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 becomes 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 foot-ball player, and, due to the foot-ball player being a foot-ball 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)!