Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Burl reviews Mad Dog and Glory! (1993)


A good day to you all, friends, and I've got another movie review for you! Here´s a picture that was apparently shot in the summer of 1991, then had some reshoots done after fragile test audiences demanded a happier ending, then was released in 1993 to virtually no box office! Well, except me, ha ha, because I certainly went to see it, and I enjoyed it too, even in its compromised, focus-grouped state! The movie is Mad Dog and Glory, and if you’ve completely forgotten about its existence, I don’t think you’re alone!

Strange, though, that a movie with a cast like this, produced by Martin Scorsese, should have so limberly slipped through the cracks! Robert De Niro, well known from Mean Streets and Backdraft, is the star of the show, and he plays a police crime scene photographer named Wayne Dobie, nicknamed “Mad Dog” not just for his last name, but in an ironic fashion for his meek and mild temperament! There’s a mind-drug deal gone wrong at the beginning of the picture that’s so gritty they just had to shoot it in black and white, and this leads to a scene in a convenience store where the trembling Mad Dog manages to sort of save a dapper gangster played by Bill Murray (not doing Meatballs here, ha ha!) from a violent, drug-crazed gunman!

Murray’s Frank Milo is not just a gangster but a comedy club owner too, and not just a comedy club owner but a would-be comedian! He’s not very good, but his boys all laugh uproariously at his jokes anyway! In gratitude for Mad Dog’s actions, Frank sends along an unusual gift: Uma Thurman from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, playing Glory, a bartender who is also an unwilling prostitute in Frank’s employ, working off a debt her brother owes or some such thing, who will be Mad Dog's chattel for a week! Of course neither Mad Dog nor Glory want any part of this arrangement, but they make the best of it anyway, and soon are enacting awkward domestic love scenes! But the incipient friendship between the two men goes sour, and then it's time for Frank to reclaim Glory!

Both Mad Dog and Frank have tough guys to help them fight their battles! Mad Dog’s partner is a scrappy Irishman bubbling over with brash self-confidence and so in almost every way is the opposite of his mild-mannered buddy! He’s played by David Caruso, bursting with fame from appearances in Without Warning and Blue City! Frank’s muscle, on the other hand, is large Mike Starr of The Money Pit and Funny Farm! Kathy Baker from The Right Stuff meanwhile plays the sad lady across the hall who’s being mistreated by her nasty cue-ball-n’-mustache boyfriend!

It all comes down to fisticuffs in the end, first between Caruso and Starr, and ultimately between Mad Dog and Frank! Ha ha, that final punchfight is what bothered the delicate sensibilities of the test audiences - the hero, they were horrified to see, didn’t win the donnybrook! And why should he; he’s never thrown a punch in his life and is fighting a mean man almost a foot taller than him! But thanks to studio magic, the fight was reshot to give Mad Dog his chance to lay a few knuckles on his criminal opponent and give him a bleeding nose! This leads to a fizz-out of a conclusion and cue… credits! Ha ha, it’s an egregious example of studio fecklessness, and demonstrates more cowardice than Mad Dog on his worst days!

But the movie is for the most part a sprightly and engaging crime-drama-romance-comedy! All the players are good, and Starr in particular overrides the inherent clichés of his “tough guy with unexpected sensitivities” character! All the characters are variations on established clichés, in fact, and each of the actors manage to do something different with them, which itself is an achievement worth applauding! Add to that unfussy photography from the great Robby Muller, who shot Repo Man, don’t forget; solid direction from none other than John McNaughton, who brought us The Borrower after all; and an apposite score from Elmer Bernstein! It’s a small movie and that’s all it wants to be, and I admire that! I give Mad Dog and Glory two and a half Chivas-and-milks!

Monday 26 April 2021

Burl reviews Scanners! (1980)


Bzzt bzzt, it’s Burl here, reviewing anew! Today I’m talking Scanners, which is to say the original Cronenberg brainbuster from way back when! Now I’ll admit I was a little too young to go see this picture in the theatre, but I do remember when it came out! Ha ha, there was a bit of a controversy about it up in the home and native land, because here was a Canadian picture, and yet somehow this upstart director had dared to include a scene with poor Louis Ciccone having his head exploded!* How could this be, cried the evening news! And me, I was hooked, and I’ve been a David Cronenberg aficionado ever since!

Scanners was Cronenberg’s attempt to clean up his act for mainstream tastes by removing the more twisted or upsetting elements from earlier pictures like Shivers, Rabid and The Brood, and at the same time was a thematic return to even earlier works like Stereo and Crimes of the Future! So we have down-and-outer Cameron Vale, played by Stephen Lack from The Rubber Gun, who gives a conniption to a nasty food court lady and then is plucked from the rubbish tip by science beard Dr. Paul Ruth! Dr. Ruth (ha ha!) is played by good old Patrick McGoohan from Silver Streak and Escape From Alcatraz, and he does an excellent job of walking the line between the avuncularity other actors would have given the character, and the coldness we’d have had from, say, Christopher Plummer, who I’m surprised never played one of these Cronenbergian scientist-gods!

Dr. Ruth (ha ha!) and the company he works for, ConSec, are only nominally the good guys: they’re recruiting Vale to fight against the evil scanner Daryl Revok, played by Michael Ironside from Watchers and, of course, Red Scorpion 2! Revok wants to breed a whole new generation of scanners and somehow take over the world! Meanwhile there’s an ill-defined group of hippie scanners led by Jennifer O’Neill from Futz and Summer of ’42! We never learn much about their purpose, and anyway they get fairly handily wiped out by Revok’s gang before we start to care too much!

There’s extra intrigue thanks to a ConSec security executive played by Lawrence Dane from Rolling Vengeance, using his talent for playing slimy types of uncertain loyalty to play just that here! And there’s a fine scene in which Lack encounters a crazed artist played by Mr. Sykes from Prom Night himself, Robert Silverman; and since it was Lack who later played the artist-madman for Cronenberg in Dead Ringers, one wonders whether he took notes from his scene with Silverman in Scanners!

Many, including myself, have taken issue with Lack’s lackluster performance in the picture, and his tendency to talk like a non-actor reading the dialogue for the first time off of cue cards! To be sure he never convinces as a societal outcast who’s been cleaned up and ordered into psychic battle - he never questions or resists his duty, and it seems like about a half hour of character development was omitted from the picture! But I’ve grown to appreciate Lack’s performance here - it’s robotic, and has the feel of an empty vessel filled with nothing but what is required to move the plot along, but there’s a strange appropriateness to it also, and the short history of indie-fringe Canadian film acting he brings to the movie (he was in Montreal Main, after all!) makes his casting in the picture seem another daring callback by Cronenberg to his experimental roots!

Those who consider scenes like Vale scanning the ConSec computer to be ridiculous simply aren’t on Cronenberg’s wavelength: he doesn’t care what’s feasible or not, so long as it serves his themes, and so long as, within the ‘drome of his fictional science concerns, it seems feasible! Ha ha! On the other hand, even if it misses the point to believe the plot and computer science of Scanners is goofy, that doesn’t mean it isn’t goofy! Apparently the picture was rushed into production thanks to the vicissitudes of Canadian film financing in that era, and clearly Cronenberg didn’t have time to address all the script issues before rolling his camera! I sympathize with that! Scanners is Cronenberg-lite, of that there is no doubt, but with its general braininess and solid action beats I like it anyway, and give it three Atlanta Rhythm Section posters!


* A word of clarification for non-Canadians: Scanners came out only months before the debut of Seeing Things, a Canadian TV show about a psychic newshound called Louis Ciccone, played by mustachioed slaphead Louis Del Grande, who played the psychic headsplosion victim in the Cronenberg picture! Ha ha! I like these little cultural echoes that happen sometimes!

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Burl reviews Red Scorpion 2! (1994)


Ha ha and hi hi, it’s Burl! When you have a lot of VHS tapes, as I do, sometimes you discover a movie you’ve had around for years, unwatched and completely forgotten! I unearthed just such a movie the other day, and while it was easy to see why I’d been ignoring it, once I’d read the copy on the back of the box, I knew I had to give it a look! The movie is Red Scorpion 2, and, as though to atone for the fact that the original Red Scorpion (which I’ve never seen) was evidently shot in South African territory during apartheid, this one was shot in Canada and has as its bad guy a white supremacist cult leader jerk who’s masterminding a series of race-based massacres!

As I’ve often said, in reviews for movies like Malone and Day of the Survivalist and Avenging Force, I always like action movies in which the bad guys are right-wing maniacs, and better still if they’re white supremacists because it’s such a pleasure to see people like that get violently killed by some action hero or another! And our action hero here is Nick Stone, played by Matt McColm, one of the alley cops in They Live! Ha ha, it’s nice to see that he’s gone from the side of the alien fascists to leading an anti-fascist commando squad!

John Savage, a long way from The Deer Hunter and Do The Right Thing, plays Andrew Kendrick, a racist with a strange manner of speech and presidential aspirations, who has assembled a devoted cult and a fighting force of the world’s worst shots! Ha ha, as we see in the climax, none of these clowns could hit the broad side of a barn from ten paces if their lives depended on it! Savage hams it up most extravagantly as the leader of The Citadel, who can set off race-based massacres at the push of a button! We see one of these in the picture’s opening moments, and it’s especially horrific to watch in this day and age!

The hierarchy on the anti-fascist team is as follows: none other than Michael Ironside, beloved from pictures like Extreme Prejudice, Total Recall and McBain, is some kind of colonel, the sort of guy who tells people what to do but then mostly stays behind in command headquarters! Below him is Jennifer Rubin from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, who plays the no-nonsense head commando lady! Below her we find our hero, Stone, and then the rest of the motley squad: a slapheaded computer nerd whose catch phrase is “You have beautiful eyes,” played by Paul Ben-Victor from Metro; a black commando played by Réal Andrews from Wild Thing, who at one point busts into one of the colour-cult’s stupid meetings and calls all the crackers in attendance “eggs with legs;” and a cowboy-hatted fellow who’s just rednecky enough to briefly infiltrate The Citadel before he gets caught and chained to a wall!

George Touliatos from Prom Night plays Grigori, the aphorism-spouting Russian mentor whose job it is to whip this squad into a team! Tethered rock climbing for hours on end is his prescription, ha ha, and it seems only fitting that he meets his end while engaged in just such an activity himself, though he doesn’t die before gasping out one last dumb axiom! Jerry Wasserman from Shoot To Kill plays an investigative journalist who is captured by The Citadel and forced to play “Kendrick’s Roulette” with the his fellow prisoner, the redneck!

Duncan Fraser from The Fly II and Watchers (and Malone, come to think of it!) plays Mr. Benjamin, the racists’ in-house tech specialist, and he gets a fine send-off: shot, set aflame, defenestrated, whereupon he rolls off three different sloping roofs, plummets down into a shed filled with explosives, and has time to emit one last strangled cry before blowing to flinders! Ha ha! Kendrick himself goes out in an even more fiery fashion: beaten, stabbed, then overwhelmed by a fireball as he bellows something about becoming one with the wind!

You’ll gather from this rather scattershot review that Red Scorpion 2 is something of a curio! It’s not a good picture, that much is true, but it’s an amusing one, and, unfortunately, a timely one too! Very few viewers who lived through the years 2016 through 2020 will be able to watch Kendrick conduct one of his rallies and not be reminded of a certain venal oaf who was the President of the United States during that time! The racist cells across the country ready to do Kendrick’s terrible bidding do not seem like such a fantastical concept these days, so it’s extra satisfying to see these people blown away by the doughty Red Scorpion fighting force!

Still, ha ha, we can’t pretend the picture is good! It’s a fairly unique mix of funny and horrifying, but most of the action scenes are pretty half-hearted, the acting is highly variable, and of course it’s all about as dumb as an old plaid shirt! I recommend a viewing nonetheless, and am pleased to give Red Scorpion two little red scorpion tattoos!

Monday 19 April 2021

Burl reviews Predator! (1987)

Ha ha, get to da choppah because it’s Burl, striding through the jungle with a new review for you! It’s a review of the perennially entertaining Predator, a picture I saw with my pals in the thee-atre back in the summer of 1987, the very same season as I took in The Lost Boys and The Witches of Eastwick and Robocop and Full Metal Jacket too! Ha ha, it was a full couple of months - I had to go to summer school that year, and I was working in a warehouse also, and I was trying to make a movie of my own at the same time!

But Predator was a highlight that summer because it was a real classic entertainment, and you could tell it even then! I’ve seen the picture a number of times since, and watched it again recently with my son, “accidentally” leaning on the remote control fast-forward button for the crude jokes told by the Shane Black character! Ha ha! We both enjoyed it, and I came away thinking about how emblematic certain movies can become if they’ve been built sturdily enough! I don’t think Predator is brilliant cinema exactly, but it’s such a doughty fireplug of an action movie that it seems as though it might endure and epitomize long after many other similar films have blown away into dust!

And by garr, that 80s cast! Arnold Schwarzenegger, of Conan the Barbarian fame, plays ‘Dutch,’ whose nickname obviously comes from his thick Austrian accent! (Ha ha, so many Schwarzenegger movies give him names like Ray Owens or Gordy Brewer, and I’m surprised more of them didn’t go the nickname route just to avoid that little disconnect between his natural accent and his character's name!) Dutch has been asked by The General, played by none other than the excellent R. G. Armstrong from The Beast Within, to take his team into the jungle and try to rescue a cabinet minister whose 'copter has been shot down! Carl Weathers, ‘Action’ Jackson himself, will come along whether Dutch and his biceps like it or not! So ordereth The General!

Dutch’s team includes the likes of Bill Duke, who starred with Arnold in Commando and Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, who met him in The Running Man! There’s also Sonny Landham from 48 Hours and Richard Chaves from Witness, and of course the jokester played by Shane Black! Elpidia Carillo from Beyond the Limit pays an ill-defined lady who just sort of turns up, and who is later directed by Dutch to get to the choppah!

But what’s all the trouble about, you might ask? It seems a spaceman has dropped to Earth from another planet, here for a vacation and a spot of hunting! Ha ha, and what he enjoys to hunt are not elephants or badgers, but human army men! Kevin Peter Hall, who also played the interstellar hunter in Without Warning, essays the role of the alien, who is fairly humanoid except for his goochy bug face! And of course he sports a natty set of dreads, ha ha!

The pace is a little stately by current action movie standards, but I think it works perfectly; and the action scenes, when they come, are satisfying and 80s-enjoyable! Alan Silvestri contributes a top-notch score, the jungle cinematography is excellent, and the script is not as stupid as it easily might have been! Ha ha, it gave me a good time at the movie thee-atre, so whenever I pull the DVD out and start to watch it again, I greet the movie like Dillon greets Dutch! I give Predator three cabinet ministers from this charming little country!

Sunday 18 April 2021

Burl reviews Hard Times! (1975)


Ha ha, Hard Times yes indeed! We’re all having them! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a fine picture from the beard of Walter Hill, and in fact Hard Times was his very first film as a director! You can see that plenty of his traits were in place from the start, for instance his Hawksian dudecentrisim, or his way of shooting action in short, sharp, tough little bursts! He kept going with a string of such pictures before diluting his reputation a bit with movies like Brewster’s Millions and, later, Supernova!

But getting down to cases! It’s the Dirty Thirties, and Charles Bronson of Mr. Majestyk fame is Chaney, a rail-riding hobo on the bum in the Big Easy! Of course he’s handy with his fists, and soon he’s hooked up with Mr. Patman himself, James Coburn, well known from High Risk and The President’s Analyst, in the role of a street fight manager called Speed! Along with a hophead medico played by the great Strother Martin from Nightwing and Pocket Money, they cause a ruckus in the Deep South punchfight industry!

Bronson’s opponents are played by the big-boned likes of Nick Dimitri from City Heat, Robert Tessier from The Sword and the Sorcerer (whose fighter shtick is that he keeps a delighted grin on his face throughout the punch-up), and Fred Lerner from Endangered Species; and Frank McRae from Vacation shows up swinging a sledgehammer! Ha ha, McRae is playing your basic thug here, but he manages in his short screen time to infuse his hammerman with a three-dimensional humanity - there’s a pro for you, ha ha!

There are ladies too, played by Jill Ireland from Death Wish II and many other Bronson pictures - she was Mrs. Bronson, after all! - and Margaret Blye from Mischief, and they are perfunctorily drawn in what would become part of the Walter Hill house style! But Hill does a terrific job in many other respects, pulling off a picture that seems very much a part of the wave of quality sweeping through film at the time! And it feels very much not a typical Bronson picture, and as much as I may enjoy many a Bronson picture, I call that an achievement to be proud of, particularly for a first-time director!

Bronson’s character isn’t much of one, though, outside of being very Bronson-esque! Coburn is always a treat, but here he’s frequently acting like a big smug jerk! And when it’s all over you realize there wasn’t much of a story, or too terrific an arc for the characters! Ha ha, it pretty much ends back where it started with not a lot to show for things aside from a few bare-knucklesmen laid out on the concrete! But the journey to nowhere is an enjoyable one! I give Hard Times two and a half giant playing card posters!

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Burl reviews The Adventures of Baron Munchausen! (1988)

From beneath a speeding cannonball, it’s Burl, here to review a lavish fantasy from the brain of Terry Gilliam! Ha ha, this is the picture that, so far as I can tell, was Gilliam’s first real Troubled Production, and when you hear all the stories about it, you wonder how it could possibly ever have been finished and released! But it was, and it emerged into the world under the title The Adventures of Baron Munchausen! (Of course Brazil was Troubled too, but only in post-production, I believe!)

It’s a picture that cost a big bag of samoleans, and you can tell just by looking at it! Ha ha, I was lucky enough to see it on a big huge screen at a beautifully appointed cinema in London, and I remember being a little disappointed with it! I thought it was pretty spectacular, visually speaking at any rate; but I had seen Brazil a few years earlier, also in London, and with Gilliam present to make comments and answer questions, and that of course was a marvelous treat with which the newer movie could not compete! I finally watched it again last night and was very curious to see how it would play this time around! 

The story, you ask? Ha ha! We begin in a city under siege from the dreaded Turks, and there among the blasting cannonfire we find a theatre company putting on an elaborate show about famous balderdash artist Baron Munchausen! What do you know, the real Munchausen shows up, played by John Neville from Spider and Urban Legend, and he’s put out by the play’s distortion of what he claims are the real facts about his life! He begins telling the tale of his four superpowered friends, or servants, or whatever they are, and how he escaped the Sultan’s headsman thanks to the speedy feet of Eric Idle! Then he’s off on an adventure to gather up his old super-quartet and defeat the Turk before the city is fully trampled beneath his cruel sabah!

Sarah Polley from Blue Monkey and eXistenZ plays a little girl stowaway who joins him on this series of adventures, which include an array of cameos from such performers as Oliver Reed from Spasms, erotomaniacally playing Vulcan, the Roman god of fire; Uma Thurman from Mad Dog and Glory, appearing nude on the half-shell as his wife Venus; Valentina Cortese from When Time Ran Out as the Queen of the Moon; and Robin Williams, or “Ray D. Tutto” as he’s billed here, who is of course well known from Club Paradise and who plays her husband, the King of the Moon! Other familiar faces include Jonathan Pryce from Tomorrow Never Dies as a despicable bureaucrat, Bill Paterson from Comfort and Joy as the actor playing the Baron, and Peter Jeffrey from The Abominable Dr. Phibes as the Sultan! And the Baron’s amazing quartet are played by Gilliam’s Python-buddy Idle; his co-screenwriter Charles McKeown, who also appeared in Spies Like Us; big Winston Dennis from The Commitments; and Jack Purvis from The Dark Crystal as a big-eared blowsman!

It reminds me a lot of Time Bandits, with its child hero on a strange, episodic journey, lots of eccentric characters played by familiar faces and at least one Python, kooky homemade trick effects, giants, midgets, and a scene in which the characters are trapped in an iron cage hanging in a void! The circus-like, Italianate atmosphere comes naturally, given that Gilliam hired some key Fellini collaborators to help him out! Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, known as Peppino to his friends, and designer Dante Ferretti give the picture a pretty and always compelling atmosphere. and there are plenty of nice miniature trick effects to admire!

But the Time Bandits comparison also reveals some flaws! The story here is less compelling, the characters weaker, the themes and satire duller and more abstract, and, reflecting the sharp increase in budget from the earlier picture and the shift in company from Handmade Pictures to the vast and unfeeling Columbia, the movie seems altogether less handmade than its predecessor! Still, there’s plenty to enjoy: the trick effects are terrific, the cast game, the imagination delightful and abundant! As an inquiry into the nature of truth, it doesn’t get far, but as an epic amusement it’s firing on most, and occasionally all, cylinders! I give The Adventures of Baron Munchausen two and a half-shells! Ha ha!

Thursday 8 April 2021

Burl reviews Blood Work! (2002)


You have the right to remain reading! Ha ha, it’s Burl here, ready and willing to review another movie for you! It’s Clint Eastwood doing a cop thriller again, one very much in the vein of Tightrope and other one-offs (The Gauntlet, The Rookie, In the Line of Fire) where he plays an iron-nosed cop not named Harold! In this one he’s an “FBI profiler,” but he acts just like any other cop, though his iron-nosedness, or at least his ability to act on it, is compromised by a serious heart condition! Ha ha, the movie is called Blood Work!

Eastwood, who of course is well known from Tarantula and many other fine films, as well as from bad films like City Heat, plays Terry McCaleb, who in the opening scene is investigating a mystery murderer who not only likes to kill, but, in the traditional late-90s/early-oughts style, is fixated personally on McCaleb in that taunting, teasing way such serial maniacs have! McCaleb spots a suspect, gives chase, and the next thing you know is collapsing of a massive heart attack!

Two years later McCaleb has a new heart, is retired, and is rusticating on his cabin cruiser docked at the marina in Long Beach! This Quincy-esque lifestyle is interrupted by the reemergence of the killer, who still carries a McCaleb fixation, and by the appearance of a woman called Graciella, played by Wanda De Jesus from Robocop 2 and Ghosts of Mars, who reveals that McCaleb’s new heart came from her sister - who was one of the killer’s most recent victims! This is a pretty good hook, and the movie settles into a laid-back investigative groove, with McCaleb enlisting his slacker boat-neighbour Buddy, played by Jeff Daniels from Speed and Arachnophobia in full Jimmy Buffet mode, to be his driver!

Meanwhile McCabe’s heart transplant doctor, played with plenty of finger-wagging by Anjelica Huston from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, admonishes him not to do any investigations lest his new ticker explode; and he also gets static from the cops on the case, played by comedian Paul Rodriguez and Dylan Walsh, the blando from Congo! But he has a cop ally too, played by Tina Lifford, and we get hints that they were once something more! Ha ha! As all this is going on, McCabe clutches his chest a lot and falls for Graciella, and the twist ending becomes as obvious as a panda in a swimming pool!

The movie takes a tone and a pace that matches up with the yachtsman’s lifestyle enjoyed by its leads, and while this is perhaps not the optimum approach for a putative thriller, it’s just that old leatherbag’s way! He makes his movies in that same relaxed manner, so they say - practically keeps bankers’ hours! Ha ha, never let it be said that Clint Eastwood ever kept a grip from having his dinner at home!

In any case, while Clint has made some memorable movies, this is not one of them! It’s a fairly stolid piece, competent but never exciting, perfectly watchable but as ephemeral as an episode of TV! I saw it at the dollar theatre with my friend Pellonpaa, and at the end of it we both agreed we’d seen a movie! Ha ha, and when I watched it again recently, my takeaway as the credits rolled was about the same! I give Blood Work one and a half notes written on the wall in, you guessed it, blood!

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Burl reviews Singles! (1992)


Hello, hello, hello, how low, it’s Burl, rocking out Seattle-style! Ha ha, I’m here to review a movie that grapples with the lovelives of the youth while exploring the musical culture they enjoy, and it all comes from the fellow who wrote The Wild Life! You know what movie I’m talking about, because it is and could only be Singles!

Ha ha, Singles! Yes, though I’m a little younger than the characters were meant to be in the picture (and a lot younger than the actors who played them, ha ha), I went to see the movie in the theatre because it was marketed as a Movie Of Our Times if you were in your early twenties, as I was! I mean, one look at the poster with its black-and-white imagery and its typewriter font tells you how documentary-accurate the movie intends to be! Of course it’s a music-oriented picture set in Seattle just as the grungy Seattle sound wave was breaking over the world, but the picture was shot well before the big Pearl Jam or Nirvana records were released! So at the very least, one can’t accuse the movie of being a coattail rider as much as one can the marketing!

Anyway, to the picture itself: it’s an ensemble affair detailing the romantic travails of a group of young, or anyway young-ish, Seattlites who mostly all live in the same Melrose Place-type apartment complex! For some reason the most boring and square of these characters get the most screen time: we have Kyra Sedgwick from Tai-Pan as a lady disappointed in love and Campbell Scott from The Daytrippers and Top of the Food Chain as a man looking for love, and the dull or contrived ups and downs of their relationship provide one of the picture’s major through-lines!

Slightly more interesting but more pathetic too are a would-be couple played by Bridget Fonda from Single White Female and Army of Darkness, and Matt Dillon, well known from Target; she’s a mousy fount of neediness while he’s a longhaired grungerocker with far less talent than he supposes, even though he’s backed by members of Pearl Jam! Sheila Kelley from Staying Together and Jim True from The Hudsucker Proxy play ancillary characters in this mutually orbiting gang, who frequently show up at the café Dillon and Fonda work at to serve as comedy relief from the romantic comedy; while Bill Pullman from Ruthless People and The Serpent and the Rainbow plays a boob enlargement doctor who briefly seems as though he’s going to become part of the story but never does; and James Le Gros from Phantasm II is a sensitive ponytail guy perpetually in the background because he’s so boring that even the boring characters find him boring!

These people go to shows at which bands like Alice in Chains are playing, or sit in their apartments discussing their problems with the camera, and they go to cafés and work in their office jobs, and sometimes they wear shirts with band or record label names on them to demonstrate how tuned in they are! There’s also a repeating gag involving remote control garage door openers - yes, the young peoples’ favourite! Ha ha, that’s pretty uncool, man!

There are some clever and amusing moments and there's some nostalgia value, and also some grafted-on peccadillos like the camera chats or the intertitles that pop up like book chapters and don’t really add much to the story or the themes! And I suppose the major theme is Love Is Hard In This Day And Age, and that rings true since I was that age back in that day, and love indeed was hard! But that was because we were all idiots, and speaking frankly, so are these people! I don’t begrudge them that, and I don’t begrudge Cameron Crowe for writing them that way, I just object having to watch it! And of course I don’t have to watch it, do I! Ha ha! Still, I did, first in the dollar theatre and then again on VHS the other night, so go figure! I suppose it did bring me back to those days in a strange way, but it really just brought me back to the experience of seeing Singles for the first time, probably with my friend Mary, and not liking it very much then either! In fact I was so offended by this and by its cousin-in-triteness Reality Bites that I made my own rebuttal feature film in response! Ha ha, that showed 'em! I give Singles one tucked-in band shirt!

Friday 2 April 2021

Burl reviews Slithis! (1977)


Ha ha and boogle-boogle, it’s Burl, here to review low-budget monster mania! Like Bog, Terror in the Swamp, Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Monster of Piedras Blancas, Demon of Paradise, Humanoids From the Deep, so forth, it’s yet another regional rip-off of Creature From the Black Lagoon, though the region in question is the Venice neighbourhood in Los Angeles! The movie is sometimes called Spawn of the Slithis, but I know it simply as Slithis!

In a preview of tempos to come, the picture opens with a scene involving two children playing Frisbee in slow motion! They discover a mutilated doggy and run off, and this poor hound, it turns out, is only the inaugural victim of a portly fiend soon to become known as the Slithis! The people of Venice, the hippies and stewbums and freaks and goodtime weirdos, are increasingly alarmed as the murders continue, and one fellow in particular, a local science teacher called Wayne, takes it upon himself to find out what’s going on!

Wayne is married to a lady called Jeff, and they have a pal known as Dr. John, who’s a combo hippie/nerd and one of those general-purpose utility scientists you find in pictures like this! Wayne goes off and talks to the local hobos about the neighbourhood monster problem, and irritates the scraggly-looking police chief with his theories! Ha ha, the chief is wildly overplayed by Hy Pike from Hollywood High, Vamp, Hack-O-Lantern and, can you believe it, Blade Runner, and his performance gives the picture some extra entertainment value, if not verisimilitude!

Meanwhile the creature continues his depredations, including a fine scene where he makes a lunch of a boat-dwelling 70s swinger guy! But this is no ordinary swampy like the Creature or his offspring: this, according to Dr. John, and to a nuclear scientist with a casserole face whom they consult, is apparently a monster formed of living mud that has been zapped by radiation! Ha ha! Wayne recruits a fisherman/diver played by Mello Alexandria in another entertaining performance and they spend a good ten minutes of screen time searching for mud samples!

The monster attacks are entertaining, and I enjoyed eccentrics such as Dr. John and the skindiver guy, but most everything else in the movie - Wayne’s investigations, the endless chat, the pointless digressions -  seems as slow as a turtle race, and then the next thing you know, bam, they show us an actual turtle race! There’s pep here and there, but a lot more of it would have been appreciated! And in the bargain, the picture features the worst monster-vision ever, and remember - I’ve seen Bog! Ha ha!

On the other hand we get some good stuff swirled in there too, like a few observational moments accurately depicting how the cops would react to monster attacks, by hassling and rousting members of society’s lowest echelon! There are some well-mounted shots and random moments of effectiveness salted in as well! Wayne’s investigations and the 70s TV movie-style credits font give the impression of a fan-made tribute to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and you can take this observation as neither criticism nor endorsement! If you like your low-budget monster movies, as I do, you’ve simply got to see it no matter what! Ha ha, I give Slithis one and a half turtle flags!