Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 31 March 2022

Burl reviews X! (2022)


Hi alla y’all, it’s Burl, here with a tale of Texas terror! Ha ha, the letter X has been used in horror movie titles before, but as with X the Unknown and The Amazing Mr. X and Jason X and The Man From Planet X and The Strange World of Planet X, there’s usually a little something accompanying that single character! Not so here! The picture I’ve just come home from seeing is called X, very simply and tout court!

Yes, it comes from that horror upstart Ti West, whose casually-metered pictures I quite like! He’ll tell the story the way he wants to, by gum, and no newfangled pacing trends are going to force him to do any different! But this picture is maybe one of his bigger crowd-pleasers in that respect, and certainly it’s not lacking for provocative content! It’s terrific to see, in fact: a modern picture that’s in large part about sex! I keep hearing how chaste the younger generations are these days, so maybe X will seem pretty alien to them!

It starts with a little gang of Texan youths driving in a van along the hot highway on their way to an old house in the middle of nowhere in the 1970s! Ha ha, clearly we’re in Tobe Hooper territory here - the opening gets most, but certainly not all, of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre referencing out of the way, and the pond gator we meet later gives us that touch of Eaten Alive!

It’s 1979, and the gang is out to produce a cheap little 16mm pornoo picture! Of course we know they’re really making a horror film, even if they’re not aware of it, but for quite a while we follow them as they beaver away at this enterprise! The picture is being produced by Wayne, played by Martin Henderson from The Ring; his girlfriend Maxine, essayed in feathered locks by Mia Goth, has a taste for the devil’s dandruff, and is one of the pornoo stars! The male star is none other than a be-Afroed Kid Cudi, whom we recall from Bill and Ted Face the Music, and there’s another star, a blonde lady (the pornoo is called “Farmer’s Daughters”), and then the film-geek director/cameraman and his withdrawn sound recordist girlfriend, played by Jenna Ortega from that new Scream picture!

The farm they’ve chosen for their location is owned by an elderly couple not evidently overfond of company! The old folks have a slightly rubberized look, like Robert Englund in The Mangler, or Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands, and ha ha, when they made the old gent’s prosthetics there must have been some leftover orc makeup at the WETA workshop because he’s a pretty gruesome customer! And these are full-body makeups, it should be noted, ha ha!

It all goes wrong for these would-be filmmakers, but I won’t detail just exactly how! There are plenty of referential bits: Psycho is embraced as energetically as TCM, right down to the dialogue! (Come to think of it, strange these characters didn’t mention TCM, as it would have loomed pretty large on their cultural firmament just then!) Things simultaneously go in surprising directions and exactly how you think they will, and there’s a deeper theme that underlines the importance of the genre these characters have chosen to work in! The bookending sequences have James Gaylin from The Meg playing the local sheriff, who just can’t believe what he’s finding on this crazy farm, and who gets the last word!

It’s a well-mounted, well acted movie, even if really just a slasher picture with unusual (or maybe not so unusual) motivations! The Texan accents are creditable, the location a reasonable simulacrum of Texas (the picture was shot in New Zealand), and the whole thing put together with a casual, anachronistic fearlessness! It never gets all that scary, but there are some seat-clutchers along the way! I enjoyed myself, but, ha ha, I was the only one in the theatre, except when a couple of kids came in and stayed for fifteen minutes of so through some of the gnarlier scenes! Ha ha! Anyway, I brought a beer along and had a fine old time at the movies, so I give X three roll-outs!


Burl reviews Broadway Danny Rose! (1984)


With a schvitz and a plotz it’s Burl, here to review a little more of the woodman! Yes, it’s a picture from Woody Allen, whose work we know in the form of Sleeper and Midnight in Paris and oh so many others, and this is one of his smaller works from the 80s! Ha ha, my favourite of these is Zelig, but I’ve always liked this one too - another black and white number, as it happens! Yes, it’s Broadway Danny Rose!

There’s a fraternal coziness to the picture, a tone set from the beginning, where we the viewers move through Carnegie’s deli in New York to a table of aging comedians, all playing themselves, and telling each other jokes and war stories! Ha ha, instantly we’re in a world that’s not our own, but becomes fully developed as soon as you see these guys: the meat and potatoes New York punchclock showbiz world! And the comics get to talking about a legendary figure, Danny Rose, a small-timer they clearly regard with great affection!

The bulk of the movie is told in flashback: the best Danny Rose story there is! (Sandy Baron, whom we know from his appearance in Vamp, is the comic who tells the story!) And of course Allen plays Danny Rose, who turns out to be a sweeter version of the usual Allen character: a talent agent and personal manager whose acts are all two-bit, if that, but whom Danny loves, believes in, and treats as family! His earnest solicitude towards the folk he manages is enormously endearing!

There’s not a lot of plot, but what there is goes as follows: Danny has one client who’s on a bit of a roll, namely a lounge singer called Lou Canova, played by real-life lounge singer and one-time movie actor Nick Apollo Forte! Lou is a family man (there’s a scene in which Danny has dinner with the family and asks the young daughter how old she is; learning that she’s twelve, he asks “Are you married?" Eesh!), but he has a ladyfriend on the side, Tina! She’s played by Mia Farrow, who made her Allen debut in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, and when Lou gets a big opportunity to sing in front of Milton Berle and Howard Cosell, it’s Danny’s job to escort the dame to the gig!

Of course it all goes pear shaped when misunderstandings lead to Danny and Tina being chased by gun-toting thugs! Lou meanwhile is getting loaded, and it looks bad for everybody! Ha ha, I won’t tell you how it ends, but it involves the most melancholy Thanksgiving dinner ever, and a bunch of Danny’s sad-sack acts, and it brings us back to Carnegie's!

The beautiful monochrome, the inside-baseball feel to the New York showbiz world, the nearly indefatigable optimism of Danny Rose himself, and the surprisingly solid performance of non-actor Forte as Lou, along with the perfect songs he wrote for his character, all combine to make this one a charmer! Sure, it’s lightweight, and has some uniquely creepy Allen moments, but if you can bring yourself to watch a Woody Allen picture at all (some can’t, and I respect that!), this picture, the scene with the twelve year-old aside, is among your best bets for satisfaction!I give Broadway Danny Rose three gumbas!

Sunday 27 March 2022

Burl reviews Monkey Business! (1952)


Chee chee chee everybody, it’s Burl, here with a review of monkey madness! Ha ha, yes, it’s a 1950s picture featuring a chimpanzee, but no, it’s not Bedtime for Bonzo! In fact it’s a Howard Hawks movie, but not one of his great classics like Twentieth Century or Rio Bravo! No, this one is called Monkey Business!

If you’ve seen Bringing Up Baby, you might wonder to yourself if this is Hawks taking that story for another go ‘round the block! Well, it is similar, being as it also has Cary Grant from North By Northwest playing a scientist, who here is named Dr. Barnaby Fulton instead of Dr. David Huxley; and the key animal in the film is a chimp rather than a leopard! Altogether they’re similar enough to make a good double feature, and different enough to not feel you’re repeating yourself if you do program such a double header!

Grant’s scientist is very much of the absent-minded variety here, and Ginger Rogers from Top Hat is his patient wife Edwina! Grant runs a team of scientists at Oxly Chemicals, run by Charles Coburn from Heaven Can Wait in the role of Mr. Oxley, and the project he’s trying to work out is a sort of a youth formula! Marilyn Monroe from Niagara is the beauteous Oxly Chemical secretary Miss Lois; Hugh Marlowe from The Day the Earth Stood Still is a sort of frenemy of Grant’s, and is Rogers’s old flame; and Robert Cornthwaite from The War of the Worlds is one of the scientists! There are also wee cameo appearances by Harry Carey Jr. from Gremlins and Dabbs Greer from Con Air!

What happens is this: Grant has been having trouble perfecting his mixture, and this is greatly increasing his neglect of every other element of his life! After another failure, it’s left to one of the laboratory chimps to bust out of her cage and start mixing with the vials and the beakers and the tubes, and doing a really terrific job of it! Ha ha, it’s some of the best chimp acting I’ve seen, and they’re always very  impressive performers! Of course, it’s hard to push away the idea that they shouldn’t be performing at all, but to whatever extent you can, you’ll be charmed by this smilin’ simian!

And the chimp’s mixture is just right: she doses the lab’s water cooler, and whoever drinks from it first complains of a bitter taste and then regresses, mentally and emotionally at least, to some earlier age! We get to see Cary as an insouciant twenty year-old and later as a pretty aggressive eight year-old! And Rogers follows suit, ha ha, and later, after he does the fish-in-your-pants dance, old Coburn too begins to act like a kid, along with all the scientists! Ha ha! I have to applaud all the acting in this picture: everyone is really good at acting younger! It’s multilevel thespianship, and I dug it!

The movie really is much a series of these instances of regression, but that’s not a bad thing! It opens with some amusing credits (“Not yet, Cary!”) and then a long, single-location dialogue scene, like a Tarantino movie often has, with some nice innuendo salted in, and then the chimp gets to work; and after a series of embarrassing regressions, the remaining mixture is poured down the sink, and fini! It’s a pretty basic story after initially seeming complicated, and it does often get very funny! There’s a long cowboys-and-Indians scene that had me cringing, me with my modern thinking, ha ha! That went on for quite a while, but it did have a punchline!

Again I must laud the performing, and by extension Hawks! Ha ha, and don’t believe the DVD cover when it tells you this is a Marilyn Monroe picture! She’s in it, but doesn’t get much more to do than show off her gams and ride around in a car! An opportunity missed there, but ha ha, that’s hindsight for you! I give Monkey Business two and a half becoming chimp smiles!

Friday 25 March 2022

Burl reviews Westworld! (1973)


Beep-boop-blorrrrttt, it’s Burl, here with a tale of fatal malfunction! Yes, I’m talking robots, and how many times in movies have we seen them get their wires crossed and go on a rampage? Plenty, I think! But today’s picture is one of the granddaddies of the malfunctioning robot subgenre, and I think you’ll agree when you hear the movie’s name: Westworld!

It’s the story of the world’s most unlikely theme park, or anyway the most unlikely one until its writer/director, Michael Crichton, came up with Jurassic Park! Ha ha, Crichton was a funny guy - a doctor who became a novelist of medical thrillers, who became a filmmaker of medical and sci-fi thrillers, who became a novelist again, and then became a crank who claimed climate change was some kind of big conspiracy! Then he died, and all of these things he accomplished while being very tall!

Westworld was his first picture as a director, and you can kind of tell! The picture is structured oddly and peopled very sparsely - we have our two heroes, played by Richard Benjamin, who was in The Last Married Couple in America and then became a director and made movies like The Money Pit, and James Brolin from Von Ryan’s Express and The Car; and then the main robot villain, essayed by Yul Brynner from The Magnificent Seven and The Ultimate Warrior; and then everyone else is pretty much window dressing!

The window dressing includes fellow Westworld guests Norman Bartold from Moving Violation and Dick Van Patten from Lunch Wagon, and Alan Oppenheimer from The Groundstar Conspiracy as the chief scientist in charge! In charge of what, you may be asking, if you’ve never seen or heard of the picture! Well, it’s an amusement park filled with robots, where nothing can possibly go worng! There are three components: an Old West one, where we spend most of our time; a Medieval one; and a Ancient Rome one, which mainly seems to cater to the more sexually-inclined guests!

But of course things do go worng, and all the guests and technicians get slaughtered, and pretty soon it’s just Benjamin and Brynner playing six guns across the park! Ha ha, and can we talk about how implausible this park is? For example, everyone in Westworld, both human and robot, carries a real gun! And even though there’s supposed to be a device on the guns that makes it impossible to shoot a warm-blooded entity, that seems an imperfect safety device to say the least, and in any case it’s forgotten about when Brynner starts a-blastin’! And honestly, who really wants an authentic Old West experience? I spend lots of time being grateful I wasn’t around in that era!

It’s a clunky story made inexpertly, but it’s still an enjoyable picture! It’s always seemed a picture that might benefit from a remake, being as it has a pretty zippy premise! I know there was a sequel, Futureworld, and I’ve heard tell of a TV series from a few years back, but I haven’t seen any of those! And I guess there’ve been plenty of other berserk-bot pictures, so maybe my remake idea’s not so hot after all! No, let’s have an original story about berserk-bots, please!

It’s wafer thin and easily forgotten once terminated, but it has enough pleasures - the premise, the dweeby charms of Benjamin, Brynner’s proto-Terminator determination - to warrant some attention! Ha ha, I give Westworld two shots of bourbon!

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Burl reviews Slacker! (1990)


Welcome, friends and citizens! Ha ha, today I’ll review an important movie of the early 90s - it was recommended to me by my friend Mary, who never steered me wrong, and when I went out to the local co-op arthouse cinema to see it, I found that indeed Mary once again knew what she was talking about! The picture was Slacker, and I enjoyed it immensely!

You’ve seen it, I’m sure, so I don’t have to explain the structure - or what an uncharitable reviewer might call the gimmick - of the movie to you! It’s just a day and a night in a specific neighbourhood in Austin, Texas, with our tour guides a succession of people just living their lives! And when this movie came out, I was living my life in a different but similar city among people just like these, so they didn’t seem very strange to me at all! Their eccentricity is more apparent to me now, I suppose, which is a function of aging, but even to this day my circle is mainly artistic people with unusual career arcs!

The wonderful hand-off structure worked perfectly for me - I didn’t for a moment miss a main character or a consistent narrative! (A little more diversity in the cast might have been nice though - there's just one black guy and, even odder considering it's Austin, no Hispanic people at all, save the cab driver at the beginning who never says a word!) I like the long dolly moves, which make it feel like a junior La Ronde outdoors and on a budget, and I like the 16mm photography, even if some of the framing is very odd sometimes! But there's some really elegant camerawork as well, and the sound is really good for a low-budget outdoors picture too! Ha ha!

There are lots of highlights, like the JFK guy, the TV guy, and of course the pap smear, and I’ve always been very fond of the old anarchist; and there are a few nods toward genre and melodrama, as with the hit & run at the beginning, the interrupted burglary, and the missing roommate, which must be the influence of Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us! The picture hit so many buttons for me when it came out: it was totally set in my world, even though I’ve never been to Austin! And it was influenced by the same kind of movies I was watching at the time, like the Ophüls and the Antonioni; and the Butthole Surfers were on the soundtrack; and shoowee-howdy-shit, it was really made for 1991 me! Ha ha, I even made a similar movie myself a few years later!

Anyway, it holds up very well today! The musicians, artists, pseudo-intellectuals, real intellectuals, petty criminals, conspiracy theorists, do-nothings, freaks, gearheads and geeks, they're all still around, and it seems to me the movie's relevance has diminished not one bit! It was a terrific debut for Richard Linklater, and led to many further pictures, like Everybody Wants Some!! for instance! I was glad to see it, and grateful to the ever-hip Mary for turning me on to it, and I give Slacker three and a half  TV backpacks!

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Burl reviews Frankenstein Unbound! (1990)


Attention pilgrims, it’s Burl, here to review the work of a legendary filmmaker! The legendary filmmaker’s name of course is Roger Corman: the fellow who brought us such distinguished works as A Bucket of Blood, Rock All Night, Sorority Girl, and Attack of the Crab Monsters! He took a little break from directing movies which ended up lasting twenty years (though he produced them, and still produces them, with wild abandon), and his return to the director’s chair was this curious item, Frankenstein Unbound!

We begin in the future year of 2031, where a scientist called Buchanan, played by the terrific John Hurt of Only Lovers Left Alive, is putting the finishing touches on his superweapon! The superweapon dissolves matter, but it also opens up some kind of temporal time rift, such as we saw in The Philadelphia Experiment, but here shaped like a purple vagina; and after Buchanan drives home in his talking car to find a bunch of kids in his yard holding a funeral for a bike for some reason, he and his sapient auto get sucked up by the time rift and deposited in 1817, near Lake Geneva!

Naturally, as we know from history, Dr. Frankenstein was conducting his notorious experiments in this area, and of course, once Buchanan and his talking car have figured out where and when they are, and Buchanan has hidden his talking car in a bramble, he walks into a bar and the first person he meets is none other than the modern Prometheus! The good doctor is played by Raul Julia from The Eyes of Laura Mars as an imperious dandy, and after he gets a look at Buchanan’s digital watch, he’s pleased in return to show off the hulking creature he’s built! Nick Brimble from Lust for a Vampire plays the monster, a brutal oaf who speaks in a tragic, baronial timbre, is covered in face putty, and is happy to knock people’s heads off when he takes a mind to!

Meanwhile, of course, Mary Wollstoncraft (that is, the future Mary Shelley) is hanging around, played by Bridget Fonda from Singles, and there are brief, fey, pointless appearances from Byron and Shelley, essayed respectively by Jason Patric from The Lost Boys and rocksman Michael Hutchence from Dogs in Space! And then there’s Catherine Rabett from The Living Daylights as Frankenstein’ sweetheart Elizabeth, who gets cracked open like a walnut by the creature!

Yes, he’ll do violence all right, that creature, and he’s mad mainly because of the meat! Ha ha, no, he’s mad because Frankenstein has thus far refused to make him a mate, but then the doctor obliges him after all, and the mate seems to have CDs growing out the sides of her head; and then the time rift reappears, sending Buchanan, Dr. Frankenstein, the creature and his new jerrybuilt ladyfriend to some kind of frozen future wasteland! Ha ha, the talking car gets left behind in nineteenth century Switzerland, where it presumably will roll around the countryside startling locals with loud honks or unexpected badinage!

The climax involves more killing and the predictable revelation that the wasteland is actually the world of the future, which has come to this sad state thanks to Buchanan’s superweapon, and which he’s fated to wander alone for the rest of his days! Ha ha! I guess this is meant to function as a sort of corollary or echo of the monster’s self-imposed Arctic exile as depicted in the book!

Well, it’s a strange picture, and an odd choice for Corman! Of course, he made all sorts of pictures in his career, so maybe there is no odd choice for him! It’s a bit akin to the Poe films he made, Premature Burial and suchlike, but it has more heads and arms being ripped off than those ones did, ha ha! And it’s less elegantly made, frequently goofy, and in places demonstrates genuine ineptitude! But it also has really effective bits, as when the creature is chasing down Elizabeth’s carriage, or when he goes ape on the torch-bearing townsfolk!

I’m glad it exists though, as a curio if not a compelling piece of cinema; and it’s really not that much goofier than its contemporaries, films like Gothic and Haunted Summer! I thought the stitched-together multicoloured eye on the poster was a pretty cool image, meant no doubt as a metaphoric synecdoche for the creature itself - but it turns out that’s what the monster’s eyes really look like! Ha ha, talk about impractical! But there’s the movie in a nutshell for you - and look, a synecdoche after all! I give Frankenstein Unbound, or F.U. as some may prefer to call it, two vaporized Statues of Liberty models!

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Burl reviews Back to School! (1986)


Ha ha and howaya, it’s Burl! Today I’ve got a Rodney picture for you - Rodney Dangerfield that is, the man who could get no respect! We’ve seen the old collar-puller before in pictures like Caddyshack, but this movie, Back to School, is probably the closest he came to actually getting some respect in any of his cinematic forays! This or maybe Natural Born Killers, ha ha!

I remember having a good time with this one when I saw it in the theatre, and, just as Roger Ebert tends to give an extra star to movies set in Chicago, I automatically apply an extra layer of retroactive fondness to movies I saw on the big screen, which is why, when appropriate, I add a tag to that effect at the bottom of the review! I additionally admit to a baseline enjoyment of any movie that takes place on a college campus, be it comedic, horrific, dramatic or science fictional! So take my praise for Back to School with a grain of salt, won’t you? It’ll be pretty mild praise in any event!

Dangerfield is Thornton Melon, a rough-hewn business magnate who decides to finally get a college degree, and to that end joins his mild-mannered son at Great Lakes University! Melon’s son is Christine’s old pal Keith Gordon, and while this casting  doesn’t on the face of it seem particularly apropos, it turns out, somehow, to work perfectly! The junior Melon, Jason by name, has a kooky friend played by Robert Downey Jr. (perhaps most famous from Weird Science), whose character seems an aggregate of about seven different campus-movie clichés; and the easy-going literature professor Thornton falls in love with as soon as he sees her is played by the recently deceased Sally Kellerman from Moving Violations, who’s very charming here!

The salutary casting continues! Melon has a chauffeur/pal/bodyguard played by Burt Young, whom we all recognize from Blood Beach, and who tells a horrifying tale of the time he put his son through a wall! Of course Ned Beatty, the actor we know so well from Silver Streak and Rolling Vengeance, plays the dean, Dean Martin (ha ha!); the ever-delightful M. Emmet Walsh from Blade Runner is the diving coach (diving is Jason’s chosen sport, a skill he inherited from his bugeyed pa); and naturally William Zabka from Just One of the Guys plays the blond preppy frat bully who cramps up mysteriously at the end!

Even the bit parts are often filled with delightfully familiar faces! Severn Darden from The Mad Room plays an amiable ape professor; Adrienne Barbeau of The Fog is Thornton’s bitchy ex-wife; and there are appearances from Edie McClurg of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame, Robert Picardo of Matinee, Jason Hervey of The Monster Squad (playing the young Thornton), and of course Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself! Ha ha!

On the one hand, the movie seems to simply make up the structure, protocols, and general reality of college life (at least as I remember it) as it goes along; but on the other, the location was well chosen and well used, and so, visually at least, the place feels like a real college! The movie itself is surprisingly bereft of Animal House-inspired college tomfoolery (even though Harold Ramis was one of the writers on both pictures), and the stakes are so low as to be non-existent! Will Thornton pass his exams, or will he get booted out of college? He’s a rich and jolly bonvivant either way, ha ha, so who cares!

Yet he’s a likeable old cuss for a’ that, and we do hope for him to succeed! I didn’t care much for his dirty-old-man routine while he sings a pretty gruesome version of Twist & Shout, and the way the movie tries to have it all by making Thornton both fabulously wealthy and a man of the people doesn’t fully pass the plausibility test, but Dangerfield manages a comradeliness that overrides all that! And of course he provides many of his patented zingers, tossing them out like the pro he is! Back to School is a solid if not outstanding 80s comedy, and I’m pleased to give it two and a half crushed napkin caddies!