Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Burl reviews The French Dispatch! (2021)


Eh bonjour friends! Yes, Burl has returned to review another picture, and this is yet one more movie I saw on the big screen, to my great joy! I’ve been hitting matinees mostly, so there’s nobody around and things feel pretty safe, pestilence-wise! Ha ha, and for this particular matinee I went with an old pal, one of my very oldest in fact, and he’s probably a fellow I haven’t been to a movie with since the 80s or early 90s! That’s a long time! The picture was of course the newest Wes Anderson joint, the one generally known as The French Dispatch!

Like The Life Aquatic, it has an actual title that’s longer than I care to write out in full, ha ha, and like The Grand Budapest Hotel, it takes place mostly in the mid-Century Europe with which Anderson is evidently obsessed! Ha ha, I recognize a fellow enthusiast! And we know the picture tells the tale of the magazine after which the picture is named, which is of course based on the New Yorker and the staff and writers of that venerable publication!

Bill Murray, famous from Ghostbusters and of course many other Anderson pictures, from Rushmore on up, is every writer’s fantasy editor, indulging his scribes to a degree never seen in reality! (Though he’s not, it should be noted, the ideal employer if you’re a mere copy boy!) As a former newspaper editor myself, I appreciate the near-deification such a character is accorded simply by casting Murray to play him!

Life around the French Dispatch office, located in “Ennui-en-Blasé, France” (which name, thank goodness gets the bad French jokes out of the way quickly) provides the picture’s exoskeleton, and the meat of it is the three feature stories printed in the magazine’s final issue! First up is a jailhouse tale featuring Benicio Del Toro from Inherent Vice as Moses Rosenthaler, a near-feral prisoner accused of the gruesome attack-murders of three bartenders, who proves to be an accomplished painter once he finds a subject, muse, and lover in guard Simone, played by Léa Seydoux from No Time to Die! Adrien Brody from Midnight in Paris is the art dealer Cadazio, who champions the artist while ignoring his wolfman-like growls; this tale is related by correspondent J.K.L. Berenson, played by Tilda Swinton from The Dead Don’t Die!

Another writer, this one called Mrs. Krementz and played by Frances McDormand from Darkman, tells the next story! This one is set during a fictionalized take on the student uprisings of the late 60s, with Timothée Chalamet from Dune Part One leading the intellectual faction, meanwhile having his first affair with Mrs. Krementz and then his second with a pretty fellow radical!

The author of the third story is played by Jeffrey Wright from Only Lovers Left Alive, here affecting a Roscoe Lee Browne accent to play Roebuck Wright! His tale involves a kidnapping and the involvement of an accomplished police chef, and features Mathieu Amalric from The Forbidden Room as the police chief and Steve Park from Fargo as Nescaffier, the police chef! Ha ha!

Owen Wilson from Anaconda, Bob Balaban from Moonrise Kingdom, Henry Winkler from Night Shift, Christoph Waltz from Django Unchained, Fisher Stevens from The Burning, Liev Schreiber from The Daytrippers, Willem Dafoe from Streets of Fire, Edward Norton from Fight Club, and Griffin Dunne from An American Werewolf in London all appear in smaller roles, so it must be noted that the cast is a pretty thrilling one! More thrilling still is the wealth of detail woven into each of the stories as well as the wraparound business, and the pictorial amusements with which the picture is well stuffed! There’s some great model work, marvelous gags, and an animated sequence that perhaps goes on a little long! Ha ha, and if you’re at all a student of the New Yorker, its history, and its writers, you’ll get that much more out of the whole thing!

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this movie, and do you know what? My childhood friend, Rob by name, did too, notwithstanding the lumpenproletarian that he is! Whether it all comes together in the end is more of a personal decision than a critical one, I think, but I myself had a terrific time, and so I give The French Dispatch three and a half pop stars named Tip-Top!

Friday 26 November 2021

Burl reviews Deep Blue Sea! (1999)


Blub blub it’s Burl, here with more underwater action-horror for you! As you may recall, I have a fondness for such photoplays: the soggybottoms of 1989, for instance, like Deep Star Six and Leviathan and The Abyss! Movies that aren’t necessarily set at underwater complexes but feature water monsters are pretty good too, and the picture under review today, Deep Blue Sea, attempts to combine the charms of two such pictures, Jaws and Deep Rising! Ha ha, I’m surprised they didn’t call it Deep Jaws! And now I hear you asking: well Burl, did they succeed in grafting these two water movies into one satisfying cinematic concoction? Read on, MacDuck!

From Deep Rising they took the 90s-era digital monster effects, a little bit of tomato paste, a lot of goofy dialogue, a gang of non-characters, a big storm, and the word “deep!” From Jaws they took sharks! All of this is set at an underwater installation that differs from the above-named 1989 pictures in that it’s not at the bottom of the sea, but rather some small distance below the surface, with much of it floating like an artificial island! We explore this facility in the company of Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, known from such movies as Exorcist III and Die Hard With A Vengeance, who plays Russell Franklin, the millionairesman who funded the project!

Thomas Jane is a surly diver called Carter and Saffron Burrows is Dr. Susan; and other characters are played by Jacqueline McKenzie from Malignant, Michael Rapaport from Metro, LL Cool J from Halloween H2O (as “Preacher,” cook, parrot owner, and man of God), and of course Stellan Skarsgård from The Hunt for Red October and Dune Part One as The Doc! Their goal? Make sea sharks smart as a way of somehow curing Alzheimer’s! (Ha ha, strangely they ignore the fact that they already have an animal aboard their station that can talk, which is Preacher’s foul-mouthed parrot, so why not test on him!)

Ha ha, it’s a noble goal, but when the inevitable storm comes and wreaks havoc, and the topside portion of the facility is destroyed and the supersmart sea sharks released from their pen, the characters are left wishing maybe they hadn’t poked so much at the bitey fish! Ha ha, naturally the sea sharks want revenge, and they take it out mostly on The Doc, who gets his arm chomped off for starters, then when they’re trying to helicopter him out of there, a shark nabs him off the end of the cable, carries him around a bit underwater, then uses him as a battering ram to get through an underwater window! Oh, poor Doc!

But his hilarious death scene is not the most notable or memorable in the picture - ha ha, that honor of course goes to Samuel L. Jackson, and while since that time there have been many copycat sudden-death scenes to dilute the impact of this one, it still remains amusing, and I can assure you that it was a real gudukus in the theater back when it was new!

When I watched the picture again recently, of course the moment was not so incredible, and while one can’t blame the movie for that, one can blame it for the terrible script, the wafer-thin characterizations, the relentless borrowing from other, better pictures, and the lack of affrights! It’s one of those pictures that takes a while to get going, but once it does, it stays going, so it’s got that going for it! And it does have some moments sprinkled here and there - not many, ha ha, but some! So in the end, when all the bubbles have risen to the surface, I give Deep Blue Sea one and a half parrot-munchings!

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Burl reviews Mulholland Drive! (2001)


Attention malingerers, it’s Burl, here with a review of a fine example of Lynchiana! In fact it might be one of the Lynchiest films he ever made, and that’s saying a lot! Of course the picture I’m speaking of is not Dune, but Mulholland Drive, which I remember seeing in a cavernous old Vancouver movie palace nearly on my own in the cinema, which itself was a somewhat Lynchian experience, ha ha! Plus I went to school with a guy named David Lynch, and while that has nothing to do with anything, I thought I’d mention it!

So I hear you asking “Ha ha, Burl, what’s this movie about?” Whoa, bear, not so fast! Well, after all, it’s a dream, and me explaining the story to you will sound a bit like I’m telling you one of my own dreams! It can be boring and even annoying to hear about someone else’s dream, and I think there are some who take this movie, or any mildly challenging oneiric work, in that negative spirit! Ha ha, not me though! I love a good dream movie, and this is one!

There’s a car crash on Mulholland Drive in the hills above Hollywood, and a lady, pretty but mindstunned, and played by Laura Harring from Silent Night, Deadly Night III and The Forbidden Dance, stumbles out of the wreck! She sneaks into a house and falls asleep, and the next day Betty, played by Naomi Watts from Matinee and The Ring, arrives in Los Angeles straight from Deep River, Ontario, all bright smiles and big eyes, and in the company of an elderly couple she met on the plane! She’s staying at the home of her absent aunt, which of course is the house the car crash woman is squatting in, and is part of a Hollywood complex managed by Ann Miller from On the Town! Spying a poster for Gilda, the amnesiac woman calls herself Rita, and together Rita and Betty set out to discover Rita’s true identity!

Meanwhile, as a squad of cops that includes Robert Forster from Alligator investigate the Mulholland car crash, Justin Theroux from Miami Vice is trying to direct a movie! He's receiving cryptic casting offers he can't refuse from a pair of gangsters, the Castigliane Brothers, who are played by the film’s composer, Angelo Badalamenti, and that fine old fishface Dan Hedaya, well known from Endangered Species, Buckaroo Banzai, Tightrope, Commando, and so many others! Also meanwhile, Mark Pellegrino from Bad Meat plays an imbecilic hit man who must shoot everyone who sees him, and of course there’s the vignette with the two guys and the horror-hobo behind Winkie’s!

Meanwhile meanwhile, Betty gets a chance to do her big audition! In the office of movie executive James Karen, whom we know from Time Walker, Betty plays a scene with a leathery Troy McClure-type star played by leathery Troy McClure-type Chad Everett from The Intruder Within! Ha ha, she really gives ‘er and wows everyone in the room, including an agency rep played by Lee Grant from Damien: Omen II! And indeed it is an electrifying scene, something you might expect to happen in a naïf’s aspirational dream of Hollywood!   

And of course there’s the Cowboy, and what else can be said of this sprightly lad? His warning to the film director, that if he does good, he will see the Cowboy one more time, and if he does bad he will see the Cowboy two more times, is potent enough on its own that no follow-through is required, and take that Chekhov and anyone else who needs a continuity of incident in their dramas! Ha ha!

And then at a certain point everything changes, and characters you thought were one thing turn out to be another, and a movie you figured for a neo-noir is so far around the genre wheel that it’s almost a neo-nor again; and then Rebekah Del Rio busts out an amazing performance of Roy Orbison’s Crying, but in Spanish, and the old laughing people come crawling out like bugs, and you say to yourself ha ha, this is weird! But it’s a dream! all a dream of Hollywood, and thus a dream about a dream factory that was inspired by the dream factory itself, and so where does cinema end and dream begin, and is there a line of demarcation, however fuzzy, and why need there be anyway? And let us embrace mystery for once, and all together we'll cry "Ha ha!"

Sometimes in a movie I might be totally out to lunch as to what’s going on, but within my haze of confusion I suddenly recognize that the story has come to its proper end and I think boy oh boy, if the movie ends right now that would be just perfect… and then, what do you know, it ends! That has happened now and again - Irma Vep is one example - and that’s what happened with Mulholland Drive! Let’s call it Unexpected Perfect Ending Syndrome! It’s one of my favourite things a movie can do, and accordingly I give Mulholland Drive four dumpsters!

Monday 15 November 2021

Burl reviews Dune Part One! (2021)


Wey wey hep-a-hole, it’s Burl, here with another big-screen review! Yes, today I’d like to talk about the new superproduction of Dune, rather than the old superproduction of Dune made by that man David Lynch so long ago! As compromised as that older picture was, it was still a fine entertainment I thought; but it was not really the book! And as much as we all wish we could see the Alejandro Jodorowsky version that never was, it probably wouldn’t have been the book either, or at least the book that’s in my mind! This new version, brought to us by the bontempi film artist Denis Villeneuve, is the book, or at least about five eighths of it, both for better and for worse, and accordingly, with the rest of it apparently on the way, the official title of this picture is Dune Part One!

We recall the story! It’s the far future and the desert planet of Arrakis, the only source of an incredibly valuable spice that makes cosmic travel possible, is the locus of all sorts of interplanetary intrigue! The Emperor of the Universe sends the nasty Harkonnens (a name pronounced differently here than it was in the Lynch version) back from Arrakis to their greasy home planet and installs the more beneficent Atreides royal family as caretakers of the spice-mining bonanza; but this is all a plot to launch a surprise attack on the Atreides, which in turn forces the young scion of the Atreides family, along with his mother Jessica, out into the desert to make common cause with the indigenous Arrakians, called Fremen!

Paul Atreides, the manchild of destiny, is played by a young flyaway called Timothée Chalamet, and I don’t think he quite caught the character the way Kyle MacLachlan did back in 1984! He’s not terrible or anything, just a little flat! His father, Duke Leto Atreides, is played by Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis, and he’s good too, but he never has a moment as poignant as Jürgen Prochnow did in Lynch’s picture, staring out at the oceans of his home planet Caladan and wistfully saying “I’ll miss the sea!”

Rebecca Ferguson from Doctor Sleep and The Kid Who Would Be King is Paul’s mother Jessica, and she’s ideal for the part, if a bit young! We get a veiled crone performance from the terrific Charlotte Rampling of D.O.A. fame, here playing a witchy Reverend Mother; an earthy, or perhaps sandy, turn from Skyfall’s Javier Bardem in the role of Stilgar; and Stellan Skarsgård from The Hunt for Red October and Deep Blue Sea is the nasty Baron Harkonnen, not quite so covered in furuncles as his 1984 counterpart, nor as demonstrative in his appetite for boyjuice, but somehow even grosser nevertheless!

In grossitude he is nearly matched by the enormous worms that plow through the desert, but in this truncated version of the story these guys don’t yet play a big role! However, ha ha, there is a very satisfying scene in which one of them gobbles up a few Harkonnens like they were junior mints, just as its distant cousin on Tatooine, the All-Consuming Sarlacc, so enjoyed to snack on Jabba’s men! Again I say ha ha!

A recurring theme is of one out of four things not working properly: we see, for example, that a carryall meant to lift a spice harvester out of worm danger fails because one of its four hooks cannot deploy properly; later, that one of the flappy wings on the ornithopter in which Paul and Jessica flee the Harkonnens becomes choked with sand and goes limp; and that ultimately, of the four allegedly loyal House Atreides councilors and men-at-arms - Thufir Hawat, Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho and Dr. Wellington Yueh - one of them is not to be trusted!

In some ways the movie is almost doggedly faithful to its source - one occasionally longs for some flights of imaginative fancy that come from the filmmakers alone! The only changes, additions, elisions or other departures from the Frank Herbert text are borne of utility, however, and there’s something a bit too literal and acolytic about this approach! The same goes for the musical score, which does the job effectively, but something a little more adventuresome and experimental might have been nice!

Still, it’s all very gorgeously made and properly immersive, moves at a stately pace but never bores, and seems to end prematurely, and so I find I’m looking forward to Dune Part Two! There will be lots of fighting and battle scenes and, one hopes, worms! Ha ha! I give Dune Part One three gom jabbars!

Thursday 11 November 2021

Burl reviews Ernest Goes to Camp! (1987)

Ha ha, hello and howdy everybody, do you know what I mean? Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a strange star vehicle from days gone by: a feature film presenting a character who wormed his way into the public consciousness by appearing in a string of commercials in which he speaks to his invisible pal Vern! Ha ha, yes, I’m talking about Ernest, and more specifically about his feature film debut, Ernest Goes to Camp!

Strangely enough I saw this movie in the theatre, and I’ll take a brief digression to tell you why! Ha ha, it was June of 1987, and I was excited to see a new movie that was coming out that summer! I heard about a sneak preview one night, and so my pal Doug and I hurried down to the mall multiplex! In their wisdom, the theatre chain decided to pair this new movie with something they figured would go well with it, Ernest Goes to Camp! When the Ernest picture ended and the sneak preview began, you could hardly hear the sound of the movie over the din of parents rushing their children out of the theatre: for the movie was Full Metal Jacket! (Ha ha, one intrepid dad stuck it out to the end with his two young kids, though!)

So ever since then, those two movies have been inextricably connected in my mind! Watching it again, I realized there were other connections too! Both pictures have predominantly male casts, feature an incompetent who’s bad at everything but shapes up in the end, are set largely in barracks-like environments, employ actors who later participated in the Toy Story series, and climax in scenes of frenzied battle! After a preview setting up the Indigenous legend that’s the backdrop for the titular camp (and which the picture treats with surprising restraint and, by its lights, respect), we meet the halfwit camp handyman, Ernest, played as ever by Jim Varney! Varney of course is also known as the voice of the slinky dog in Toy Story!

Victoria Racimo from Prophecy is the camp’s serious-minded nurse, whom the picture never successfully turns into an object of the neutered Ernest’s romantic interest! Her grandfather is played by famous Italian actor Iron Eyes Cody, well known for his redface roles in Son of Paleface and hundreds of other movies and TV shows; his character, it seems, owns the land the camp is on! Ernest, whose dream it is to one day become a real camp councilor, is put in charge of minding a group of alleged delinquents after these scrubbed-clean teens manage to shatter the leg of their original councilor! Scenes of Ernest trying to make friends with the delinquents are intercut with vignettes involving camp chef Gailard Sartain (whom we know from All of Me and many an Alan Rudolph picture) and his gross food-flinging machine, and scenes of bad guy John Vernon, well known from Sweet Movie, Curtains, Crunch, and Herbie Goes Bananas, doing his bad guy thing without putting too much effort into it!

Vernon’s character owns a strip-mining company that wants to take over and destroy the land, and of course Ernest moronically manages to help Vernon bamboozle the camp away from its rightful caretaker, Iron Eyes Cody! In a showdown punchup with a beefy mining foreman played by Lyle Alzado from Tapeheads, Ernest is brutally beaten and ends up face down in the dirt, bleeding, and is scorned and abandoned by his charges, except of course the little boy who always liked him! This savage pounding, along with a dim awareness of the profound ramifications of his idiocy cause Ernest’s canoe smile to finally fade, and that night he sings a heart-rending ballad of infinite sadness to his turtle in which he expresses gratitude for the falling rain, as it will hide the tears streaming down his bruised and battered face! Ha ha, pretty grim!

The picture has a few bright moments, and Ernest is not wholly without good-natured charm; and the climax involves a sudden turn into the supernatural, which is a trope I usually like! The picture was a little better than I remembered it (actually, I didn’t remember it at all, other than as a way of marking time before the start of the Kubrick movie), but not much, and I was expecting it to be absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel! It wasn’t that, but it hovered not too far above, and so I give Ernest Goes to Camp one and a half turtle parachutes!

Friday 5 November 2021

Burl reviews Dick Tracy's Dilemma! (1947)


Calling all cars, it’s Burl, here with a review of a Poverty Row detective story from days gone by! Ha ha, I recently found four VHS tapes of the old Dick Tracy movie series, and because they’re so nice-looking as a set - as you can see from the photo! - I bought ‘em all! Well after all, like the movies themselves, they didn’t cost too much! And for whatever Burlean reason, I decided to watch the last one first, so here’s a review of Dick Tracy’s Dilemma!


And what a dilemma it is! As the picture opens Dick is just going about his usual sort of business: hassling a bartender at a place called The Blinking Skull in the company of his partner Pat Patton, a loyal semi-bumbler who often rushes in to things without thinking; and breaking dates with his gal Tess Trueheart, which he does on the reg if this movie is any indication! Then an Irish beat cop phones in a report of shenanigans down at the fur warehouse, and Tracy and Patton are on the case! After all, as we saw in a prefatory scene, a foolish security guard has been murdered - clobbered by a hulking fellow with a steel claw where his right hand used to be!

This clawed fellow, known of course as The Claw, is the picture’s novelty bad guy, but he’s not the only heavy! There are two other members of the fur robbery gang, and then there’s the insurance scam angle, which puts the fur company owner up against Mr. Premium the insurance man and his dogged investigator! It takes Tracy quite a while to sort all this out, and though he does manage to puzzle out some clues half-given by the incompetents who surround him, I can’t say I was very impressed with Dick’s field game! Ha ha, he arrives at a place he suspects a hot fur deal will go down, and instead of watching from around the corner he just drives his big car right into the middle of where it’s all supposed to happen, and so of course the criminal gets away! This kind of thing happens more than once!

Ralph Byrd from Moontide plays Tracy, as he had before and would again! Lyle Latell from Beginning of the End is Pat Patton, Jack Lambert from Force of Evil is The Claw, and Ian Keith from It Came From Beneath the Sea makes an impression as Vitamin Flintheart! Vitamin is a retired, velvet-coated, cigarette holder hambone who proves his flintheartedness by turning away poor Sightless, the faux-blind beggarman who pokes out a knothole and listens into the gang, and is pursued by The Claw down shadowy alleyways for his trouble, and of course doesn’t fare so well in the end! Ha ha, Vitamin later has to impersonate Sightless in order to spy on the gang, so I guess that’s him paying a kind of penance! And speaking of impersonations, at one point Pat Patton has to make a hundred phone calls while pretending to be The Claw, and that’s pretty funny too! And of course the whole thing wraps up with Dick being a dick again and breaking a date with Tess!

It’s not a bad little programmer! Tracy’s a stiff of course, but that’s what he’s always been! Poor Tess is a real nothing of a part, insultingly so for poor Kay Christopher who had to do this bit! But in other ways it’s enjoyable: some nifty suspense in the scenes where The Claw stalks his victims, a bit of B-movie brutality, a great neon sign for the Blinking Skull, and a weird comedy relief character in Vitamin! The sixty-two minutes just fly by! You can’t have my nifty little VHS collection, sorry to say, but you can watch these movies any time you want on the you tube! And maybe you should! I give Dick Tracy’s Dilemma two dropped pencils!

Thursday 4 November 2021

Burl reviews No Time to Die! (2021)


With a creak of ancient bones, it’s Burl, here to review the newest James Bond adventure featuring an actor nearly as old as Roger Moore was in his last 007 show, A View To A Kill! Of course the actor I’m talking about is Daniel Craig, well-known for providing the villain’s voice in The Adventures of Tintin, and though he is getting a bit long in the tooth - ha ha, he’s older than me, for gosh sakes! - he’s still a formidable presence and looks decent in formal wear! But it’s probably a good thing that this picture, No Time to Die, is his last outing as the double-naught spy!

In fact he’s already there as the picture begins - happily retired from the spy game, or so he thinks! Ha ha, he’s on perpetual vacation with Dr. Madeline Swann from the previous picture, Spectre, again played by Léa Seydoux from Midnight in Paris and The Grand Budapest Hotel! But an apparent betrayal ends in a car chase and a melancholy parting by train, and will Bond ever learn to love and trust again? Ha ha, persistent musical and dialogue quotes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service strewn throughout the picture would seem to make this a doomed prospect!

Various events transpire (the picture run 163 minutes, so there’s plenty of time for events to transpire!) which lead to Bond taking up his old job again! There’s a new 007 in MI6’s employ though, a lady in fact, who might be present as a paving of the way for an all-new iteration of the superspy, but they don’t give her all that much to do, nor is she provided with the kind of charisma and hard focus that would have left us with the impression that she was taking up the mantle for future Eon productions! Oh well!

Anyway, the usual gang is still there: M, played by Ralph Fiennes from Spider and Strange Days; Ben Whishaw, the voice of Paddington, as a now less pimply Q; Jeffrey Wright from Only Lovers Left Alive as Felix Leiter; and there’s even a scene for Blofeld, still essayed by Christoph Waltz from Django Unchained! Altogether there’s the feel of a classic rock band at work, reformed in 2021 to play the old hits with some new compositions salted in for the audience to fidget to! But of course it’s the old hits everyone wants to hear, ha ha!

We get a nice scene set in Cuba with a delightful, high-kicking junior agent played by Ana de Armas from Knives Out, and also a scene at a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. party that seems borrowed from toxin-based pictures like Getting Even! Ha ha! Of course there was no end to the borrowing from Bond pictures by Getting Even, so I guess that’s fair enough! And then the whole thing wraps up on the bad guy’s private island, which is nice because we haven’t seen a bad guy with his own private island since maybe The Man with the Golden Gun! (Oh, ha ha, I’m wrong - I think the glooper-faced fellow in Skyfall had his own island, but the climax of the picture wasn’t set there!)

One distinct improvement over Spectre is that, when we get an establishing shot featuring the Tower Bridge, the River Thames, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, they no longer feel it necessary to superimpose the label “London!” Ha ha, thanks for trusting us to recognize the city on our own, filmmakers! Your faith in us is simply awe-inspiring!

The picture looks terrific, as most of the recent Bond outings have, and the action scenes, when they come, are of a reasonably thrilling calibre! There’s a good bit set at a snowy cabin at the beginning of the picture, but later, as the movie enters its third hour, there’s a feeling that the whole thing might be going on a bit too long! Then there’s an ending that I won’t get into, but that isn’t what you might call the traditional Bond ending! It does give us Louis Armstrong warble-croaking “We Have All the Time in the World,” so it’s far from a complete loss!

It tries mightily to be something more than a routine spy adventure and it halfway succeeds! The bad guy’s plan is very rote and not explained very well, and he himself is something of a wet sandwich! The tormented romance between Bond and Swann didn’t affect me in the way the filmmakers clearly hoped it would - maybe I just don’t recall the ins and outs of Spectre clearly enough for that! I went through half the picture thinking she was Blofeld’s daughter, only to realize that she was actually his psychiatrist, which, as the sometime girlfriend of her patient’s arch-enemy, must violate some little-invoked clause in the Book of Headshrinker’s Ethics! Ha ha! In any case, it was a night out at the movies, and no mistake! Since I don’t seem to have picked up any covid in the course of going to see it, I give No Time to Die two slinkys!

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Burl reviews Lady in White! (1988)


Hello and a happy post-Halloween to you all! Just a few days ago, and for the very first time, I watched a movie I’ve been aware of for years and years, something I saw on the shelves of the video store I worked at and the ones I patronized! I never did pick it up, because although it was a spooky picture and I like those, it seemed a bit too much like a kiddieshow! Ha ha, it was the same with The Monster Squad! But having a kid myself now, who's the same age as this film's protagonist as it happens, it seemed the perfect time to finally sit back and take in The Lady in White!

The opportunity to see the picture came from the director himself, Frank LaLoggia, who posted a link to his director’s cut on a social media! I downloaded it toot sweet and watched it with my family, it being a family-type movie more or less! It’s a flashback sort of a story, a childhood memory caper like Stand By Me, and so it’s appropriate that it begins in the present day with the main character as an adult, a Stephen King-type horror writer played by LaLoggia himself, being ferried to his old stomping grounds by a cab driver played by Bruce Kirby from, yes, Stand By Me! Ha ha!

The young version of this character, Frankie Scarlatti, is played by Lukas Haas from Witness, Mars Attacks! and Who Loves the Sun! He dwells in a small upstate-New York town with his dad, Alex Rocco from Gotcha, Stick, and Herbie Goes Bananas, his brother Geno, played by the talented Jason Presson from Explorers, and his old country bickerson grandparents! Life is good for jug-eared Frankie except for the fact that his mom has recently died, and he must occasionally suffer some older-brother ribbing from Geno!

Also there’s a pair of mean kids in his classroom, and one evening close to Halloween they lock him in the cloakroom at his school! There he sees the ghost of a little girl who was murdered a decade earlier, and then a rather more substantial presence: a man with a hooded face who comes into the cloakroom to find something, and, realizing he's not alone, starts to strangle poor Frankie! Yes, it seems the town has been suffering a series of child murders, and Frankie, having survived his encounter, realizes he’s got access to clues that might help him find the killer, and that another ghost, the legendary Lady in White, might be a further key to the mystery!

But he only comes upon these realizations gradually, for Frankie is no precocious boy detective but a refreshingly real kid who gets scared and doesn’t always do the right thing! And the movie itself is not a fast-paced, Goonies-style kids’ adventure, but a more meditative memory piece that moves at its own tempo, bringing on characters like a family friend played by Len Cariou from One Man, The Four Seasons, and Executive Decision; the local crazylady, Katherine Helmond from Time Bandits and Brazil; a storytelling postie well played by Sydney Lassick from Alligator and Silent Madness; and Lucy Lee Flippen from Summer School as Frankie’s teacher! And then of course there’s the poor school janitor, blamed for the killings mostly because he’s black; and his poor wife, left alone with her children to suffer the wrath and scorn of the town; and the grief-stricken racist lady, mother to one of the dead children, who gets a mad look in her eye and plots revenge against the wrongly-accused janitor!

Between the child murders and the racism it gets kind of murky for a family film, but some tonal equilibrium is maintained thanks to the heavy filter of nostalgia, the antics of the grandparents, and, since the story unfolds over a period of months, the inclusion of both Halloween and Christmas scenes! The narration, delivered by LaLoggia, is pretty ropey and is probably best ignored, which the poor sound mix on the director’s cut I watched made easy to do; and some of the optical trick effects are silly in both conception and execution! Also, at 122 minutes, the movie, or at least the director’s cut, might be a tad overlong, ha ha! The cliffside climax does tend to linger like the last guest at a Halloween party!

But it all comes straight from the heart, and that’s a virtue not to be airily discounted! LaLoggia took his own history - that of a horror-loving kid named Frank growing up in an Italian family in upstate New York - and married it to an established local lady-in-white legend and an invented serial killer story, and the result is a heartfelt if minor spookshow! I should also mention Rocco, who so often played a hard case but here is warm and kind as the anti-racist father! It was nice to finally catch up with this little movie, and I give Lady in White two and a half squirrel hunting jackets!

Monday 1 November 2021

Burl reviews The Invisible Man (1933)


Mwa-ha-ha-ha and hello, it’s Burl! Am I here? Or am I over here! Ha ha, there’s no way of knowing, for I am completely invisible to you! Yes gumchewers, I’m here to review a classic of the cinema, the Universal Pictures production of The Invisible Man, directed by that giant mammal of cinema James Whale! And of course it features Claude Rains, well known as Nutsy from Moontide, in one of the most unusual debut roles any actor ever had - ha ha, his face is never seen until the last minute of the picture!

You’ve got to admire how this one gets going - not with a bunch of boring experiments that fail and must be tried again and again until success is achieved, but with the invisible man already invisible, already well on the way to homicidal madness, and seeking a place to set up his new lab and discover a way to un-invisibleize himself! After a wonderful set of edits showing the uncommonly translucent man arriving at the door of a pub, swathed in bandages and sporting overcoat, gloves, hat and glasses, he takes a room from landlady and professional screecher Una O’Conner, whom we know so well from The Bride of Frankenstein, and her husband, Forrester Harvey from Kongo, who later gets knocked down the stairs!

Naturally the invisible man, Jack Griffin by name, can’t get a lick of work done thanks to the constant botheration he suffers from the reluctant landlady and the nosy townsfolk, who are intrigued by his dark glasses and creepy bandages and haughty, demanding manner! Word of his unusualness spreads, and he must do a few jumpabouts and shock the simple country folk with his floating shirt routine! And then he must repair to the home of a colleague, Kemp, whom he terrifies into helping him with his experiments! Kemp is played by William Harrigan from Flying Leathernecks and Francis Covers the Big Town, and when he can take it no more and reports there’s an invisible man in his home, Griffin threatens to kill him at pre-cisely ten o’ clock the following night! And you know he means it, ha ha!

Gloria Stuart from The Old Dark House and Wildcats plays Flora, who had a love connection with Griffin back when he was visible and of more pleasant disposition! Her father, old Doc Cranley, is Griffin’s mentor, played by Henry Travers from Ball of Fire and Shadow of a Doubt, and of course he wants to help, but there’s no helping this transparency because he’s become a big jerk, a homicidal one at that, pushing people off cliffs and whatnot! He also likes to kick people in the bum! Clearly (ha ha!) he must be stopped, but even with a police force made up of ringers like Holmes Herbert from Tower of London, E.E. Clive from Mr. Moto’s Last Warning, Dudley Digs from The Hatchet Man, Harry Stubbs from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Donald Stuart from Suspicion, it all comes down to a farmer who hears disembodied breathing in his barn!

Well, this one is a real crackerjack if you ask me! James Whale sure knew what he was doing, the trick effects are absolutely top-notch, the script and the performances are witty, and Rains has just the voice to play this part! He’s not just a voice of course - he does plenty of physical stuff when he’s in his bandages, and he’s good at that too! And most of the actors or even day players who have to react to being touched, jostled, or attacked by him also do pretty fine work! So it’s all very well done, and on top of that an invisible man is in some ways a much scarier entity than a vampire or a werewolf or even a Frankenstein monster! At least he is to me! My only regret in watching it was that I didn’t wait a few weeks, because it’s a pretty good winter movie! But it’s also a pretty great movie any time of year, and so I give The Invisible Man three and a half footprints in the snow!