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!

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!