the precocious kid market back in the 70s and early 80s, and in the movie under discussion today, The Kid with the 200 IQ, he may have hit the absolute peak of precociousness!

His characters were always supposed to be smarter than other kids that were putatively his age, but here he plays a super-genius riding an academic scholarship into big people’s college, and how could the precociousness formula be more finely honed than that? It couldn’t! Coleman plays Nick Newell, who arrives at the college with his pleasant family and then must endure scene after scene of people doing double takes at him when he explains that yes, he is enrolled in the college! He lucks into an amiable roommate in his dorm, an athlete called Steve played by Dean Butler from Desert Hearts; and because the dorm is co-ed (Wink wink! Nudge nudge!), he gets to know a young journalism student named Julie, essayed by Kari Michaelsen from Saturday the 14th!

It seems that Nick’s area of interest is astronomy, and he’s most excited about taking a class with the imposing Professor Mills, played by Robert Guillaume from Seems Like Old Times and Death Warrant! But Mills is one of the few not charmed by Nick’s exuberance, and in fact seems to resent the little fellow’s presence! And as the semester continues so do Nick’s troubles grow, presenting some real challenges to his 200 I.Q.! Ha ha, he bombs with an astronomy project for Mills’ class, he falls in love with Julie only to be heartbroken when he sees her getting friendly with Steve (whose advances she had initially resisted due to her hatred of jocks), and he endures very mild bullying and humiliation from a toffee-nosed frat bro after beating the older fellow in a game of Defender!

He has lots of friends, though: Mills’ daughter is a friendly cutie nearly as precocious as Nick himself; there’s a kindly caretaker called Debs played by Mel Stewart from Dead Heat; and Steve and Julie stick by him resolutely, sympathizing with his romantic travails! The climax is a Road Warrior-style chase scene in which all of Nick’s friends, including an abashed Mills and the reformed frat bro, chase after the Greyhound bus Nick has hopped to take him home and away from the university he no longer feels a part of! But of course it all ends happily enough, with Nick now Dr. Mills’ number one helper, welcoming to the pre-semester party freshman Crispin Glover, well known from Rubin & Ed and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, in the role of a newly-arrived astronomy student!

While we must admit that Coleman is not as adept at playing a super-genius as, say, Jason Segel in The End of the Tour, he’s nevertheless not bad, and packs a lot of charm into his diminutive frame! Guillaume is required to walk a tightrope between cold and stern on the one hand, and affable and avuncular on the other, and he does it well! The TV movie-ness of the whole thing is undeniable; though Coleman did some theatrical features (I remember seeing Jimmy the Kid at my local cinema), this was assuredly not one of them! It exudes a strange charm, though, as many artifacts do by virtue of their ability to evoke the past! Ha ha, I give The Kid with the 200 I.Q. two rounds of Defender!

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Burl reviews The End of the Tour! (2015)


With a bookish hello it’s Burl, here to review a literary two-hander that came out a while back, and I’ve just now caught up with! It’s a tale of fellers who write books, and shows what can happen when two of them spend a few days in close company with one another! Yes, the movie is The End of the Tour, the tale of the meeting between a Rolling Stone reporter named David Lipsky and the bandanna-clad wordsmith David Foster Wallace!

Jason Segel from SLC Punk dons the doo-rag in order to play the celebrated author, and I’ll say right up front that I though his performance was terrific! I’m not familiar enough with the real DFW’s voice, look, and mannerisms to do a detailed comparison, but, ha ha, in any case impersonation is beside the point! Segel does an excellent job of creating the character of a shy, friendly, humble, prideful, whip-smart, uncertain, spiky, obliging, bewildered and ambitious man, no matter what his initials are!

Jesse Eisenberg from Adventureland and Zombieland enters Wallaceland in the character of Lipsky, assigned by Rolling Stone to accompany Wallace on the last stop of his Infinite Jest book tour! This last stop turns out to be Minneapolis, which is a city I’m pretty familiar with, so that was nice! The requisite Fargo-ness comes in the person of Joan Cusack from Grandville U.S.A., their perky tour guide and driver, but the city is otherwise portrayed as the bastion of NPR-level mainstream sophistication that it is, for the white, college-educated set anyway!

The bulk of the picture involves these two Davids getting to know one another, mostly in a mellow way but interrupted on occasion by neuroses and jealousies! It’s a pretty male movie, but there are ladies: Anna Chlumsky from Uncle Buck appears in a nothing, mostly phoned-in part as Lipsky’s girlfriend; while in Minneapolis Mickey Sumner from Frances Ha and Mamie Gummer from The Ward show up as Betsy and Julie, two DFW pals with whom the Davids hang out and, in a delightful sequence, go to Mall of America and catch a screening of John Woo’s Broken Arrow!

At several points in the picture, when Lipsky gets upset, Eisenberg pulls out one of his acting staples: a hurt, about-to-cry face that makes me want to jump up and run away whenever I see it! I didn’t care for that, nor for his amateur-hour smoking (it looks practiced, but fake), but on balance I think Eisenberg did a good job in his role! It’s a real pleasure sometimes to watch a movie about intelligent people having intelligent conversations, and this one hit me at just such a moment; and on top of that it’s solidly directed and features unexpected treats on the soundtrack! Ha ha, there are some 80s tunes and some Alanis to shore up Wallace’s contention that he has the musical tastes of a thirteen year-old girl, but R.E.M., Pavement, and Brian Eno all get a look in too, plus there are a couple of Tindersticks tunes, and most unexpectedly, a Tindersticks cover of a Pavement song! Ha ha, weird!

It’s necessarily limited in what it can do, but the movie is smart enough to know that, and so it just cruises along in its pleasant and competent way through appealingly familiar territory! I enjoyed it, though of course the ultimate fate of DFW made me sad! Still, this was a supposedly fun thing that I might very well do again, and I give The End of the Tour three pop tarts!

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Burl reviews Signs! (2002)


Ha ha, I’ll admit it: I’ve never taken to the hushed self-seriousness of M. Night Shyamalan’s pictures! I do however think he’s often a clever writer, and that his technical chops are strong, and I certainly appreciate that! I should say that I’m not someone who tends to guess twists, because I don’t try to, and also I’m not very good at it! But I guessed the twist in The Village simply by seeing the trailer, and the one in The Sixth Sense surprised me only once I realized it was meant to be a surprising twist - ha ha, I thought we were supposed to know what was going on the whole time! His twistmeister reputation does his talents a disservice, though, and I think that’s especially the case with Signs, the picture under review today!

Mel Gibson from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome plays a farmer and former friar feeling fragile from the fateful freak misfortune that befell his family! His brother, an ex-ballplayer enacted by Joaquin Phoenix from Inherent Vice, lives on the farm too, and they are fairly remarkable farmers in that they never seem to do any farming! Ha ha! Anyway, one day the crop circles turn up in their cornfield, and Gibson’s two children, well played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, start acting strange; though one gets the impression this strangeness began long before the start of the story or the arrival of the aliens, or even the death of the wife that caused Gibson to remove his cassock and toss away his collar!

The picture details an alien invasion from a single rural perspective, which is a daring gambit that mostly pays off! Sure, there are plenty of questions: why would the aliens invade this particular corner of the world when they seem otherwise to hover over major cities? Are the corn circles necessary for orienteering purposes, as is speculated, and if so, how is the lack of cornfields in big cities a factor in the aliens’ plan? Of course the biggest question is a callback to The War of the Worlds: how could the aliens have skimped so much on researching the planet they’ve invaded?

I’m perfectly happy to let all these questions go, ha ha! I mean, you can pick apart any story if you’re determined to, and it’s pretty clear that this is a movie less about aliens than about faith: losing it and finding it again under extreme circumstances, as though faith is like the fabled bump on the noggin that first obliterates memory and when applied again, restores it! But right from an early shot of the outline of a removed cross on the wall (which suggests some truly heroic cigarette smoking in the house at some point), the picture is determined to handle this theme with oven mitts on! An irritatingly binary orthodoxy reveals itself, and then pounds us on the head like a hammer in one boring, pushy dialogue scene; and of course by the end Gibson’s requests not to be called “Father” have ceased and he’s back in the uncomfortable-looking cassock and collar! And of course he’s another sort of father once again to his presumably renormalized children!

So all that stuff, along with the usual barbiturated acting and general portentousness of Shyamalan, bugged me a bit; but on the other hand we have sharp lensing from Tak Fujimoto, the terrific cinematographer who shot Last Embrace and Grumpier Old Men and so many other good-looking pictures; good work from composer James Newton Howard; some nice opening credits; some fine cornfield atmosphere; welcome dashes of humour; and well-tuned suspense and spookshow sequences from the talented Shyamalan! It’s quite possible to watch this picture concentrating on those aspects rather than the exasperating thematic porridge, and I recommend doing just that! On balance I admire the film because it does the cinematic genre stuff well, and even though I don’t like what it tries beyond that, and think it does it badly, at least it tries something! I award Signs two and a half bar-b-que forks!

Monday 15 March 2021

Burl reviews The Return of Frank James! (1940)


Yodel-ay-hee-hoo, it’s Burl, presenting a new movie review for you! Ha ha, today it’s a review for a sequel to a movie I’ve never actually seen, 1939’s Jesse James! But of course I know the story in its broad strokes - don’t forget, it was covered in the more recent picture The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and you only need to read the title to get the gist of it, ha ha - and so I was never at a loss during my recent screening of The Return of Frank James!

Henry Fonda, well known from Tentacles and City on Fire, plays Frank, just as he did in Jesse James! The picture opens with Jesse’s killing at the hands of the coward Robert Ford, who here is played by the terrific John Carradine, whom we recall from pictures as diverse as Sunset Cove, Man of Grey Testes, The Boogey Man, and many, many others! His brother Charlie is played by Charles Tannen from Gorilla At Large! Frank, living the quiet life on his farm along with his pals Pinky and Clem, hears about the killing of his brother, straps on his six-guns, and heads out to get ram tough like a rock on those Ford boys!

Nothing, but nothing, will dissuade his little buddy Clem from tagging along, and Pinky later becomes a very important factor in the story too, though what the poor man must have gone through is not dwelt upon and his heroism is mainly implied! Lovely Gene Tierney from Heaven Can Wait plays a newspaper baron’s reporter-daughter Miss Stone, and Frank and Clem’s attempt to use her to spread a counterfeit story of Frank’s demise only brings a shady but persistent detective onto their trail! Ha ha, and the detective is memorably played by J. Edward Bromberg from Strange Cargo!

Henry Hull from Werewolf of London plays old Major Cobb, Frank’s excitable old pal! (I have to admit that for a while I thought the actor was Frank Morgan! I was certainly wrong about that!) Ha ha, Frank engages the old Major as his lawyer in the courtroom finale, and for a time one is not convinced that choosing to be defended by an apparent crazed hayseed was Frank’s best call; but it turns out that James truly is being judged by a jury of his peers: they all belong to the bumpkin class just like him!

But is Frank James really a bumpkin? Fonda, in some ineffable but fundamental way that is in no sense his fault, is ill-suited to play an old west character, whether an outlaw and gunfighter or the humble man of the soil he is at the beginning of this story! He does it well however, and somehow becomes the character in a different and more oblique way than that which we commonly associate with good acting! It’s like seeing The Elephant Man on stage with the actor wearing no makeup: you know he’s not physically an elephant man, but you watch the performance instead and the makeup becomes wholly unnecessary!

With a supporting cast that includes Donald Meek from Love on the Run (not playing aptly to his surname, for once), Russell Hicks from Hold That Ghost!, and of course Jackie Cooper in the role of the puppy-like Clem; along with several exciting gunfights; nice colour photography; and solid direction from none other than Fritz Lang, who later brought us Human Desire, it’s an entertaining and well-paced oater! It doesn’t stand out in the way of other Lang Westerns, most notably the terrific Rancho Notorious, but it’s a darn good show anyway! Ha ha, I’ll have to look out for the original Jesse James, but in the meantime I give The Return of Frank James two and a half plummeting dummies!

Thursday 11 March 2021

Burl reviews Komodo! (1999)


Ha ha and lizard lips, it’s Burl! I’ve got a review of a picture that seems much like many other direct-to-video creature feature of the late 90s and early 00s, but unlike many of those, this is a picture I actually had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen at the Toronto Film Festival! I say pleasure not because the movie is particularly good, but because frankly it’s a pleasure to see any low-budget genre picture on a big screen and with a good crowd! The quality of the movie is not irrelevant, but is much less an issue! And this was the case when I saw Komodo!

I watched it again recently, and can report that in most respects it’s your basic animal attack story! There’s a brief preamble set in 1980, in which a filthy, van-driving hippie is offended by the smell of the eggs he’s transporting and dumps them in the mud of some Eastern seaboard island! (Ha ha, the movie was actually filmed in Australia, and though there are few obvious tells, this fact is nevertheless somehow apparent in every frame!) Nineteen years later, a family made up of a mom, a dad, a teenaged boy and a little dog arrive on the ferry to spend time at their summer home! All are chomped by creatures unknown except for the boy, who is traumatized!

The story proper opens with a lady psychiatrist played by Jill Hennessey from Dead Ringers bringing the boy back to the island in order to face his trauma! Ha ha, of course no one believed his story about giant lizards, but they believe him soon enough when the creatures, created by a combination of CGI and practical animatronic effects, show up and begin anew their program of chomping! Meanwhile there are a couple of fellows employed by the nasty oil company which is the island’s only other denizen; they’re tasked with hunting and killing all the komodos, which it turns out the oil company is well aware of but were trying to keep secret!

There’s some back story to the main oil company guy, whose wife was chomped in some earlier encounter and is now being forced by the firm to do their dirty work; but in the main the screenplay is careful to keep all its characters as one-dimensional as possible: flatter, indeed, than the hungry dragons prowling the area! Ha ha, at least their motivations are clear!

For a low-budget movie of the late 1990s, the trick effects are impressive! The digital komodo dragons seen in Skyfall are a bit more convincing, it’s true, but still, these ones are not bad! The picture was directed by a trick effects fellow, Michael Lantieri, and while he’s not the best trick effectsman-turned-director out there (Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead is a lot better), he’s not the worst, either! (Ha ha, remember John Bruno’s Virus? Stink, stank, stunk!) And for a PG-13 picture, there are a few moments of pleasingly goopy gore, too! Not much, but more than the nil I was expecting!

The picture is fine enough for most of its running time, though unremarkable and largely tension-free! The ending hobbles it particularly: there are opportunities for a big climax, but they clearly didn’t have the dosh for it so the movie just kind of ends! The evil oil company fellow, whose entire role thus far had been delivered over the telephone, finally shows up on the island, but we’re denied any meaningful closure with this jerk! Ha ha, it would have been nice to see his head crushed in the jaws of a komodo, but no!

I can’t say it’s much more than what many would call a time-passer (a term I don’t care for, though one up from “time-waster” at least), and in no category does it ever rise above the level of acceptable! I still carry some residual pleasure from seeing it on the big screen, however (I would imagine I’m one of the few to have done so, for what it’s worth), and it was a nice experience this time around too, watching it with my family with a fire in the fireplace and a frosty beer in hand! Given all that, I award Komodo one and a half shattered doggy doors!  

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Burl reviews City Heat! (1984)


With a bathtub gin in hand, it’s Burl, reviewing an 80s action-comedy nobody thinks too much of! I recently read an interview with the director, Richard Benjamin (who brought us The Money Pit, and also acted in pictures like The Last Married Couple in America), and he likes it; but he might be the only one! Well, to tell you the truth, he said he was proud of it because it was the only collaboration between Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, and that’s not the same as liking it, is it! Ha ha! Anyway, the movie I’m talking about here is City Heat, which you probably already guessed!

The story is laid in Kansas City round about 1933, and so of course there are gangsters, shamuses, cops, and hot jazz licks! Good old boy Burt, who was just getting ready to embark on his unofficial trilogy of single-word titles, Stick, Heat and Malone, is the shamus, and that fits because he’d once appeared in a movie called Shamus! That old leatherbag Clint, fondly recalled from Tightrope and In the Line of Fire, once again portrays an iron-nosed cop; and these two superstar lawmen naturally despise each other, the reason for the antipathy being mostly an “Of course they hate each other, it’s that kind of movie” thing!

They get drawn into a plot that never has much narrative energy or makes much sense, I’m sorry to say! There are two gangster bosses involved, one played by Rip Torn from Summer Rental, the other by Tony Lo Bianco, the director of Too Scared to Scream; and there are some kind of ledger pages, just like in The Untouchables! Richard Roundtree from Maniac Cop plays Burt’s partner, who goes out the window thanks to shady dealings with hoodlums! Roundtree’s ladyfriend, a sweet jazz warbler played by Irene Cara, is in hiding lest she be next on the hit list, and it’s up to Burt and Clint to get over their mysterious differences to protect her, and to nab whichever of the mob bosses has done whatever it was they did wrong according to the ledger pages! Or something, ha ha!

There’s a whole gallery of familiar mugs, most of them aptly cast as henchfolk! William Sanderson from Blade Runner; Nicholas Worth from Darkman; Robert Davi from Die Hard; Art La Fleur from Cobra; Jack Nance from Ghoulies: all these old boys get a look in! The action scenes are occasionally elaborate and enjoyable, but mostly take the form of poorly-staged gunfights which alternate between shots of all the participants either firing a bullet or reacting as a bullet strikes near to them! And the comedy is about on the level of the gunfights: a bunch of pointless sniping between the leads, but no real chemistry! Ha ha, even Johnny Dangerously is funnier, though that doesn’t have Burt Reynolds prowling a bordello in a Big Bad Wolf outfit!

Many of the picture's problems come from not just a bad script, but from an accident that happened early in the shooting, when an actor picked up what was supposed to be a breakaway chair but wasn’t, and clobbered Burt with it! He went down for the count, and then for the whole rest of the filming was listless and low energy! Poor Burt’s misfortune affected the whole picture, and the result is the limp rag you see whenever you watch this blighted coxcomb! They spent a lot of money on it, so you may expect the pleasures that come from that, but the primary impression is one of potential wasted! I give City Heat one and a half snot ball competitions!

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Burl reviews Get Carter! (1971)


‘Avin’ a butcher’s, it’s Burl, here with a tale of Blighty gangsterism and blood vengeance! Yes, it’s that classic tale of the wide boys and hoodlum kerfufflement, British cinema’s own Get Carter! It’s a hard-edged limey classic, and I suppose many a junior racketeer latched on to this picture as the epitome of jolly old toughness and crikey cool!

Michael Caine from The Island and Jaws: The Revenge essays the role of Jack Carter, a London-based hard case who hears tell that his brother has been killed up in Newcastle! It was apparently an accident, but Jack doesn’t believe that for a second, ha ha, even though his brother wasn’t himself a gangster and would logically have no reason to get himself killed in a mob hit situation! In any case, Jack wants revenge and he’ll get it by crimble or by crouton!

Just about as soon as Carter gets off the train he tracks down a whole marvelous gallery of British hatchetfaces like Ian Hendry from Theatre of Blood, Tony Beckley from The Lost Continent, and the silky-toned playwright John Osborne as the pornographer Cyril! All of these fellas are gangsters, of course, and are all involved to one degree or another in the killing of Carter’s sibling! And Carter offers no quarter to these nogoodniks, pushing them into ponds or tossing them from parking structures as he sees fit! Ha ha, the climax involves a massive beachside dumping machine of the type one associates with 1970s England whether one knew they existed or not!

Britt Ekland from The Man with the Golden Gun is Carter’s ladyfriend back in the big city, with whom he makes sweet telephone love, which gets awkwardly halted - ha ha, loquerus interruptus! And then later, Carter plays a game of bohankie with his lumpy landlady, and that too gets interrupted when hoodlums bust in! Carter must grab his trusty shotgun and see them off in his birthday suit, ha ha! Carter finds the gun in the first act and carries it around all through the final act, but he never fires it, which may seem in contradiction to Chekhovian convention! Except that he does eventually use it as a bludgeon, ha ha, and I think that must count!

There’s lots to admire in this brutal and bleak picture, not least the symphony of great voices on display! Aside from Caine, there’s Hendry and Osborne in particular, and just about everyone is fun to listen to on some level! The atmosphere is exactly that I recall from my early trips to England, which weren’t until the mid-80s, but things don’t seem to have changed much! The photography from Wolfgang Suschitzky is top notch, and Mike Hodges directs it very assuredly for a chap making his first feature! There’s a lot of appealing craft on display, but it’s not always a pleasant watch, nor does it amount to all that much in the end! Still, plenty to admire here, and so I give Get Carter three appalled neighbours!

Monday 1 March 2021

Burl reviews Heads! (1994)


By all the rolling melons, it’s Burl, here to tell of a tale of small town decapitations! Ha ha, it’s time to consider a forgotten film - although forgotten would imply that it was ever known at all, which it wasn’t! No sir, the picture is called Heads, and I’d be a mighty surprised mandanfield if anyone reading this missive has ever heard of it!

Our setting is the small town of Dry Falls, and our protagonist is Guy, the copy editor at the little local gazette, played by Jon Cryer from No Small Affair and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home! He hopes to become a reporter, and gets his chance when the fearsome editor of the Daily Document, played by none other than Ed Asner from The Wrestler, takes him along to a crime scene at which the paper’s crime beat man has been found lounging in a deck chair at poolside, and his head bobbing in the pool several feet away!

Further casaba-choppings ensue, and leather-jacketed Earl Pastko from The Sweet Hereafter is the chief suspect; but then again this town has plenty of suspicious denizens! Why, even Roddy McDowell from Doin’ Time on Planet Earth and Fright Night is lurking about as the local moneybags, a fey character in an ice-cream suit, totally beholden to his pet greyhounds! And the next thing you know Jennifer Tilly, whom we recall from Moving Violations and Remote Control, pops up and begins making strange overtures to our hero! Could she be the mad top-popper? Ha ha, maybe!

Severed heads show up on top of buildings, or else rolling down the street, or in farmer’s fields or what have you, but the movie somehow doesn’t make much of them! It might be fair to say, in fact, that the movie doesn’t really know exactly what it wants to be! Certainly it’s trying for dark comedy and murder mystery, and also it wants to be a kind of small town picaresque, but none of it gels very well! In any case, it’s hard to explain how a movie called Heads can make such small potatoes of what one assumes was meant as its chief attraction and major selling point! I suppose they didn’t want to be too lurid, ha ha, but it also smacks of timidity!

Guy is virtually the same character Don Knotts played in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken: a cringing ninnypants newshound whose only accomplishments come by accident! Ha ha, I’m sure they would have hired Knotts for the role if he was a little younger; though it ought to be said that Cryer is perfectly good in the part, even if his character is frequently annoying! Ed Asner is plenty of fun here though - ha ha, he jumps into his character and goes at it full-bore, not minding whose toes he steps on in the process! McDowell makes a tasty little snack of his brief role - ha ha, there’s a pro for you! - and Tilly does her baby-doll thing, but seasons it with sadness and regret!

It’s pulpy, but not to the degree and in the manner the makers intended! There are a few attractive shots thanks to cinematographer Alar Kivilo, who on this picture was forced to work, at least part of the time, with a broken light meter! It could have used a little more pep and dynamism I think too, and might have given us a more active and less enervating protagonist! Maybe the best thing you can say about it is that it’s something mostly all its own! Mercifully it doesn’t try to be Lynchian or Tarantinoesque, or Finchereuw avant la lettre, at least not in any recognizable way; it seems to believe it’s a parody of something, but of what? The small-town serial-killer newspaper picture comedy genre? Ha ha! I give Heads one and a half battered Airstreams!