Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday, 20 May 2022

Burl reviews Grand Theft Auto! (1977)


Vroom, vroom, eerrrrkkkk! Ha ha, that’s ol’ Burl burning out with a good old-fashioned car crash picture for you! Well, we all know the story: Ron Howard, the well-known ginger who would later direct pictures like Apollo 13, was, back in 1976, only an aspiring film director, and he asked Roger Corman if he could direct a movie for Corman’s company New World Pictures! “Ha ha,” Corman told him, “you sure can, just as long as you’ll first star in an item called Eat My Dust!” Well, Howard said yes to that, and then the next thing you know he was co-writing (with his dad Rance), starring in, and directing a movie called Grand Theft Auto!

When I was maybe eight or nine I’d have told you this was my favourite movie! It was on TV regularly I guess, and I sure did love all the car crashes, ha ha! But some time during that period my family happened to be hosting a bunch of people we barely knew, who’d been displaced because of a forest fire in their little town; and one evening they proposed going to a movie, Being There, and invited me along! I was torn because Grand Theft Auto was on TV that night! But ultimately I opted for Being There, and I think that experience might have been profoundly formative: an introduction to a level of movie quality of which I’d been previously unaware!

I still appreciated Grand Theft Auto, though, and liked it again when I re-watched it the other day with my son, who's at the perfect age for Grand Theft Auto appreciation! It tells the tale of a young couple, Sam, played by the young Howard, and Paula, played by Nancy Morgan from The Nest! This doesn’t sit well with her richie-rich parents, who want her to marry a wealthy dork called Collins Hedgeworth, a role essayed by Paul Linke! He of course is well known from Moving Violation, Motel Hell, and his many appearances on CHiPs! Paula’s parents are played by Barry Cahill from The Groundstar Conspiracy, as her blowhard dad Bigby; and Elizabeth Rogers, who’d been involved in this sort of vehicular nonsense before in The Van, plays her mother!

Now one of the best moves Howard made, and probably one of the reasons I was so taken with it as an eight year-old, is that the action in this picture starts right from the get-go! There’s a short argument scene with the parents, then the girl steals her father’s Rolls Royce and it’s off to the races without a whole bunch of needless blah blah blah! I felt the same thing about that other big 1977 release, Star Wars – ha ha, I thought to myself, finally a movie that starts at the beginning! And as for Grand Theft Auto, except for a pointless argument scene between Sam and Paula late in the picture, it doesn’t let up ‘til the end!

Boy, they sure crashed a lot of cars in this picture! It’s pretty impressive on a Roger Corman budget, I must say! Paula and Sam (who spends most of the movie in the passenger seat, presumably to make it easier for him also to direct the movie) point the Rolls toward Las Vegas in a bid to secure a quickie wedding, and immediately become folk heroes thanks to the interest in their case taken by radio DJ Curly Q. Brown, played of course by The Real Don Steele, whose voice we know from his vocal appearances as Screamin’ Steve Stevens in Rock n’ Roll High School and Rockin’ Ricky Rialto in Gremlins! They’re also being chased by an ever-increasing number of people including but not limited to Paula’s parents; a bunch of private eyes or something in their employ; Collins Hedgeworth of course, and, separately, his mother (played by Mrs. Cunningham, natch); a pair of fortune-hunting mechanics; and police! Also worked in there is the requisite and always welcome Paul Bartel cameo!

It’s a pretty auspicious directorial debut, ha ha! There are crack-ups aplenty and the pace is good and quick! The story doesn’t amount to much, and the intra-lovebird conflict is highly manufactured and annoying, and Dick Miller should be in here somewhere but mysteriously isn’t; yet it’s nevertheless a breezy and entertaining little picture! And of course I feel a lot of residual affection from my prepubescent ardour for the movie, and, strangely, gratitude too, for I associate it with my viewing of Being There and subsequent entry into a wider world of movie appreciation! Grand Theft Auto, in this view, was not just something I appreciated, but something I had to overcome before becoming able to broaden my world! I still like the picture though, ha ha, and I give it three homemade lovewagons!

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Burl reviews Roadkill! (1989)

Beep beep, it’s Burl, here to bring you a road movie! Now, ha ha, road movies are a thing I like – in fact, I sort of made one myself once! And I’ve always enjoyed pictures like Wenders’s Kings of the Road and Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Capra's It Happened One Night and Reiner's The Sure Thing! Of course Canada, being so big, has made its share of road pictures, and in the proud Canadian tradition of Goin’ Down the Road, here comes Bruce McDonald’s first feature, Roadkill!

It’s a little black-and-white picture with an appealingly homemade quality! Our heroine is Ramona, played by Valerie Buhagiar from Johnny Shortwave, and she's a mild-mannered intern at a Toronto rock promotion company! Her psychotically truculent boss Roy, essayed by Gerry Quigley from eXistenZ, orders her up to northern Ontario to search out a rock band, the Children of Paradise, who’ve turned up missing in the middle of their tour! Last known location: Sudbury! Ha ha, remember Between Friends? Or Corpse Eaters? Sudbury!

An important point is that Ramona can’t drive, so she has to figure out how to get from Toronto to Sudbury, and she ends up in a cab driven by a garrulous stoner filled with tales of driving rock stars into adventures! She finds three quarters of the Children of Paradise easily, and their drummer, the sleepiest guy ever, is played by Earl Pastko from Heads; but after telling her their frontman Matthew has disappeared on a vision quest, they ditch Ramona and point their dirty van deeper into the wilderness! But Ramona will not be deterred from her quest to round them all up, and she follows, learning along the way both to drive and to assert herself!

There’s a natural episodic quality to a road movie, and Roadkill leads with its chin right into that structure! The episodes are framed around the different men Ramona meets on her journey: first the cabbie; then a documentary director played by McDonald himself, who was looking for the band but now wants to make his own movie with Ramona the star; then Russel, an aspiring serial killer played by Don McKellar from the new Cronenberg picture Crimes of the Future (but not the old Crimes of the Future!); then a wandering ice cream man who turns out to be the missing Matthew; then a smiley fifteen year-old with whom Ramona dances at a headlight party held at the local drive-in!

I won’t say what happens at the end, because it’s fairly surprising, but I will reveal that it involves Roy the perpetually shouty music promoter, and a load of blood capsules and bullet squibs! And then, ha ha, one of the film’s greatest coups: a surprise cameo appearance from none other than Joey Ramone, who plays probably the only role he could ever play, himself, just as he did in Rock n’ Roll High School! He’s got more dialogue here than he did in the Arkush picture, so those who love Joey’s mooshy newyawk speaking voice are in for a treat, ha ha!

Of course McDonald would go on to make more road pictures after this: Highway 61 and the great Hard Core Logo, and I hope to review both of those in the not-too-far-off future! It’s all superb Canadiana for those who appreciate that niche, and I recommend this loose trilogy with all possible earnestness! Roadkill is not the best of them, but it's good – it can be a bit rough around the edges, a bit precious, and I wasn’t wild about the little flattened critters, but hey, just look at the title! Can't say I wasn't warned! It’s got many a great little moment and it’s set in a world I find highly recognizable, so on the whole I enjoyed it tremendously! And I also appreciate that after the movie won an award for Most Outstanding Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival, McDonald told everybody in his acceptance speech that he would spend the prize money on a big chunk of hash! Ha ha! I give Roadkill three tape decks and a good supply of dope!

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Burl reviews Zelig! (1983)


By the power vested in me, it’s Burl, here with another taste of the Woodman! Yes, it’s a Woody Allen picture, and whatever you may think of this fellow in personal terms, and deep within the chambers of your heart, he did make some good movies along the way! Broadway Danny Rose is fun, and so is Sleeper; and of course there are many others too - some of them merely okay, others very good indeed! This picture, Zelig, is one of his least typical movies, and for my money one of his best!

It’s a faux documentary, which is a form Allen had tackled before with his very first proper picture, Take the Money and Run! But this one is much more committed to its documentary-ness and therefore much less obviously a comedy, though it’s well-supplied with jokes! It’s the tale of Leonard Zelig, a nebbish of the early 20th century, who so desperately wants to fit in and be liked that he has gained the ability to become, in just about every way, just like the people with whom he is surrounded! By garr, he's a human chameleon!

Set (delightfully!) in the late 1920s (though almost overdoing the period detail along the way, ha ha, which I’d have thought near impossible), the picture opens with the discovery of Zelig and his strange affliction, then follows him as he’s hospitalized under the care of glasses-nerd doctor Eudora Fletcher, played by Mia Farrow, who’d made her Woody Allen debut the year before in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy! It chronicles the ups and downs of Zelig’s life as he become a famous oddity, then is taken into the care of his half-sister and her shady boyfriend, neither of whom give a minkling for Zelig’s well-being; then, after a murder-suicide spree among his sister and her two boyfriends, the movie tells us, Zelig is again on his own! A renewed connection with Dr. Fletcher, a cure for his condition in the offing, and a budding romance all point toward happy days for the Z man, but a sudden barrage of scandal and a complication involving Nazi Germany mix things up further for the poor chameleon!

All of this is presented in classic documentary fashion, with a perfectly-chosen narrator ("They try to pull off his diz-guise, but it is not a diz-guise!") telling the story, and a great rush of old documentary footage, newly-shot but cleverly treated-to-look-old footage, contemporary talking head interviews with (often) real people, like Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow, providing pictorial detail and additional commentary! I must say I’m in awe of some of the technical accomplishments here – the cinematographer, Gordon Willis, and the editor, Susan Morse, have done some brainbustingly admirable work in matching the new footage to the old and spiriting Zelig into shots with Hitler and Jimmy Cagney and Josephine Baker and Tom Mix and so forth! The re-creation of the Zelig life story – clearly shot to resemble a Warner Bros. production of the 30s – is note perfect too, with Garrett Brown, the dad from Uncle Buck, looking hilariously whitebread as the actor playing Zelig!

Ha ha, the picture is probably more about Allen himself than he might admit, which adds a nice layer to it all! On the debit side, the movie feels a lot longer than it actually is, and there’s a same-iness to it that sometimes causes a little feeling of drag or repetition! But that’s only occasional, and there are enough wonderfully subtle gags and a wild array of highlights, both technical and one may say structural, to override these minor issues! The newly-created novelty songs are also brilliant, and the period music perfectly selected, right up to the wonderful tune that ends the film! I like this picture a lot, and so I give Zelig three and a half houses painted a disgusting colour!

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Burl reviews The Northman! (2022)


By the beating of the black raven’s wing, it’s Burl, here with a tale of blood-soaked Viking vengeance! Ha ha, I saw a new movie in the theatre the other day, which always makes me happy; and what’s more it was a real movie too, not some digitally-rendered seventh superhero sequel! By garr, it was The Northman, and as usual I’m glad I made the effort and went out to the movie house! It was worth it!

This is your basic Old Norse version of Hamlet – the main character, played by Alexander Skarsgård from Godzilla vs. Kong, is even named Amleth, which sounds like ‘Hamlet’ if you say it fast! The story starts with him as a boy, delighted by the return of his father King Aurvandil, played by Ethan Hawke from Explorers, from a pillaging and looting expedition! (The raping is only implied, but heavily so!) After Amleth is inculcated into manhood by a crazy ritual enacted by him, his dad, and the loony court jester played by Willem Dafoe from Streets of Fire, there comes the inevitable heartbreak: his beloved dad is slain by Uncle Fjolnïr, played by Claes Bang from The Square, while his mother, Nicole Kidman from Stoker, is carried off screaming!


Amleth escapes by means of a fearsome nose-biting, and rows off vowing to avenge his father and save his mother! Next thing you know it’s years later (per the runic intertitle) and Amleth, now big and tough and with a hulking stride that seems a bit affected, is working as a berserker, shouting and carrying on and ravaging villages and so forth! A mystical seeress in a really rather far-out hat, who is of course played by Björk of Drawing Restraint 9 fame, convinces Amreth it’s time to follow his fate along its path of revenge, and by pretending to be a slave he hitches a ride to Iceland, where Fjolnïr has become a gentleman farmer! Along the way he meets Olga, another slave played by Anya Taylor-Joy from Last Night in Soho!


Ah, Iceland! Ha ha, it’s a place I’ve been many times, and by garr I hope to go back there sometime soon! When Amleth gets there, he settles into the role of farm slave, biding his time for maximum vengeance! Of course he falls in love with Olga, and then begins a program of bedevilment against Fjolnïr and his farm! Ha ha, he really pulls some crazy pranks on that farm, like chopping up a couple of henchmen and pinning their remains up on the side of a building in the form of a galloping horse! Of course there soon comes a time when Amleth realizes that all is not as he had long assumed it was! Still, he’s sworn his blood oath of vengeance, and done so before Björk of all people, so what’s a feller to do? Well, it all leads to a final battle that will look familiar to anyone who’s seen Revenge of the Sith!

It’s a good gritty Viking picture, and apparently pretty authentic, as all Robert Eggers pictures seem to be! It’s not as crazy as The Lighthouse or as scary and earth-level as The Witch, but he had a lot of coin to spend on this picture, and it shows! And like his earlier movies, there’s a good balance of historical verisimilitude and supernatural happenstance! Still, I don’t think this will stand up as his best film – it’s a solid, rugged, bloody and often bold Viking picture, but nevertheless not so far from The Vikings or The 13th Warrior or even Erik the Viking as it pretends to be! It’s got a definite touch of Conan the Barbarian to it too, and that’s fine by ol’ Burl! But Amreth is a bit of a blockhead, and all the talk about fate and following it or whatever is pretty gassy stuff! Still, it looks terrific, and it's epic enough, and after all, it's a real movie, and we get precious few of those in these days of decline! I’m going to give The Northman three decapitations, which is I believe the same number the film itself contains! Ha ha!

Friday, 6 May 2022

Burl reviews Hot Nights on the Campus! (1966)


In grimy black-and-white, it’s Burl, here to review olde-tyme erotica! Ha ha, what would you get if you teleported a Michael Findlay roughie like The Touch of Her Flesh together with a regional campus picture like And No Birds Sing? Well, I think you’d open the telepod at the other end, and after the smoke cleared, out would stagger a picture very similar to Hot Night on the Campus!

Of course the focus is more on the hot nights than the campus, and to tell you the truth I wouldn’t have minded a little more mid-60s NYU campus material than we get here, because we get virtually none! Our story, such as it is, concerns Sally, just off the bus from small-town Indiana to attend college in the Big Apple; her family friend, whom she’s long considered an uncle, is a professor at the college and sets Sally up in an apartment with a bunch of other young ladies!

Gigi Darlene from Crazy Wild and Crazy plays Sally, and her new roommates are essayed by a gallery of faces familiar to those of us who’ve seen a lot of Something Weird Video releases! My favourite is Judy Adler from The Sin Syndicate, essaying the role of Fran, the beatnik sex maniac! There’s also Darlene Bennett from Nudes on Tiger Reef and Joanna Mills from The Love Merchant! Soon after Sally’s arrival, the girls hold an erotic rumbustification, which starts off normally enough but soon everyone is down to their scanties and building human pyramids, and Fran is carried off into the bedroom by a posse of men! And, oh gasp, there are two of her female roommates lying together on a bed making sweet love!

Of course Sally is scandalized, declaring in her voiceover narration that this party is the most horrible nightmare ever! Rural Indiana never prepared her for this, ha ha! But after she talks about it with the family friend professor guy, and separately with a young fella she met at the party, she’s soon enjoying the big city ways and performing bohankie on the reg with both of these men! (One at a time, though – ha ha, she’s still a Muncie girl after all!) Yes, she really gets into the swing of things, as one does once one has discovered the magic of sex!

But in these movies pleasure always comes at a price, and it’s not long before Sally is feeling ill and clutching at her stomach! A nudie photographer diagnoses her condition: she’s pregnant! Oh, what will she do? The men in her life are no help at all of course, and they're even worse than that – they instantly transform into jerks who push her around and tell her it’s not their problem! But a roommate called Purice knows what to do! She sends Sally to a horrible abortion apartment staffed by a grim, straggle-haired old lady and featuring the most cheerlessly blazing fire ever seen on film! And while one might have thought such back-alley establishments a part of America’s past, it now seems they, and the many horrors and health risks that go along with them, are a firm part of its future too! America, what are you doing?

It works out for Sally, because the fakey happy ending of this picture has her flee the old abortioness’s apartment before the horrible woman can get out her coat hangers, and then, what do you know, Fran’s boyfriend declares that he wants to be with Sally, to marry her and take care of her and her baby forever! A grateful Sally agrees, but being forced into a lifelong relationship out of desperate circumstance doesn’t seem much like a happy ending to me!

But while the last act of this picture (if it can be said to have acts, other than mildly sexual ones) is depressing, the first forty-five minutes or so are pretty fun, if you like grimy views of mid-60s New York! Ha ha, and I sure do! The content is nonsensical, that’s for sure, but this movie is an artifact above all, and an enjoyably inept one! I just wish it spent a little more time actually on the campus! I give Hot Nights on the Campus two shapeless black beatnik sweaters!

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Burl reviews King Kong Lives! (1986)

With a mighty roar and a monkey two-step, it’s Burl comin’ at you with sweet monster madness! Ha ha, today I’m reviewing a movie I dutifully went to see back around Christmas of 1986, because in theory there’s nothing wrong with going to see monsters and destruction on the big screen! In theory! And that theory gets a bit of a stress test when the movie in question is King Kong Lives! Ha ha!

Yes, this is the work of Dino De Laurentiis, who wanted to make a direct follow-up to his big hit from a decade before, the 1976 King Kong! In fact he starts this with footage from the ’76 picture, showing the mighty ape tumbling from the World Trade Centre – but, ha ha, turns out that didn’t kill him! No, he’s been on life support in a big warehouse, and now Dr. Amy Franklin, the world’s leading expert in giant ape transplants, played by Linda Hamilton from Dante’s Peak, is ready to fit Kong with the biggest Jarvik-7 ever seen! Ha ha, let's call it the Jarvik-7000! The problem is, to survive the procedure Kong needs a blood transfusion, but who could possibly be the donor?

Luckily at that moment a generic adventurer played by Brian Kerwin from Hometown U.S.A., sporting the generic adventurer name of Hank Mitchell and wearing the requisite generic adventurer hat, is in the wilds of Borneo running from a giant hand! The hand is attached (allegedly) to a Lady Kong, and in short order she’s been captured and shipped to a warehouse nearby to Kong's, and then Kong gets his blood transfusion and his artificial heart, which is inserted somehow without leaving a visible scar on Kong's mighty chest! Of course the apes can sniff each other out over vast distances, and once they're aware of each other, nothing, not chains, not guns, not front-end loaders, can keep these aspiring lovebirds from each other’s company!

They escape into the hills, and hard-case Colonel Nevitt, played by John Ashton from Some Kind of Wonderful, is sent after them! Of course Dr. Amy and Hank Mitchell team up in an effort to find them first and prevent the trigger-happy armyman from harming the super-simians! The apes, meanwhile, can’t keep their paws off one another, and soon it's a case of sweet monkey love, ha ha! There’s concurrent human bohankie occurring nearby in the sleeping bag occupied by Dr. Amy and Hank Mitchell! But soon the army comes with their tanks and helicopters and knockout gasses, and Lady Kong is captured!

Kong himself takes to the hills, where he broods and plans and eats gators and is briefly trapped by rednecks out for a wild time! He escapes their trap and takes a bloody vengeance upon the hillbillies, breaking one of them clean in half and popping another in his mouth like a Junior Mint! He then busts his ladyfriend out of the missile silo they’ve put her in, and of course it turns out she’s pregnant! Ha ha, Kongratulations! After a final climactic ruction, during which the big guy stomps Col. Nevitt into the loam, Lady Kong gives birth to a gorilla, and the giant ape life cycle continues!

Kong himself is played by Peter Elliott, who essayed many an ape in pictures like Greystoke and Congo, and here he sports a perpetually bewildered expression thanks to the stiff mechanics of Carlo Rambaldi’s apesuit! But I think he might give the best performance in the picture anyway, ha ha! The rest of the actors seem trapped in some weird limbo where they want to look at once like they’re taking this material seriously, and are also completely aware that it’s ridiculous! In trying to have it both ways they end up delivering bland and lifeless performances, devoid of the ham and the pep this kooky movie requires!

It’s a bad movie, of that there can be no doubt, and a misguided one too, but I’d be lying if I told you it had no entertainment value! There’s some good model work in it, though not all the trick effects are fully up to snuff, ha ha! The emotional stakes are genuine, though – you really do root for the Kongs! By all other cinematic or dramaturgical measures, this is a terrible movie, and even I, who saw it on the big screen at a relatively impressionable age, can’t find much to admire! I give King Kong Lives one and a half hillbilly hunters!

Monday, 2 May 2022

Burl reviews Stone Cold! (1991)


Popping a wheelie, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about biker antics! It’s an action picture from the early 1990s, which means it’s really an action picture from the 80s, as there was a bit of a lag at that time from the previous decade into the next when it comes to action! Ha ha I blame Steven Seagal for this, insofar as I think blame should be assigned at all, which really isn’t much! Still, movies like Terminator 2 and Hard Boiled helped pull the action genre into a new decade, while Seagal's works, along with today’s picture, Stone Cold, very much have the feel of late 80s shootemups!

Like Firestorm, this is a picture that tried to make an action hero out of a big husky football player, and, due to the football player being a football player and not an actor, didn’t succeed! That doesn’t necessarily mean they made a bad movie, though! (In this case anyway - Firestorm is terrible!) The pigskin pal in question here is Brian Bosworth, late of the Seattle Seahawks, and he plays a cop who plays by his own rules, has an encyclopædic knowledge of biker gang culture, loves and hugs his pet monitor lizard Fido, and wears the goofiest hairstyle ever seen on a man! His name is either Joe Huff or John Stone – ha ha, I can’t remember which is his real name and which the undercover alias, so we’ll just call him Huff-Stone!

An FBI guy played by the coroner from Jason Goes to Hell seconds Huff-Stone to infiltrate an out-of-control biker aggregation, and pairs him up with a nebbish cop played by Sam McMurray from C.H.U.D. and L.A. Story! Huff-Stone is of course a lone wolf who is less than pleased to be saddled with a partner, never mind one that’s such a flat tire; but with gratifying speed and friendliness he comes to accept his new buddy, and then sets about becoming a member of the gang! Ha ha, and how does he do it? He rolls up and more or less asks to become a member!

Well, there’s more to it than that I guess, but not a lot! Lance Henrikson from Pumpkinhead and The Horror Show plays Chains, the jerky-skinned biker gang leader, and his second-in-command is the perpetually (and justifiably) suspicious Ice, essayed by William Forsythe from Smokey Bites the Dust and Extreme Prejudice; and these fellows, along with their bearded and be-duragged army of two-wheeled miscreants, are planning all manner of mischief, chiefly the assassination of an anti-biker gang senator! They pass the time in the meanwhile by shooting at each other recreationally, or else doing other psychotically macho activities!

Craig R. Baxley, the stuntfellow-turned-director who brought us Action Jackson and I Come In Peace, was behind the megaphone here (that is, after original director Bruce Malmuth, who jodhpured Hard to Kill, was served his walking papers), and he gives it his all, ha ha! There are plenty of punchfights and budda-budda and explosions and chases, though you do wonder in the end what it’s all about! It’s well done enough that you wish it was a bit better – a little John Woo style, for instance, would have gone down a treat! But that’s just grousing I suppose, because there’s plenty of lumpenaction here to enjoy!

It’s well-loved in action circles, I should note, and it does indeed boast a zippy pace and more pep than any two Seagal pictures! The climax, in which the biker gang invades a state capitol building and machine guns nearly everybody inside, has a different resonance since those people invaded the U.S. Capitol building a year or two ago – ha ha, one can see how it might have gone down had the real-life invaders been able to plan as well as a bunch of fictional dim-bulb bikers! Fortunately the real-life people were even dimmer bulbs! I give Stone Cold two of the grossest milkshakes ever seen (but which, thankfully, in a clever fake-out, turns out to be sustenance for the lizard, not Huff-Stone)!

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Burl reviews The Truth About Cats & Dogs! (1996)


Woof woof woof and meow, it’s Burl, here to review romantic comedy! Ha ha, I’ll tell you a little story: sometime back in the 1990s, I got a very mild crush on one of the ladies who worked at the Circle K across the street! Encouraged by my roommates, I finally approached her and asked - very casually and leaving plenty of room for easy refusal - if she wanted to go to a movie with me! She said sure, and we went to one movie and she was very nice, but that was it for that! I never bothered her again, or anyone else while they were working for that matter! But now all these years later, while I do know we went to a romantic comedy, I can’t recall if it was Benny and Joon, which came out in May of 1993, or this one, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, released in the spring of 1996!

Ha ha, I suppose it doesn’t matter! I know I saw both movies in the theatre, in each case on a date, so I guess that’s why it’s all been blurred into one continuum of bland cinema! At the time The Truth About Cats & Dogs seemed like it might have had a chance to be something a little better, though – it came from the director of Heathers, and starred two ladies I thought were cool and attractive! And they were, and are, but the movie they made, well, ha ha, not so much! The star of the picture is Janeane Garafolo from Reality Bites, playing a radio veterinarian called Dr. Abby Barnes, who’s supposed to be an insecure wallflower who hasn’t played the blanket hornpipe in three years! Ha ha to that, says I! One day she takes a call from a British photographer named Brian, played by Ben Chaplin from The Thin Red Line, who’s having a problem with a big woof-dog on roller skates!

From here it gets almost too silly to describe! The big complication, which even these talented actors have trouble selling, is that Abby is too crippled by self-doubt to meet up with Brian in person, but instead contrives to confer her identity upon her neighbour Noelle, a vacuous but pretty lady played by Uma Thurman from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Mad Dog & Glory! So the whole of Act II is made up of situations where Abby and Brian speak on the phone and fall in love, alternating with mistaken identity scenes in which Brian is confused why Abby has an entirely different voice and personality when they meet in person!

Noelle goes along with all this, and even perpetuates it when she starts to fall for Brian too, and there are many instances of Abby almost telling Brian the truth but failing to do so at the last moment, and also comedy beats involving animals! Of course in the end it all works out more or less as it should, or rather, works out entirely as expected! Ha ha, in later remarks, Garafolo dissed this picture as lame and tame and saddled with a bland song soundtrack and characters dressed in Banana Republic-wear, and she wasn’t wrong! If there ever was any edge to it, or anything cool, it’s all been scrubbed away by the Venice Beach tides and the feedback of studio executives! Even Jamie Foxx from Due Date and Django Unchained, who plays Brian’s buddy or his colleague, or something – the movie doesn’t bother to give him much of an identity – has had all his corners knocked clean off!

It’s all done slickly, the acting is good, there are a few amusing bits, and some of the location work is fine (though it doesn’t feel like the Venice Beach I know - ha ha, Slithis was more accurate!), but it’s all a big bland 90s paste! Ha ha, no wonder I’ve mixed it up all these years with Benny & Joon! I guess it fits in too with Singles and the aforementioned Reality Bites and all those other 90s would-be hipster and with-it romantic comedies, but, wordy title aside, it kind of gets lost in the shuffle! I give The Truth About Cats & Dogs one and a half Saran-wrapped fingers!

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Burl reviews Three on a Meathook! (1972)


With a great chopping motion it’s Burl, here to review a down-and-dirty grindhouse number from the 1970s! Ha ha, I like these gritty little pictures, which together form a microgenre I haven’t yet named, but maybe we can call Psychodrama 16! These movies either were shot in 16mm or look like they were, and have some kind of slashery element without actually being slasher pictures, usually; and they frequently center around a single location with a fairly small cast, some family drama, and a lot of bright red blood! Movies like Crazed, Blood Mania, Axe, Scream Bloody Murder, and more fit comfortably into the Psychodrama 16 category, and so does today’s movie, Three on a Meathook!

It’s the second picture from William Girdler, who later brought us such fare as Grizzly and The Manitou before dying too young in a helicopter crash! Clearly he was a big fan of Psycho, because here he’s not only working from the same real-life looney-tune story, he begins his movie by panning across a cityscape to find one certain window in which a couple has just finished making sweet love before the woman has to rush off somewhere, just as Hitchcock did with his own horror picture! The difference here, or one difference anyway, is that the lady in Psycho was wearing a bra, and the lady in this picture is not, ha ha! (The lady, by the way, is played by Linda Thompson, who was Miss Tennessee Universe, then shacked up with Elvis, became a regular on Hee Haw, married Caitlyn Jenner avant la change, and later turned up in Robocop 2! Ha ha, what a life!)

Well, the lady and her friends go on a little camping trip, and stop to do some skinny dipping, and the next thing you know they’re on the side of the road with a conked-out car! Along comes Billy, a genial ginger farm boy, who offers them a place to sleep on the theory that “Pa won’t mind!” Pa, played by Charles Kissinger, whose entire acting career, just about, anyway, was in Girdler pictures, very much does mind; but Billy insists the girls stay anyway! Ha ha, of course once an unseen killer begins a campaign of poking, shotgun blasting, and neck chopping, the poor girls are doomed to stay on the farm forever!

After this lively sequence the picture settles into its psychodrama! Pa claims that Billy did the killings while under one of his tarnation spells, and though the horrified lad can remember nothing, he accepts that, by the process of elimination – because Pa surely couldn’t have done it, could he – he indeed must be the killer! After eating a little of Pa’s special smoked meat, Billy goes off to the city to take in a retrospective screening of The Graduate, then listen to a glitter-funk band called American Xpress play for what seems like three hours! At the bar Billy meets a friendly waitress named Sherry, played by Sherry Steiner from God Told Me To and The Yum Yum Girls, and the next thing you know he’s become drunk as a skunk, peed his pants, and slept over at the waitress’s place! This leads to romance, an invitation to visit the farm, and a climax in which the truth is finally revealed – but not before a pick-axing here and a cleavering there!

Billy is essayed by the redheaded James Carroll Pickett, who reminded me of the 70s gingers from movies like American Graffiti, Rip-Off, Drive-In and The Van, but the horror version! Ha ha, on reflection, this picture is a bit like Homer with a homer-cidal twist! It also reminded me of X, and it occurred to me that if that picture was directly inspired by anything, it might be Three on a Meathook just as much as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! But these pictures are all the children of Psycho, and after aping the opening, Girdler also replays the end of the Hitchcock picture, with several minutes dedicated to a psychiatrist explaining what was going on in the killer's head!

Of course it bears noting that the movie is generally pretty terrible! There are pacing issues, which the ten minutes of American Xpress sure doesn’t help; some bad acting, though Pickett is solid and likeable as Billy; and a general ineptitude of mise-en-scene! There are a few moments that might be described as thrilling or scary, but they’re pretty rare! Still, the gritty early-70s atmosphere is genuine and pervasive, so if that’s your bag, you might well have a terrific time with this picture! Ha ha, I give Three on a Meathook one and a half orders of smoked “veal!”

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Burl reviews Big! (1988)


Up, up, and away, it’s Burl, here to review the beloved classic from years gone by! Ha ha, it’s a beloved classic to a lot of people I guess, but not to me, because this is one of the popular pictures I ignored back when it was new, and continued to ignore as the years went by! (I ignored all the late-80s body-switch pictures in fact - Like Father, Like Son, Vice Versa, 18 Again!) In fact I only just saw this particular picture for the first time a few years ago, and now I’ve watched it again, and am prepared to review for you a little movie called Big!

Of course it comes from director Laverne DeFazio, who also brought us pictures like Jumpin’ Jack Flash, A League of Their Own, and other popular entertainments I haven’t seen! Big begins by introducing us to 12-going-on-13 year-old New Jersey kid Josh Baskin, who hangs out with his little pal Billy, played by Jared Rushton from Lady in White, and suffers an embarrassment in front of the school cute girl when he’s too tiny to get on a roller coaster! He consults a fortune telling machine called Zoltar, makes his wish to get bigger, and wakes up the next morning in the form of Tom Hanks, whom we know so well from Volunteers and The Money Pit!

Mercedes Ruehl from The Secret of My Success plays his mom, who’s horrified when the gangly Hanks appears in her kitchen insisting that he’s her son! Ha ha, the poor woman! (The movie is too determinedly cheery to dwell on the horror these poor parents must be feeling for the many weeks their son is gone, apparently kidnapped by a fresh-faced comedy actor!) She chases him away, and Josh runs to the school and manages to persuade a terrified Billy that he is who he claims to be, and so the two head to the big city, New York!

Pretty quickly the movie edges into 80s boardroom comedy territory when Josh bluffs his way into a job at a toy company, then charms the avuncular owner – played by Robert Loggia from Psycho II, of course – with his childlike outlook and a spirited round of piano dancing! So he instantly becomes a vice president in charge of playing with toys, a perfect job for a kid, and snags a huge loft apartment (which in New York, even in the 80s, would be outside the price range of a minor executive) while being regarded as a weird eccentric by his co-workers! These colleagues include Jon Lovitz from ¡Three Amigos! as a fellow who tries to give Josh tips on becoming a love-yuppie; John Heard from C.H.U.D. as Paul, who develops a rivalry with the free-spirited boy-about-town; and Elizabeth Perkins from Love at Large, whose affections transfer from Paul to Josh with all due haste!

Ha ha, yes, the twelve year-old in the big man’s body has sex in the course of the picture, and, to the irritation of his little pal Billy, is pulled, with a gruesome inexorability, into the adult world of work and responsibility! In fact he seems to thrive in the corporate atmosphere in which he’s been plunged, and that might be the most Reagan-era aspect of this picture – anyway, that and the giant Pepsi machine Josh installs in his loft! Yes, this is a capitalist entertainment through and through: too timid to explore the real ramifications of what’s happened to Josh and his family, but, like its hero, happy to sit on the floor and play with toys!

It’s all done with studio professionalism, plenty of polish, and not a little charm; though not quite so much as it believes itself to have! Hanks is the picture’s ringer, of course, and the movie paid him back by becoming a big hit and sending him to the stratospheric heights of stardom in which he’s marinated ever since! But watching it today I think to myself “Ha ha, no wonder I didn’t bother with this back then!” It was the biggest (ha ha!) of the body-switch movies, despite the fact that Josh doesn’t actually switch his body with anyone, but to me it’s not any great shakes! I give Big two canapés!

Monday, 25 April 2022

Burl reviews Endgame! (1983)


With a hey-ho and a hoch now, it’s Burl, here to review a little post-apocalyptic Italian insanity! Yes, we’re in the realm of Mr. Joe D’Amato, who brought us Ator the Fighting Eagle and so many more under a wide variety of fake names! Ha ha, he worked in all the genres (but especially the erotic!), and here he is taking on future action in a movie called Endgame!

We all know about the Italian predilection for borrowing from the big genre hits of the day, and this picture evidently had a long shopping list, because we find elements of Escape From New York, The Road Warrior, and, for the climactic confrontation, even Carrie! Most amazing is the opening twenty-five minutes or so, which are a terrific simulation of The Running Man – ha ha, a good trick, since that wouldn’t even come out for another four years! Maybe it’s more of a Rollerball riff, but, as though it has the psychic powers possessed by some of its characters, Endgame hews pretty close to that Schwarzenegger hit nevertheless: our hero, Shannon, played by a fluff-bearded Al Cliver from Zombie and The Beyond, is the best player of the hit television violence-show "Endgame," in which he runs from a trio of costumed hunters! Ha ha, pretty Running Man!

Of course this also closely resembles another Italian picture that psychically predicted The Running Man, the Lucio Fulci joint The New Gladiators, which came out in 1984! But after Shannon dispatches two of the hunters who are after him, and evades the third – his old frienemy Karnak, played by big George Eastman from Warriors of the Wasteland – the movie shifts more to Road Warrior territory, as Shannon is recruited to shepherd a gang of psychic mutants to a safe location! These meek folk are led by a telepathic lady named Lilith, played by Laura Gemser, who was many times a Black Emmanuelle! And there are several scenes of Lilith and Shannon communicating by mind power, which means shots of their faces looking grave and stationary as their voiceovers run on the soundtrack!

Shannon has some pals to help him with the shepherding task, like Ninja, played by Hal Yamanouchi from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and another guy essayed by Gabriele Tinti from Cut and Run, and a few more of them besides! They have to fight legions of blind monks, a gang of mini-croscronics, and of course the animal people who sport prosthetic cat muzzles or painted-on fish scales! And among the psychics there’s a young lad with extraordinary powers, leading to a terrific Carrie-inspired climax in which the government baddies who want to kill off the mutants are exploded by flames, crushed by rocks or trucks, or fired upon by rogue machine guns!

It’s an enjoyable meli-melo, that’s for sure! It borrows so avidly from other movies that it becomes its own thing, and there are plenty of weird touches that make it memorable! I have a fondness for these movies – Warriors of the Wasteland, Exterminators of the Year 3000, After the Fall of New York, 1990: Bronx Warriors, Warrior of the Lost World, & c. & c., and this is one of the better ones, so I liked it! Oh sure, there are flaws – wooden acting, nonsensical dialogue, a general lack of coherence – but are these really flaws? Ha ha, that’s in the mind of the beholder, and my recommendation is that you behold this one if you get a chance! I give Endgame two and a half floating rocks!

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Burl reviews Edge of the Axe! (1987)


¡Hoy! ¡Hoy! It’s Burl here to review an Iberian/Californian co-production slasher picture from the venerable Spanio-English director José Ramón Larraz, who of course also brought us Scream…and Die! His pictures from the 1970s had a certain sleazy something, but by the late 80s he was taking a different approach, and that’s all too evident in his slasher picture Edge of the Axe!

The action is set in the woods of California, though some of the killing scenes were clearly shot later, probably back in Spain, because they involve characters and locations that are never part of the main action! But the first murder is set in a car wash, and I have to say that one is not badly done, though it’s competently shot enough that you can easily see how it might have been done better still! Ha ha, is that churlish? I hope not! But the scene serves to show us what the deal is in this picture: a white-masked axeman giving the chop to seemingly random ladies!

From there we meet our two main characters, who also serve as our two main suspects! We’ve got computer nerd Gerald, played by Barton Faulks from Future-Kill, and Page Mosely from Girls Nite Out as an exterminator called Richard Simmons! He’s married to an older wealthy lady named Laura, played by Patty Shepard from The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman, and she’s worried, quite rightly, that her vermin-killing husband might be playing bohankie with other ladies on the side!

In fact he is carrying on with another lady, and taking her on motorboat rides in fact, while meanwhile Gerald has met Lillian, played by Christina Marie Lane from The Allnighter! He presents her with a computer, upon which she immediately pastes a picture of Dudley Do-Right, and hooks her up to a proto-Internet so they can play games together and communicate in a sort of email system that reads aloud all their messages in a hollow, echoing, affectless voice! During all this the chop crimes continue, and law enforcement in the town is represented by the crustiest, least helpful sheriff in slasher movie history, played by Fred Holliday from Airport, who, after four or five axe murders, remarks that this could develop into an ugly situation! Ha ha, this fellow is like the angry Far Side version of Chief Newby from My Bloody Valentine!

While the exterminator and his new girlfriend sort of fade from the story, faces familiar from Iberian horror pop up throughout the film: Alicia Moro from Slugs, Jack Taylor from Pieces, and Conrado San Martín from The Awful Dr. Orloff all make appearances, and more often than not get the chop! As more and more townsfolk are forced to undergo the major barbarisms, and corpses pop up everywhere, sometimes literally, it’s easy to forget that this axe murderer also counts among his victims a pig, a dog, and a fish! The dog in particular made me sad – he looked like a nice little guy!

The end has more twists than a chimp’s beanbucket, or anyway seems to, and I’ll confess that between the muddy VHS sound and the forced air furnace of my home some of the dialogue was lost, and I didn’t always follow what was what and who was who in that climax! But I know that Lane’s performance as Lillian was a pretty good one, and that’s maybe in part a testament to Larraz’s years of experience too! But apparently he thinks of this one as his worst picture, and ha ha, I’m in no rush to challenge him on that! I'll commend him, though, for including a few actual Special Makeup Effects in his movie, mostly in the form of corpses discovered later, but there are a few chopped fingers and such too! All in all, I give Edge of the Axe one and a half Color of Money posters!