Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Burl reviews Deep Rising! (1998)


Ahoy mateys, it’s Burl, here to review some ocean-going action-horror! Ha ha, here’s yet another 90s movie I saw on the big screen with my friend Pellonpäa, and which we both thoroughly enjoyed at the time! I still think the movie is pretty fun, while not hesitating to acknowledge that it’s also plenty dumb! The picture in question is quite simply Deep Rising!

Treat Williams from Dead Heat is our wry, world-weary hero, a boatsman who rents out his captaining services to any sketchy characters who might require them! His customers are a gang of mercenaries led by Wes Studi, who was in Heat and The Last of the Mohicans and plenty of other pictures, and their mission involves being taken out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean by Treat’s fastboat! Treat’s crew is comprised of a squirrely straggle-hair called Joey, played by Kevin J. O’Connor, whom we recall from playing Hemingway in The Moderns and of course from his role as a thug in One More Saturday Night, and a tough lady played by Una Damon, who I think maybe should have been the hero of the picture instead of just another tentacle victim!

Ha ha, tentacle victim, you ask? Well, there’s plenty of them among Studi’s band of thugs, which includes Cliff Curtis from Collateral Damage and other familiar tough-guy faces like Djimon Hounsou and Clifton Powell and Jason Flemyng! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The mercenaries’ goal, and the location upon which most of the action takes place, is a fancy cruise ship owned by a glasses-weasel named Canton, played by Anthony Heald from The Silence of the Lambs and The Beniker Gang, and he has disabled the ship so it can be plundered by the mercenaries and subsequently sunk, and then he can collect on the insurance!

But that’s when the tentacle monster, or monsters, from beneath the sea attack! I guess it’s just supposed to be one blob-headed creature who gets into the ship somehow and devours people with its tentacles, which have mouths on them, or maybe each tentacle was its own thing! The biology of the monster is a bit confusing, frankly, because each tentacle has a mouth and seems to express emotions like rage or slyness, and then the blob has its own mouth, with which it roars and tries to eat the hero!

Famke Janssen from GoldenEye is on board the ship too, playing a jewel thief whose incarceration in the brig saves her life; and the bulk of the picture is the group of people being steadily reduced by tentacle attacks as they try to either make it back to Treat’s fastboat or else start the ship up and call for help! Ha ha, their plans are a little scattershot, frankly! But there are some good gloopy scenes along the way, like the poor half-digested fellow who can’t believe the straits he’s found himself in, as well as some moderately clever badinage here and there! O’Connor’s whiny, beret-wearing stragglehair is a bit hard to take at times, but Williams does the ethically-shaky hero bit well, if not memorably!

It’s silly but occasionally spectacular, and I recall it being a fun time at the moviehouse! It was sillier still but nearly as enjoyable to watch it more recently on home video, so I give Deep Rising two sideways windshield wipers!

Thursday 23 September 2021

Burl reviews Malignant! (2021)


Well hello friends, it’s Burl here! Ha ha, I’ve just returned from the movie theatre after my first visit to one of those hallowed temples in I don’t know how long! The last movie I saw in the theatre before this might have been Parasite, or maybe The Twentieth Century, or, ha ha, possibly even All For The Love Of A Skywalker! And finally I returned, knowing I could not stay away forever, to see a horror picture called Malignant!

Now this is that fellow James Wan, once again making a horror picture in the same spirit as he did Insidious! This one has a more generous budget than that previous movie however, and the extra spending shows in the second half when it almost becomes a sort of terror super-anti-hero picture in the vein of Brightburn or The New Mutants! And in retrospect the picture plays a lot more like a superhero origin story than one might suspect from the first few reels!

After a prelude set in an impressive-looking matte painting of a towering cliff-side hospital, we meet our protagonist, Madison, a pretty, pregnant nurse who drives a wood-paneled 1970s Toyota Corolla and lives in a huge house she’s decorated as if she was a mid-century grandma! She looks beaten down by life, and no wonder: she’s married to an abusive boor whom you know from the very moment he appears is destined for a gruesome but gratifying death!

And that happens soon enough, but not before poor Madison has suffered a headknock and a miscarriage! And now there’s a murder mystery to be solved, and cops played by George Young from In the Room and Michole Briana White from Volcano are on the case, and Madison is reconnecting with her devoted sister Sydney! Confunction among the flatfeet sets in immediately however, and is not ameliorated by subsequent murders in which a set of doctors are brutally slain by an acrobatic stragglehair! Who is this coat-wearing killer? Could he truly be the imaginary friend Madison talked to on the phone back in her unremembered childhood á la Poltergeist II? Ha ha, maybe!

I wouldn’t dream of giving away the whys and wherefores of what’s really going on, but if you’ve seen pictures like Basket Case, The Brood, and The Dark Half, with perhaps a side order of Fight Club, I, Madman, and Brain Dead, you’re halfway there! This isn’t to suggest that Malignant is just a big rip-off festival, or that it’s built entirely out of spare parts, but even if it was, the real question is how much skill is employed in presenting these previously-owned elements!

Well, quite a bit! Some of the frightpieces are not as fleshed out as they might be, whereas other scenes leave it all on the field, ha ha; and the central reveal is handled well, I thought! The killer has a habit of inflicting horrible compound fractures on people, so we get a bit of bone-snapping gore, and there’s a scene in a jail cell and then a subsequent one in a police station that leaves the walls splattered with blood! Ha ha, the police station is a funny place, though, because it really looks more like a boutique hotel, even in the bathrooms! Yes, the production design is a bit goofy here!

The picture is set in Seattle like The Ring, and as in that movie too, VHS tapes play a prominent role! But it never managed to creep me out as much as The Ring! That hospital had possibilities, but it only appears in the prologue and one short, purely expository scene later on! The Seattle location is exploited in a neat and informative way, though, with the introduction of a lower level of the city that lies below the streets as they exist today! Ha ha, this sounds like something worthy of its own movie!

It was a fun time out at the movies, though. and I liked all the Special Makeup Effects and gore, even if some of the splattering blood was a little CG! A part of the score they used several times always seemed about to break into Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies, but it never did, and then I found out from the end credits that it was indeed supposed to be a cover version of that song! And also it was nice to hear a reference to the guy from Goonies! It’s not one of the New Classics or anything, but I enjoyed myself, especially so because I was watching it in a movie theatre! I give Malignant two and a half disco suits!

Sunday 19 September 2021

Burl reviews Cocoon! (1986)


Oh-oh-oldtimers, it’s Burl, here to review a picture that dares to ask the question “What if a bunch of pensioners met a group of benevolent, polo shirt-wearing aliens?” Ha ha, other pictures have asked this same question, but few of them managed to do it with as much box office success as this one, which is called Cocoon!

Of course it was directed by the same cunningham who brought us Apollo 13 and the firehall picture, Ron Howard! And ha ha, through the 1980s, with every fresh Howard joint, my friend Sean and I used to torment our pal Dave by telling him to meet us at the theater for the 9:30 show, while we would arrive at the 7:30 screening, watch it, and meet Dave in the lobby for the later show as though we’d just arrived! Then, as the movie played, we would whisper "guesses" about what was going to happen next, and of course we would always be right!

Ha ha, it sounds cruel and it probably was, but consider that we only did it for Ron Howard movies, and not even for all of those! And of course the joke was on Sean and I in the end, because we were the ones who had to sit though a Ron Howard movie twice! Anyway, ha ha, Cocoon was one of these, and we had a good time insta-spoiling it for our friend Dave, so I think on it fondly, even if it’s mostly a bunch of silly tripe!

Our setting is the retiree’s paradise, St. Petersburg Florida! Our most prominent characters are a trio of old ducks, Ben, Art, and Joe, played by Wilford Brimley from The Thing and High Road to China (who, it should be noted, had his fiftieth birthday during production, so was a good quarter-century younger than his co-stars), Don Ameche from Trading Places and Heaven Can Wait, and Hume Cronyn from Brewster’s Millions and Impulse! These jaspers regularly sneak to the untenanted mansion next door for a dip in the lavish indoor pool, until one day the house is rented by a quartet of space strangers!

The old cronkites don’t know these are aliens, of course, but they do know that once they sneak their next swim after the aliens have moved in, they start feeling a little rambunctious! Ha ha! Brian Dennehy from F/X and First Blood plays Walter, the boss alien, who is also the largest alien; and the other three are played by famous children Tahnee Welch and Tyrone Power Jr., along with Mike Nomad from Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives! Their project involves rescuing fellow aliens who were left behind in cocoons at the bottom of the sea, which they then deposit in the pool!

Of course there are confusions along the way! Jack Gilford from Catch-22 plays another elderly, one who phumphers about and doesn’t hold with all these strange goings-on! Steve Guttenberg from The Bedroom Window plays the boatsman Jack, who not only learns the truth about the otherworlders but gets a chance to make sweet alien love in the pool! Maureen Stapleton from Interiors and The Money Pit, Jessica Tandy from The Birds, Gwen Verdon from Alice, and Herta Ware from Slam Dance and Species are the wives and sweethearts of the old jaspers, and there are various personal stories involving love, adultery, and death, all intertwined here; and then D.A.R.Y.L. himself, Barret Oliver, plays an astronomy-loving grandchild!

It’s a strange picture when you think about it, but there was kind of a geezer fad in 80s movies! Ha ha, look at On Golden Pond; and it lasted all the way through to *batteries not included in 1988! There’s even a sequel to this one, they say, in which the oldsters return to their home planet! The picture introduces big concepts like the value of mortality, but never expands upon them; and it sets up conflicts like the choice between everlasting life and ever seeing your family again, but never wrestles with them in any substantial way! The kindly beneficence of the aliens helps bleed the picture of potential drama and depth, but the saucer people’s likeability and the general good nature of the picture almost make up for that! There are a few touching scenes, achieved with no small help from the supposedly superannuated charmers in the cast! The photography and ILM trick effects are very studio-80s, so if you like that sort of thing, and don't mind geriatric comedy replacing action, you’ll like this! Ha, ha, I give Cocoon two blue-steel cannonballs!

Friday 10 September 2021

Burl reviews Force of Evil! (1948)


Ha ha, it’s Burl here with some political noir for you! This is the first picture made by Abraham Polonsky, a cool guy who got himself blacklisted for not naming names, while his own name was named by The Long Goodbye’s Sterling Hayden, who regretted doing it all the rest of his life! Polonsky was a Marxist practically from cradle to grave, but, unlike too many of his fellow travelers, was smart enough to soundly reject Stalinism! His askance view of capitalism, largely shared by that ol' pinko Burl, is naturally on full view in his debut picture as a director, Force of Evil!

When I thought idly of Force of Evil over the years, I thought of it as a boxing picture, but that’s because of Body and Soul, which Polonsky wrote! John Garfield from We Were Strangers is in both movies, and he stars here as Joe Morse, a slick Wall Street lawyer in the employ of numbers racketeer Tucker, played by Roy Roberts from The Big Trees! Joe’s older brother Leo, who raised him after the death of their parents and who put him through law school, but from whom he is now estranged, is also in the numbers business, but in a benevolent, small-timer sort of a way!

Leo is played by Thomas Gomez from Key Largo, and boy is he good! He can whip himself into a froth just as well as Eugene Pallette can, but you really know he means it! All the actors are good, in fact, including stagestress Beatrice Pearson as Leo’s innocent secretary Doris, who eventually, if briefly, succumbs both to Joe’s corruption and his slab-faced charms! Marie Windsor from ‘Salem’s Lot plays Mrs. Tucker, the vampish gangster’s wife with whom Joe occasionally dallies; Paul Fix from Strange Cargo and Jet Pilot is the even more dangerous mobster Ficco; and Howland Chamberlain from Feudin’, Fussin’ and a-Fightin’ is Leo’s milquetoast slaphead accountant Mr. Bauer, and they must have got him at the same shop they get all the bald, moustached, bespectacled gangland accountants for TV and movies! Ha ha!

Though he discovers his moral bearings near the end of the picture, Joe spends most of it being a croquefort, even if his wish to help his brother is genuine! Ha ha, he does little jerky things like put Doris up on a shelf when she disagrees with him, and big jerky things like coming up with an idea to destroy all the small-time numbers bankers in town so his buddy Tucker can take them over! Apparently, you see, the folks who bet on these numbers always pick the same number, 776, every July 4, and Joe sees to it that 776 indeed comes up this particular Independence Day, meaning the small books will have to pay off big, and thereby get squeezed dry!

Well, Joe tries to warn his brother about it before it happens, and tries to help him after, but his clever scheme ends up costing Leo everything, and himself nearly that! Ha ha, there are no happy endings when going up against the forces of greed and capitalism (but I repeat myself, ha ha), which are after all simply code names for the force of evil referred to in the title!

It‘s a terrific, crackerjack picture! Joe seems like a typical film noir failpuss, but he’s actually quite a complex character, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in his story! Polonsky does a marvelous job with his first stint behind the megaphone, and one wishes he’d been given more chances rather than falling to the ridiculous blacklist! On top of all this, the picture will teach you about the numbers racket, and you’ll finally be able to explain to your friends just what it is! I give Force of Evil three and a half jolly newsboys!

Tuesday 7 September 2021

Burl reviews Damien: Omen II! (1978)


Wahhh duu wahhh, it’s Burl, back with yet another tale of demonio-religious horror! This one is the sequel to The Omen, of course, and for some reason they gave it the title Damien: Omen II! This had the curious result of giving a whole, particularly stupid generation the idea that the proper name for all the films in the series is Damien Omen Child! In my video store days I had to rent the movies to these nudniks, so I know what I’m talking about! “Ha ha, did you want Damien Omen Child 1, Damien Omen Child 2, or Damien Omen Child 3?” I eventually found myself asking!

This one picks up with what seems like a scene cut from the earlier installment, following the archeologist Bugenhagen as he drives around like a madman in his jeep! As in the first installment he's played, uncredited as always, by Leo McKern from X the Unknown! He brings his pal, played by Ian Hendry from Get Carter, down underground to see a special wall upon which images of the devil have been painted, and what do you know: it’s Damien Omen Child! But then the devil immediately kills them!

Seven years later Damien Omen Child is living with his uncle and aunt, played by William Holden from The Towering Inferno and When Time Ran Out and Lee Grant, who was in Mulholland Drive and directed Staying Together! Ha ha! Sylvia Sidney from Snowbeast is the old aunt, and of course immediately she expresses a distaste for Damien Omen Child, the devil kills her! Here the movie settles into a pattern: somebody finds out something weird about Damien, sound crazy to other people when they try to explain what they’ve discovered, and then the devil kills them!

The devil’s victims include, roughly in order of introduction and demise, Elizabeth Shepherd from Head Office as a lady reporter who gets her eyes pecked out and then is creamed by a truck; Lew Ayres from ‘Salem’s Lot as a Thorn Corporation executive who falls through the ice and drowns; Allan Arbus from The Last Married Couple in America, another Thorn employee, who suffers blowsy at a pesticide factory; Meschach Taylor from The Beast Within, as a doctor who realizes Damien has jackal blood and is immediately bisected by a runaway elevator cable (the picture’s most elaborate, spectacular, and gory death); and Nicholas Pryor from Executive Decision, who loses his nut and gets hit by a train!

But it’s not as though everyone is against Damien Omen Child, oh no! He has some pals! The devilish lad is attending a military academy, where Lance Henrikson from Aliens and Pumpkinhead is large and in charge as a satanic sarge, and where Damien Omen Child gradually unweaves his own identity; and meanwhile Robert Foxworth from Prophecy and Ants! plays a weasely Thorn Corp. exec who reveres the cloven-footed one, and on the side is trying to effect some kind of nasty scheme involving the global food supply, though I confess I never figured out exactly what he was up to! Most of the movie is the devil murders, spaced out as regularly as stations on a subway line, and like his predecessor Gregory Peck, Holden takes forever to cotton on to the deviltry in his midst! Ha ha, he never seems to think it strange that everyone he knows is dying by freak deaths, even when that fact is pointed out to him!

It’s one of those Hollywood lumpuses, put together stolidly by veterans with no real motivation or instinct to transgress! There’s a general curiosity about what’s going to happen, renewed every ten minutes or so with a devil killing, but no sense of gathering doom, no atmosphere, no apocalypse, no affrights! On the other hand there’s a general Hollywood craftsmanship and a couple of memorable moments, and you get talents like Jerry Goldsmith plying their crafts! It’s still square oldtimer huggermugger though, and I give Damien: Omen II one and a half exploding furnaces!

Friday 3 September 2021

Burl reviews Firestorm! (1998)


With a snap, a crackle, and a pop, Burl is here to review you a movie about fierce forest fires and the folk who fight them! It’s 90s Hollywood action yet again, and this picture, along with Eraser, got me thinking about that particular category of motion picture! You’ve got your minor classics, like Speed and Face-Off and The Fugitive, and then your successful-but-middling works, like Point Break, The Rock, Con Air, The Last Boy Scout, Cliffhanger, Air Force One, Under Siege, Passenger 57, so forth! And then again you have a whole different category: movies that some studio or other (usually Fox) made in imitation of either Speed or Die Hard or some combination of the two, but that ended up as anonymous video-store fodder, remembered by few and cherished by none! These titles include buntonics like Chain Reaction, Mercury Rising, Hard Rain, Chill Factor, Striking Distance, and today’s picture, Firestorm, which I’m forced by circumstance to report might be the worst of them!

Our hero in this endeavour is not a cop but a fighter of forest fires, and the fellow playing him is not an actor but instead famed pigskinsman Howie Long, wearing a perpetually blurred and startled look in the role of Jessie the smokejumper! Ha ha, the picture opens with its most professionally-directed scene, in which Jessie and his mentor Wynt, played by Scott Glenn from The Keep and The Right Stuff, must rescue a little girl from a house in the burning forest! Wynt is injured, which leads to his part in the drama becoming strangely similar to the one Glenn undertook in another flame-based actiondrama, Backdraft!

Meanwhile a slightly clever but also completely goofy jailbreak is enacted by a fancy-talkin’ robber-killer played by William Forsythe from Cloak & Dagger and Extreme Prejudice! As a purposefully-started forest fire rages on the mountain, he and a band of confrères escape from the ridiculously low-security work detail they’re on, and in their new guise as a group of Alberta-based firefighters, adopt ridiculous Canookian accents straight out of Canadian Bacon! Ha ha!

Suzy Amis from Fandango turns up as an ornithologist who’s not just an ornithologist but has been relentlessly trained by her father in the art of being a Marine, and that ridiculous confluence of characteristics is typical of this picture! Once the perennially baffled Jessie figures out that the constant litany of “eh?” from the would-be Canadian firefighters is counterfeit, he and Amis are on the run! Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for the thrill ratio of the movie, Forsythe’s baddie is killing off all his buddies himself, leaving Jessie nothing to do except run away! Ha ha, he does fight one of the henchmen, but is left prone and defeated beneath a pile of camping equipment while the henchman is finished off by Forsythe!

Jessie himself has a gang of pals, including familiar faces like Christiane Hirt from Malone and Michael Greyeyes from Blood Quantum, but they all mostly stay put at headquarters and never become a part of the action! Meanwhile the movie degenerates into a display floor of blundered potential and missed opportunity! A situation involving a group of people trapped on a bus might have had plenty of suspense wrung from it, but instead it turns out to be merely the setup for a weakly-executed gag! Jessie talks about trees and rocks exploding, but we never see that happen; and the climactic firestorm is just a digital mess that looks like some kind of 90s-era screen saver! Ha ha, we do get a moment involving somebody’s head igniting like a match, but that’s small recompense!

The picture was directed by talented cinematographer Dean Semler, who shot City Slickers and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and this hire was clearly part of the studio’s attempt to recapture the magic of Speed or The Fugitive, also directed by cameramen! But like other photographer-directed 90s actioners, Chill Factor or Hard Rain for instance, it was in the end a failed gambit - it’s hard to know whether the actors or the action were more poorly served by Semler’s inexperience behind the megaphone! The storytelling is a mess, thanks to the lousy script as well as the confused direction; the dialogue is laughably lousy; and the hero is virtually indistinguishable from the trees he’s trying to save! It’s the lowest ebb of 90s studio action, so I give Firestorm one groundpounder!

Thursday 2 September 2021

Burl reviews Eraser! (1996)


HA-LLO DIS IZ BURL! Ha ha, as you can tell from my note-perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation, I’m reviewing an Arnie picture for you today! It’s late-mid period Arnie, after he graduated to comedies like Junior, but before he got into his Grizzled Old Muscleman phase! Evidently as the second half of the 1990s began, he felt like dipping a toe back into the R-rated action of his earlier years, when he was doing pictures like Commando and Raw Deal and the like; and the big-budget nubscrum that resulted is called Eraser!

Arnold is of course the titular Eraser: an agent with no life, back story, or personality, who works for the Justice Department, giving new identities to witnesses and informants and folk of that nature! In the opening scenes he does just that for a low-level gangster played by the late Robert Pastorelli, and then we meet the main erasee, a lady called Lee, played quite well by Vanessa Williams, who’s ready to give up the goods on the shady armaments company she works for by recording them through a hideous brooch camera! Here we get just a kiss of science fiction, because the company’s newest invention is something called a “rail gun,” which shoots pellets nearly at the speed of light! Ha ha, in reality these pellets would just pass through a body and it would take a second before the victim even noticed, while in the movie if you get shot by one of these things, then of course you fly screaming all the way across the room and crash into the wall in slow motion!

James Caan from Misery is Arnie’s mentor and work chum, but it’s pretty evident he’s the bad guy right from the start! Of course maybe it’s not so evident, because James Coburn from Hard Times, here wearing a silver cocksman’s beard, is lurking around in the office scenes looking just as suspicious! Soon Arnie is on the run from the both of them; there’s a pretty impressively-sustained level of action-suspense once Arnie realizes he’s been betrayed and must jump off a flaming jet plane to escape, and then drives like a maniac to the zoo, where he must gunfight and battle alligators!

The picture slows down a bit after this, but I suppose it had to! It’s got a little sparkle to the script, maybe thanks to the participation of Walon Green, who also wrote Sorcerer and The Wild Bunch! Of course it’s pretty hard to say who wrote this lame-o bon mot or that goofy gay bar scene, so best to spread both the credit and the blame around as far as it’ll go! The sci-fi superguns are a nice addition, because that peps things up a bit! Whenever one of the rail guns starts shooting, it leaves a trail of expanding blue smoke rings from every supersonic projectile! It’s an effect I liked well enough, but not nearly as much as the filmmakers liked it themselves: ha ha, it must happen a million times! I bet the animation artists got tired of drawing blue smoke rings!

The  climax is a pretty bog-standard shipyard shootout, with the addition of a lot of blue smoke rings of course; and then there’s a final revenge scene that’s hard not to read as a fond fantasy from people who might like to see sterner measures taken against real-life perpetrators of similar crimes! Ha ha, this is an Iran-Contra movie just the way The Parallax View is a product of Watergate, though of course Eraser is far and away the weaker film I think it should go without saying!

It sits squarely in the middle of the 90s Hollywood action pack: not nearly up there with Speed or The Fugitive, but cheek by jowl with Passenger 57 and Con Air on the ho-hum-hell-why-not shelf! It’s got a fine action look from cinematographer Adam Greenberg, a nice scene of henchmen getting crunched by alligators (which beasts are brought to life by both animatronics and rough mid-90s digital trick effects), and a reasonably brisk pace! Making a smart political thriller out of this material might have been nice, but these particular filmmakers just weren’t interested in doing that! I’m going to give Eraser two concerned bartenders!

Burl reviews Breakdown! (1997)


Shakedown, breakdown, it’s Burl, here to review a simple story of 90s automotive mystery-action! Ha ha, you might be thinking that this must be a review of Switchback, but no, it’s another Paramount Pictures production entirely! In fact this is Breakdown, a leanly-told tale of dastardly truckers and a missing wife!

Kurt Russell from The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China and Kathleen Quinlan from Wild Thing and Apollo 13 are a husband and wife hoping to start a new life out West! Russell here is in the same blando button-down Everyman mode he adopts in other 90s thrillers like Unlawful Entry and Executive Decision, and when, in the middle of the desert, their car suffers the titular event, Quinlan takes off to fetch a tow truck with a seemingly friendly trucker played by J.T. Walsh from Misery! But when Russell gets his vehicle started by himself and proceeds to the next service station to find his wife, he discovers she isn’t there and never was, and the local hayseeds claim they never saw no one lookin’ like her!

Well, it’s a conundrum! Russell is worried, and through a series of investigations and confrontations, and without allies on these dusty plains, he manages to overcome his tucked-in personality and track down his wife! Of course Walsh is the villain behind it all, ha ha, it’s no surprise to find that out, and he’s got a little gang of co-conspirators which includes such professional low-lifes as M. C. Gainey from Con Air! The more interesting discovery is that when Walsh is not trucking or kidnapping or demanding ransom, he’s a warm family man with a wife and son! He also has a padlocked stay-hole in his barn however, so there’s that, ha ha!

Familyman or not, he’s an altogether nasty customer, and so there’s great sadistic pleasure in watching him and his underlings get their just desserts! Along the way there are some short, efficiently-directed action scenes and a fair soupçon of suspense, and it all wraps up in a tight ninety-something minutes! This all amounts to a mid-level programmer of the old school, making up in solidity what it lacks in ambition! Everybody involved did just the job that was required of them, even if, as in the case of Quinlan, that job was far below their actual talents! She’s too good an actor just to be kidnapped and put into a bag; but on the other hand the movie serves as a very good showcase for Walsh and his particular set of skills!

This is one of the many sorts of movies they just don’t make any more, and while it doesn’t count as the greatest of tragedies, I still miss this sort of thing: that is, the kind of picture that you feel a natural urge to take the afternoon off and go see with a box of hot buttered corn in your lap! Maybe what I’m really lamenting are the bygone days when I would or could go and do that at all, movie type notwithstanding; but in any case, little hard-edged genre pictures like Breakdown come with a slight patina of reminiscence and regret! But they also come with plenty of simple pleasure, and so I give Breakdown two and a half doughnut packages!

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Burl reviews Pet Sematary! (1989)


Ha ha and housecats, it’s Burl! Yes, I thought I’d review the first filmed version of Stephen King’s book Pet Sematary, which, as I recall, I saw at the theatre on a date with my first real girlfriend, Ingra! I don’t think Ingra liked it very much, as she was not what you would call a horror movie aficionado! She did turn me on to all sorts of great books though, so I have plenty to thank her for! And we also once checked into a motel under the names “Mr. and Mrs. Buster Hideaway,” and you can say what you like about this younger generation, but I don’t think the kids are doing that sort of thing any more! Ha ha! And I suppose motel clerks are more scrupulous about checking identifications than they used to be!

But on to the movie! Now, I thought it was a pretty good idea to hire Mary Lambert to direct it, even though it was originally supposed to be George A. Romero at the helm! I don’t know why Romero bowed out, or was taken off it, or what happened, but it seemed like a lady director (sadly novel in those days, and less so now but not by all that much) who’d done Madonna videos and the art-crime picture Siesta would be a pretty bold choice! But you know, though she did a perfectly adequate job, there was nothing special about her approach so far as I could tell!

Dale Midkiff from Nightmare Weekend plays a carved wooden figure representing Louis Creed, the dad who works as a university doctor! Denise Crosby from Miracle Mile, looking comely in a pinched sort of a way, is the mom; and of course there are two sweet kids: preadolescent Ellie and the charming toddler Gage, who is played by Miko Hughes from Apollo 13 and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare! Because they have kids and a housecat too, the parents know the best thing to do would be to move into a house on a road down which massive tanker trucks hurtle constantly like screaming engines of death! Ha ha, the perfect place to raise a family!

Across this road of sorrow lives the elderly neighbor, Jud, played delightfully by Fred Gwynne from The Secret of My Success! Gwynne’s performance is a real high point in the picture, with his delightful Mainer accent and old-duck mannerisms and just plain Gwynne-ness! Of course we know where the story goes from here: Jud tells his new pal Louis all about the secret cemetery back yonder, the one that has the power to resuscitate the dead! Tragedy strikes soon after, and the use of the baneful graveyard brings about a lot more death and despair to the family Creed!

Brad Greenquist from The Bedroom Window and The Chair plays the world’s least-helpful ghost, who manifests in the form of a walking meatloaf much like Jack from An American Werewolf in London, but without the comradeliness! He’s clearly just there to add some affrights, or at least some goriness, to the proceedings while the main story unfolds at the pace and in the progression that it must!

The King book is one of his most emotionally resonant, but the movie comes nowhere close to replicating this! Part of the fault lies with Midkiff, who, I’m sorry to say, just isn’t a very good actor; another part with King himself, who wrote the screenplay! The whole movie seems to have gone through a studio scrubbing process, which I suppose accounts for the blunted edges of Lambert’s style! It’s got a inappropriately-bright 80s look and some goofy optical effects, and so the atmosphere so badly required by this tale is largely, though not entirely, absent!

It all hoves a bit to the mediocre side, and the remake, which I also watched recently, doesn’t improve things much! I’d like to see what Romero might have done with the story, maybe using a script written by someone with more distance from the material, but I guess we’ll never know how that might have turned out! I’m gong to give this iteration of Pet Sematary two frozen cats, and at least half of that, I’ll admit, is for Fred Gwynne! Ha ha!