Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 31 December 2021

Burl reviews Suture! (1993)


All for the love of monochrome, it’s Burl, here to review one of the genre/arthouse gems of the 1990s! Ha ha, actually, this sort of thing was perhaps not as au courant in the 90s as we citizens of the future believe it to have been! I know that’s probably a confusing statement, so I’ll clarify by giving an example! Movies like, say, The Daytrippers, ha ha: that was the sort of thing people went to the arthouses to see back in those days! Movies like this one, Suture, counted more as oddball curiosities!

But it’s an attractive oddball, that’s for sure! It was shot in a widescreen black and white format, which is one of my favourites! The images are very composed and frequently striking, and the black-and-whiteness is in fact part and parcel of the movie’s larger themes! And of course some say that the style and pictorial elegance either overwhelms any meat the film might have, or intentionally serves to disguise that there isn’t much meat at all! Ha ha, well, let’s see for ourselves!

The picture opens with the arrival of a man named Clay in Phoenix, Arizona, where he meets his estranged brother Vincent who looks just like him! Except Clay, a friendly and decent fellow, is black - he’s played by Dennis Haysbert from Heat and Absolute Power - while cold, distant Vincent, played by Michael Harris from Satan’s Princess, has a resemblance to Nick Cave if he were more prissy and ratlike! We soon realize that this disconnect between what we see and what the characters see is simply one of the movie’s affectations - there’s no narrative payoff to this!

Vincent is very rich, the more so thanks to the recent murder-death of his (and Clay’s) father! But Vincent is a suspect in this murder, so his plan is to blow Clay up by use of radio-phone, then use their startling resemblance to each other to assume Clay’s life while inheriting their father's money! But Clay survives the explosion, though both his mug and his brain panel are damaged, and he must undergo facial reconstruction surgery at the hands of the rather too-obviously named Dr. Renée Descartes, played by Mel Harris from Wanted: Dead of Alive and another twins thriller, Raising Cain!

Much of the middle act is Clay receiving this therapy and becoming comfortable with the identity of Vincent! Ha ha, of course he has amnesia, so he believes he’s Vincent because everybody tells him he is! His psychiatrist Dr. Shinoda, played by Sab Shimono from Gung Ho and Blind Date, takes a liking to him and helps him along, and soon Dr. Descartes takes a shine to him too! Meanwhile Vincent’s friend and lawyer, Alice, an older lady played by Dina Merrill from The Player, nurses a longstanding crush on him and tries to kindle his affections! Is it because he’s very rich? No, Alice seems sincere in her reserved ardour! And also meanwhile, a cop played by David Graf from Police Academy investigates Vincent’s part in the murder of the father, along with the connected but non-fatal shooting of an old housekeeper played by Fran Ryan from The Sure Thing and Quiet Cool! And of course the third act will see the return of the real Vincent, prissily teed off that his initial murder attempt didn’t work!

So it’s got some Hitchcockian thriller elements to it, and some psychological mystery bits, as when Clay relates his dreams of transforming into a car to Dr. Shinoda (shades of Spellbound, speaking of Hitch!); but mostly it seems to be a somewhat inchoate meditation on self identity and so forth! The situation is so contrived and the film's reality so artificial that it also serves as a commentary on the relationship between art and truth! But while it clearly has more in its sporran than simple suspense-thrills, there remains nevertheless a slight feeling of “Hmph, so that’s it?” when the thing is done! And yet I can’t call it unsatisfying!

No, for me the solid acting, confident direction, gleaming widescreen black-and-white photography rendered it a perfectly enjoyable viewing experience! I might have liked it better back in 1993 when I saw the movie at a late and much-mourned rep cinema in my town that used to bring in all manner of terrific movies, and spiced up the experience with a mobile of model jet planes that had been hung in front of the screen! Ha ha! They also for some reason had a model airplane mounted on the wall in a frame! Anyway, they screened Suture back in the day, I enjoyed it, and now that I’ve watched it again I’m going to give it three party hats!

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Burl reviews The Sure Thing! (1985)


Hello everybody, it’s Burl here, driving with a load not properly tied down! Yes, I’ve got a tale of young romance for you, a picture that was declared a worthy successor to It Happened One Night, but with the hip stars of today instead of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert! Here in fact we get John Cusack from Tapeheads in his first big starring role, and Daphne Zuniga from Last Rites and The Fly II in her first big non-slasher role, and the picture is quite simply called The Sure Thing!

It’s a Christmas picture, or at least a Christmastime picture, so it’s appropriate to review at this time of year, ha ha! Of course Zuniga was already an old hand at Christmas pictures, having appeared in The Dorm that Dripped Blood, and Cusack would later return to the Yuletide well with The Ice Harvest! It’s also in large part a road picture, and I usually like those! Along with Fandango, this was a VHS road trip movie favourite among my pals and I. though never as revered as director Rob Reiner’s previous picture, Spinal Tap; but I think that ought to go without saying! And it was part of quite a run for Reiner - Tap, this, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery, all in a row! That’s a lot of middlebrow quality!

Cusack, for his part, had a knack for discovering that sweet spot between cool guy, average guy, and nebbishy loser: he did that in Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer and Say Anything and even Hot Pursuit, and he does it here, possibly for the first time! He plays Gib, a semi-playa in his first year of university, who is invited by his buddy Lance, played by Anthony Edwards from Gotcha, to travel for the winter holiday from his snowy Northeastern campus to the sunny beaches of California, where he is assured by Lance that a Sure Thing, which I gather means a beautiful lady who will put out, will be waiting for him!

This is the dubious premise of the movie and of Gib’s westward trek! First, though, he tries his luck with brainy gal-next-door Alison, played by Zuniga, but his false-pretenses ploy backfires and she takes a strong dislike to him! The next thing you know they’re carpooling out west together, in the company of a showtune-loving couple played by Tim Robbins from The Hudsucker Proxy and Fraternity Vacation, and Lisa Jane Persky from When Harry Met Sally!

Familiar 80s faces along the way include big fellas Joshua Cadman, who was Bronk in Goin’ All the Way, and George Memmoli from Lunch Wagon; perennial dowager Fran Ryan from Stripes and Quiet Cool; the always-Grandpa Richard Hamilton, who gramped it up in Protocol and Heaven Help Us; sad sack Larry Hankin from Planes, Trains and Automobiles; John Putch from Jaws 3-D; Garry Goodrow from The Prey; and of course an appearance by Carmine Filpi, the man who made a career out of playing drunks, winos, cork-pulling hobos and barrel-scraping stewbums in pictures like Escape From New York, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and The Wedding Singer!

Gib fantasizes about the nameless Sure Thing played by Nicollette Sheridan from Spy Hard, while Alison exchanges telephone calls with her incredibly boring boyfriend Jason, played by Boyd Gaines from Porky’s! They catch the boot from Robbins and Persky, try their luck at hitchhiking and the ‘Hound, and eventually pull a ride with Hankin’s hangdog trucker, during which Alison overhears Gib talking about the Sure Thing! “All my life, I never had a Sure Thing,” moans the trucker, as though a Sure Thing was really a Thing! And when Gib finally reaches his destination, finds his pal Lance and is introduced to the Sure Thing - who seems congenial enough but about as sharp as a bag of wet mice - we wonder what he will do! Ha ha, a fade to black keeps the answer unknown for the nonce!

I have to take a paragraph and ask just what’s up with this plot! The characters all talk about a Sure Thing in capital letters, like it’s a known and revered phenomenon instead of just a way to call a woman a brainless, agency-free life-support system for a vagina! Even in my teens I thought this was weird and off-putting, and I wasn’t an especially sensitive teen! It might have worked if the Sure Thing had subverted our expectations in some way, but she doesn’t! She turns out to have every bit of the personality and self-possession that her name, or title, or whatever, would indicate, and all the other characters, even Gib, treat her abominably!

Even though Gib ultimately fails to exploit this woman’s legendary surety, or claims he does, the last act of the picture and the overriding concept leaves a bit of sour paste on the brush! Ha ha, but there are plenty of delights: funny lines from Cusack, a general amiability (Gib is uncommonly gentlemanly for an 80s dudebro), and that terrific cast! (Viveca Lindfors, a favourite of mine from Creepshow and Silent Madness, plays the English professor for whom Gib writes his clunky middle school-level compositions!) The romantic aspects, I will admit, hooked me as a teen, and that part of it, along with all the road trip stuff, still has great appeal! It’s got its problems, but on balance I’ll give The Sure Thing three green duffel bags!

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Burl reviews Hurray - The Swedes Are Here! (1978)


By all that’s Bavarian, it’s Burl, here to review one of the many, many, many sex comedies made in and around Bavaria in the 70s and 80s, usually involving hotels, burgomeisters, and Swedish girls! You might recall High Test Girls, which was about six Swedish girls arriving to take over a gas station; well, this one is pretty similar, and it goes by the English title of Hooray - The Swedes Are Here!

Of course there’s no plot, ha ha, no plot at all, but if you’ve read my reviews you know that’s not always a problem, especially with movies like this! The setting is a small Bavarian town, and it seems the burgomeister has given a strapping local lad named Niki Moser a big loan so that Niki can buy a hotel; but the agreement is that Niki will then marry the burgomeister’s perpetually nude daughter Marianne! But he doesn’t want to, and so the solution, suggested by Niki’s friend Tony, is to get a government subsidy to develop the hotel, so that Niki can repay the burgomeister and not be obliged to marry Marianne and this in turn requires that a government minister be fooled into believing the hotel is fully booked with guests so he will okay the subsidy!

The handsy old government official brings his girlfriend to the hotel for a dirty weekend while he considers whether Niki deserves the government subsidy, although he stops along the way to first get pooped on by a cow and then to take his mistress dirndl shopping! It looks bad for Niki, as, aside from a newlywed couple, one of whom is the gayest man alive, the other an understandably frustrated woman, the hotel is almost completely free of guests! Luckily a quintet of pulchritudinous Swedes shows up, followed by, out of nowhere, a marching oompah band! Everyone is soon having sex, ha ha!

The picture is full to bursting with hoary old jokes - they even try on the one about the fly in the soup! Ha ha, that one had whiskers when the Muppets did it, which I guess was around the same time as this! And of course there are pies in the face too, ha ha, because you can’t have a picture like this without pies in the face! And as the five Swedes gambol topless around the pool, a small boy in a Tyrolean hat peeks in and demands they give him a Tampax, because he’s heard that with one you can go swimming, horseback riding, hang gliding, and so forth! Ha ha, another fosselized old chestnut! And then of course there's the one about the exploding outhouse!

Now I haven’t seen a lot of these German bedroom-polka pictures, but I still recognized some of the faces here! Marianne, the burgomeister’s daughter, is black for some reason, and she’s played by Scarlett Gunden from Melody in Love! Why Niki is so reluctant to marry her is anybody’s guess, because she’s good-natured and very gorgeous! Niki himself is played by Wolf Goldan, who was also in Melody in Love, and of course played one of The Three Superguys! Bea Fiedler from Summer Night Fever and Hot Chili is in here, as is Renate Langer also from Summer Night Fever! And of course there’s Rosi Meyer, the same gurning old lady who seems to be in all of these pictures, including of course Has Anybody Seen My Pants? Ha ha, in fact the movie opens with some outhouse jokes performed by her and the burgomeister!

Finally Niki realizes that Marianne is a) cute, b) nice, and c) naked all the time, so it all ends the only way it could: with the triumphant blare of an oompah band, some slow-motion running through an alpine meadow, the tearing off of a dirndl, and a tilt up to a mountain that looks like a breast! Ha ha! Because I enjoyed watching it, and because I like writing dirndl, I’m gong to give Hooray - The Swedes Are Here three dirndls!

Monday 20 December 2021

Burl reviews Krampus! (2015)


Ha ha ha, merry Christmas! Yes, it’s Burl, and of course we’re well into the Christmas movie season, and I’ve already watched a number of the usual suspects this month: Gremlins, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Die Hard, so forth! But I also watched one that was new to me: a little PG-13 horror dingle-dangle called Krampus! Now, I know there’s a little cottage industry of direct-to-video Krampus pictures out there, but the one I’m talking about is the relatively big-budget one that came from the director of Trick ‘r Treat! As mentioned, it’s a PG-13, so rather than having the Krampus rip people’s heads off or stick them with icicles, the picture features a family besieged by an army of demonic toys like some kind of unimaginably slick Full Moon movie! Ha ha!

Charles Band could only dream of a cast of mildly recognizable faces such as Krampus has on offer! Adam Scott from Our Idiot Brother and Who Loves the Sun is Tom, the dad, and Toni Collette from Fright Night and The Way Way Back is Sarah, the mom; they have two kids, a younger boy called Max and a teenage girl named Beth, and Tom’s German-speaking mother is there to make traditional Bavarian treats! As in Christmas Vacation, the homestyle holiday is interrupted by the arrival of a gang of downmarket relations, including David Koechner from Dirty Work as Howard, the gun-crazed über-American slaphead, plus his wife and three kids (a pair of tomboy bullies, a baby, and a pre-teen dunderklumpen who never says a word), and the grouchy lush Aunt Dorothy, played by Conchata Ferrell from For Keeps?

Young Max is so upset by these goofs that he rips up his letter to Santa and sends it flying to the four winds! This act alone is sufficient to conjure up the Krampus, a horned and hoofed demon who leaps from rooftop to rooftop and employs random tactics to harass the un-festive! Homicidal gingerbread men, humongous toothy jack-in-the-boxes, dirty elves borrowed from Icelandic mythology: all this and more eventually shows up to bedevil this extended family! Ha ha! Omi knows what’s going on, because as a girl, back in the old country, she had a run-in with the Krampus! Kids start disappearing, either into the uncanny blizzard that has the family trapped, or up the chimney, or in the cavernous attic!

Max, who started it all with his Santa-ripping shenanigans, is more or less our hero, but the ending leaves the efficacy of his heroics in question! Ha ha, the whole last act seems kind of piecemeal, and this stands in contrast to the first part of the movie, which concentrates on being a sort of family Christmas comedy, almost entirely sans horreur! I thought this was a good decision, ha ha, and it would have been an even better decision had the affrights, when they do come, been more effective! But they’re not, particularly, and nor are the comedic parts particularly uproarious!

There are some rewarding moments, though, and the performances are good, and I liked the opening scene with the slow-motion shopping frenzy, even if that has very little to do with anything! It’s no seasonal classic, but it was enjoyable enough counter-Christmas programming to watch with the family by the fire! An R rated version might have been more fun, but this was perfectly fine as it was! I give Krampus two and a half vinartertas!

Friday 17 December 2021

Burl reviews Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched! (2021)


From deep within the creaky fen I cry “Ha ha!” Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a new documentary picture, which provides many things, not excluding a kaleidoscope of movie clips, a long list of films to watch, a great huge gallery of gabby movie nerds, and a sore bum, because the thing is well over three hours long! Ha ha! It’s a study of folk horror on film and television, and it’s called Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched!

The picture is divided into chapters: six of them, to be precise! We open with a look at British folk horror, which is a smart decision because while it’s not the fount from which all other folk horror has sprung, it’s likely the most common entry point into the genre for most viewers! Ha ha, we’ve all seen Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man, and Blood on Satan’s Claw, and so those three pictures, which interviewees refer to as the Unholy Trilogy, are tackled first, and this leads into a section on British TV horror of the 1970s, very little of which I’ve seen!

From here we spread out into other regions: North America, Asia, the Down Under areas, so forth! There’s a bit on the Icelandic picture Tilbury, ha ha, and Rawhead Rex, and mentions of the Indian Burial Ground nonsense featured in movies like The Shining and Pet Sematary, and the goofiness of this in underlined by one of the interviewees, Jesse Wente, who points out that when you’re disinterring legend on Turtle Island, remember that it’s all an Indigenous burial ground! Other interviewees include the director of The Lighthouse and, more relevantly, The Witch, Robert Eggers, and Alice Lowe, co-writer and co-star of Sightseers!

The doc goes on (and on, and on!), exploring the early works of folk horror, which are of necessity not that ancient themselves, as it takes time for story to become myth! The fifth chapter is titled something like “Folk Horror Around the World,” and it’s here that the movie becomes less of a documentary and more of an essay film, which is not in itself a bad thing, but doesn’t feel completely purposeful! Indeed, the fifth chapter is by far the longest, and one really starts to feel the running time here! But the earlier chapters, more concise and skillfully organized, at least give this one a solid foundation upon which to overextend itself!

Many clever people are interviewed, and they make many clever and worthwhile and illuminating points! Ha ha, I learned a lot! But the interviewees are frequently allowed to digress, and often these digressions are of interest, but at other times they just seem to extend things more than is necessary! And, as seems unavoidable with the weight of all this material and diverse historical knowledge, the picture eventually goes beyond its remit and includes movies that I myself would call folk horror only by the broadest and most generous of definitions!

Still, it’s not my movie, is it! And the impression one walks away with (after one has regained feeling in the buttocks and properly emptied the bladder) is that the sheer amount of effort put into this picture is stunning and very much to be admired! Like most great catalogue works, there’s a feeling of inevitability about it, and necessity, and it’s-about-time, but also the strange impression that this study has already been done, that the scholarship has previously been lassoed into just this form - that, ha ha, we’ve seen this movie before! And of course it hasn’t and we haven't, but that sense too is a testament to the project: an indicator that it badly needed doing and has indeed been done right! There’s a lot to discover here, and so I recommend catching the movie whenever you have the opportunity! For both ambition and achievement, I give Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched three wizard sticks!

Burl reviews The Laughing Policeman! (1973)


Beyond human belief, it’s Burl, here to review a tough-guy Matthau movie! “Ha ha,” I hear you say, “but Burl, how could the star of Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men ever play a tough guy?” Well, not only has Walter Matthau proved his versatility in such varied pictures as Bigger Than Life and The Bad News Bears, but you’ll be delighted to discover he had a brief period in the mid-1970s in which he seemed ready to become something close to an action hero! Ha ha, I guess these are all more crime pictures than action extravaganzas, but still, the 1973-74 one-two-three of Charley Varrick, The Laughing Policeman and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three would mark a noteworthy period in any actor’s career!

The picture begins with one fellow following another fellow for reasons we can’t fathom, and this pursuit leads to a city bus! Soon enough a mysterious passenger pulls out a machine gun and rat-a-tat-tats everyone aboard the public conveyance, including the driver, the pursuer and his quarry, and at least a half-dozen other passengers! Of course the police are soon on the scene, the most rumpled of them being Matthau; but we also have Bruce Dern from The King of Marvin Gardens and Smile, playing a younger cop who looks a little snappier but whose occasionally crude behavior rubs Matthau the wrong way! And then there’s Louis Gossett Jr. from Jaws 3-D, another detective, who doesn’t get as much to do, but who has a great tough-guy moment when he takes down an abusive pimp!

Anthony Zerbe from The Dead Zone plays their angry and excitable captain, of a type very familiar from many policiers, and by garr he wants results! Making it all the more difficult is that one of the bus victims, the fellow who’d been pursuing the other fellow, turns out to be Matthau’s partner Dave Evans, a tall drink of water played by Anthony Costello from Night Moves! Cathy Lee Crosby from The Dark is Evans’ girlfriend, but she can’t shed much light on the matter, and quite reasonably gets upset when barenaked pictures of her are found on the dead cop’s desk! Matthau and Dern do some very realistically drab detective work, in one instance hassling the denizens of a gambling establishment wherein one of the background extras is dressed exactly like Freddy Krueger! Ha ha!

Matthau’s search for the truth brings him into contact with a long, vaulted gallery of familiar faces, including Matt Clark from Buckaroo Banzai, Joanna Cassidy from Blade Runner, Gregory Sierra from The Towering Inferno, Val Avery from Cobra, Clifton James from Juggernaut, and Frances Lee McCain from Gremlins; and there’s a typically creepy lowlife role for Paul Koslo, who did the same sort of thing in Mr. Majestyk! It’s all done in a very gritty 70s way, with as much verisimilitude as they could cram in there! Ha ha, it’s the kind of movie you know employed plenty of consultants in order to keep it real!

 I thought Stuart Rosenberg, an inconstant filmmaker if ever there was one, did a terrific job here! Also it looks marvelous thanks to cinematographer David M. Walsh, who went from this into a long string of mostly comedies, Neil Simon and otherwise; and there are a few rousing action scenes, like a hostage situation fairly early in the movie! Of course Matthau is typically great, getting in plenty of curmudgeon business years before the Grumpy pictures! The picture gets a bit murky near the end, I found, and though I know it must be my own fault, I couldn’t really figure out the motive for the massacre! I might have been a bit sleepy! Anyway, if The Laughing Policeman isn’t quite in the top tier of 70s thrillers, it’s sure within kissing distance! Ha ha! I give it three grease guns!