Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

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!

Monday 18 April 2022

Burl reviews Dick Tracy vs. Cueball! (1946)


With an all-points bulletin it’s Burl, here to review another Dick Tracy VHS tape! You’ve already heard what I think of Dick Tracy’s Dilemma, and now, continuing to work completely out of order with this little series, I’ll provide you with thoughts on Dick Tracy vs. Cueball!

Here Dick is played by Morgan Conway, whom we know by his appearances in The Kid From Kokomo and other such pictures, and who also played the iron-nosed detective in the first Tracy picture (Dick Tracy, Detective), but not in the second two (Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome)! Anne Jeffreys from Clifford is the long-suffering Tess Trueheart, whose dinner dates with Dick are always interrupted by some crime or another – no Dick for Tess, ha ha! - but whom Tracy is happy to use casually as bait for the monstrous criminals he encounters!

The particular monster here of course is Cueball, who’s really just an ordinary thug with a baldness problem! He’s after some jewels and in league with some crooked jewelers, who realize they’re in over their heads when the glabrous hoodlum starts strangling people with his hat band! Dick and his pathetically incompetent sidekick Pat Patton, whose catch phrase is “It’s just a bump on the head,” are forever arriving just a little too late to save the victims or catch the killer slaphead, so the middle part of the picture gets a little bit repetitive!

But as we know from our Wodehouse, however murkily the clouds may seem to gather, a keen eye can usually discern the blue bird, ha ha, and such an eye can tell there are plenty of familiar Poverty Row mugs to appreciate in here! Singular performer Skelton Knaggs from The Scarlet Claw is present, as is Byron Foulger from Ridin’ on a Rainbow, and Milton Parsons from Another Thin Man; and then of course Esther Howard, who was in lots of Preston Sturges pictures, appears as Filthy Flora, owner of the grim waterfront dive The Dripping Dagger, with its great neon sign, scarfaced clientele, and hidden chambers! And lest we forget, Ian Keith from It Came From Beneath the Sea is here playing Vitamin Flintheart, just as he does also in Dilemma!

The picture is efficiently made by Gordon Douglas, who also directed Them!, and he gives the mise-en-scene just a little bit more pizazz than might be expected in a picture like this! Unfortunately Cueball himself is a bit of a dud – a dimwit with a corrugated forehead, limited dialogue, and no pep; and moreover he comes to a sticky end only through his own clumsiness and inattention! The detective work that puts Tracy finally onto the smoothpate’s trail is simple-minded and uninvolving, but at least it sort of gives Junior something to do, briefly, as well as Junior’s little buddy! And just who is Junior anyway, and why is he always hanging around? Ha ha, there’s a mystery Tracy never solves!

It’s another decent little crime picture, but not a memorable one! It’s got a car chase, and I always like seeing olde-tyme car chases, but it ends quickly thanks to Pat Patton’s terrible driving! Somehow Tracy never blames Pat for his endless blauchups, and I guess there’s something touching about Tracy’s great and endless patience for his friend’s non-stop boobery! So there are a few things I liked, and so I give Dick Tracy vs. Cueball two phones off the hook!

Monday 11 April 2022

Burl reviews Night of the Howling Beast! (1975)


With a Spanish aroooo, it’s Burl, here to review some Iberian lycanthropy! Yes, ha ha, it’s our good and great friend Paul Naschy again, and here’s he’s playing his most beloved character, Waldemar Daninsky, just as he did in The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, but didn’t in House of Psychotic Women! Poor Waldemar just can’t catch a break, and such is the case again in this picture, Night of the Howling Beast!

After an opening in which a gang of explorers in the Himalayas is attacked by a yeti who looks, sounds, and acts just like a werewolf, Waldemar is called in by The Professor to lead a follow-up expedition! He’s happy to do it, and happier still that The Professor’s comely daughter, and another beautiful science lady as well, will be participating! There are a few others in the party, including one fellow whose name is Lawrence Talbot, but who never comes close to becoming a werewolf himself, ha ha! No, he has to settle for merely being vertically impaled by Tatars midway through the picture!

On arriving in Nepal (played here by the Pyrénées), the party is split up, with Waldemar and the sketchy, perennially frightened local guide Joel heading off to find a pass through the snowy mountains! Joel runs off and Waldemar ends up in a cave inhabited by ladies who might be vampires or might be werewolves, but in any case they can’t keep their hands off the refrigerator physique of our hero, and this occasions much bum-wiggling sex! Once Waldemar realizes they’re flesh-eating creatures from beyond reality, he goes on an impaling jag; but before he can dispatch both ladies, one of them puts a chomping on his left tit! Ha ha, uh oh!

Now of course he’s a werewolf, and meanwhile the rest of the expedition is beset by the above-mentioned Tatars, who kill or kidnap everybody! Their leader, the Khan, has a skin condition on his back, and the witch in his employ is trying to remedy the ailment by peeling off other people’s backs and sticking it on the Khan’s! Yowch! Meanwhile there’s still a yeti, or yetis, running around, and Waldemar is periodically wolfing out, and what to do about these darn Tatars and their evil witch?

There’s a bit of a lull in the action around the middle of the picture while Waldemar and The Professor’s daughter hang out with a monk and his pal, but it’s nothing serious! There’s plenty going on at the Khan’s castle once Waldemar and the daughter arrive there, though! And the long-heralded battle between the yeti and the werewolf finally happens at the end, and it’s sometimes hard to tell one from the other!

As well, there’s time taken to give a happy ending in which the mystical flower is discovered by The Professor’s daughter right after the monster fight! Once she pushes a magic flower-blood combo into the werewolf’s toothy mouth, carefully, as you would, he reverse-pixilates into his Waldemar form and what’s more his wound seems to have healed! The last we see is the pair of them tromping off through the Himalayas in their leisurewear! Ha ha!

It’s pretty gnashy Naschy when all is said and done, and I enjoyed the picture, even if it gets a little sadistic here and there! Naschy didn’t himself direct this one, the better perhaps to direct his thespian attentions to the various ladies that want to “go ‘pon his bones for a touch of bohankie,” as they say! Yes, it’s solid Naschy, as solid as his own chest appears to be, and there's no doubt he knew just what his audience wanted to see, and gave it to them! Night of the Howling Beast is also known as The Werewolf and the Yeti, and by the end it earns that title, so I’ll give the picture two chomp marks!