Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 30 November 2022

Burl reviews Foreign Correspondent! (1940)


By the turning of the windmill, it’s Burl, here with a bit of Hitchcockery for you! Ha ha, this is Hitch in actionman mode, making a big old wartime crowd-pleaser with plenty of derring-do and get-‘er-done sentiment! It’s not the most finely-crafted picture old Alfred ever made, nor his most suspenseful, nor his most rollicking, but there’s a case to be made that, alongside North By Northwest, it’s the one that most effectively combines all these qualities! Ha ha, and the name of the movie is Foreign Correspondent!

It’s set in a very specific period of time, which I always appreciate in a movie! The thunderclouds of war have spread across Europe, and just about everybody knows it’s coming – and there are some shadowy figures, it seems, who want to hurry it along! But before we meet them, we are introduced to Johnny Jones, the putative hero of the picture, a Big Apple newsman who is the right guy to go find out what’s up in Europe, figures his editor, because (and the cop-phobic Hitch loved this no doubt) he once beat up a policeman!

It seems Hitch wanted Gary Cooper for the role, but he got Joel McCrea from Sullivan’s Travels and Ride the High Country! This disappointed the director, who found McCrea too affable; and you can certainly see why he’d want Coop for a two-fisted role like this! Maybe the fact that they were each known by nicknames made up of the first half of their surnames was an extra attraction to Cooper for the portly filmmaker, but who knows! Anyway, I like McCrea – his affability gives a lightness to the picture that helps keep it aloft, and he’s able to get serious when he needs to, as in the Thing From Another World-style coda!

It’s late August of 1939, and you know what that means - Nazis are about to make their move! When Johnny Jones arrives in England, he finds a dyspeptic colleague played by the great Robert Benchley (who also wrote some of the dialogue, or at least his own); the leader of some kind of peace party, Stephen Fisher, played by Herbert Marshall from The Fly; and Fisher’s beautiful daughter Carol, essayed by Laraine Day from The Story of Dr. Wassell! Malarkey of some kind is going on, and things only get weirder after a diplomat called Van Meer, who is instrumental in whatever chance there may be to stave off the Germans and whom Johnny is supposed to interview, gets himself shot in the face in a surprisingly brutal moment!

Johnny also meets the real hero of the picture, or at least I thought so, a debonair newshound called Scott ffolliott (and yes, ha ha, they address the lower-case double Fs), played by the marvelous George Sanders, whom we recall from Doomwatch and Endless Night, and from his own pithy suicide note! ffolliett is a real cool customer, an adventuresman who, it seemed to me, had as much of Hitchcock’s attention as the hero! After the famous windmill scene – well, relatively famous, probably cracking the top ten or twelve of famous Hitch scenes – and Van Meer has mysteriously returned, still played by Albert Bassermann from Alraune, Johnny is hot on the trail of the story, and so naturally it’s time for the movie to hang with ffolliett for a while! Yes, ha ha, it seems for a while that ffolliett (a relation to ffolkes, no doubt!) is the new hero of the movie, and one is not unhappy to have him!

There’s some great stuff here! Edmund Gwenn from Them! and The Trouble With Harry pops up as a hitman who maybe was a bit past his prime! And there are some terrific mugs in the margins, like Mr. Krug, played by Eduardo Cianelli from Strange Cargo, who tortures poor Van Meer with hot jazz music! The special effects and sets are simply top notch, and the plane-crash climax is a corker!

You can tell Hitch wasn’t too interested in the specifics of the peace process or the ginned up McGuffin here – ha ha, as McGuffins go, this is one of the director’s most transparently immaterial! It’s a weird mix of ripped-from-the-headlines reality and the sort of picture they were making in the lead-up to the war, where the evil country would remain pointedly unnamed, perhaps in the hopes of avoiding any kind of intercontinental rile-up! I suppose that’s because history marched on as the picture was being written and prepared, and all of Fisher’s mournful references to “his country” were left over from prewar days!

It’s a chaotic movie, but all of a setpiece by the end, ha ha! I’ve seen it a couple of times now, and it sure does hold up! The plotting is maybe not completely thought through everywhere, but it’s got it where it counts! I give Foreign Correspondent three and a half phonographs!

Sunday 27 November 2022

Burl reviews Phantoms! (1998)


Ha ha and sweet goofballs, it’s Burl, here to review a tale of underground gumphries! You might say to yourself “Ha ha, Burl, what the heck are underground gumphries?” No, I don’t know, because whatever the monster is in this picture, it may as well be called an underground gumphry as anything else, because it’s one of the vaguest creatures ever to come down the pike! And the movie in which it is featured is called Phantoms!

The picture is much like Deep Rising, with which it shares an amorphous creature, some dodgy digital effects, some refreshing gloop and gore, an approximate release date (January 1998), and at least one actor, Clifton Collins, who here plays an ill-fated general! The story is laid in a small Colorado mountain town as two bickering sisters, played by Joanna Going from The Tree of Life and Rose McGowan from Scream, drive into town for a visit and wonder at the total lack of human activity on the streets! Ha ha, but when they start discovering things like disembodied hands clutching at a rolling pin, they twig that something terrible has happened to the townsfolk! They run into some equally bewildered cops led by Sheriff Ben Affleck of Dazed and Confused and Gone Girl fame; in his company are a pair of deputies, one played by Nicky Katt from Gremlins, and the other, a giggling snickering jerky-jerk and an obvious madman from the moment he steps on screen called Wargle, is essayed by Liev Schreiber from The Daytrippers!

They find the desiccated corpse of Linnea Quigley in a hotel room, and Wargle, whose complex of pathologies includes being a pervhound, seems to want to have relations with it! Ha ha, and shortly thereafter he goes completely boo at the zoo and has his face eaten off by a giant moth! At this point in the review, if you haven’t seen the movie or even if you have, you’re probably wondering just exactly what it is menacing the town! Is it a giant moth? Is it the revived corpses of some of the victims, including Wargle, who pop up now and again? (These, I take it, are the phantoms of the title!) Or is it something else, aliens perhaps? Well, ha ha, it’s hard to say!

Clarification, or as much as we’ll ever be granted, comes from a character preposterously called Dr. Timothy Flyte, who is played by none other than Peter O’Toole, most famed from his role in Club Paradise! Flyte is napped by a pair of agents played by Bo Hopkins from Tentacles and Rob Knepper from Wild Thing, who deliver him to the beleaguered town, tip their caps, and are never seen again! By this time the army has become involved and there’s a mobile laboratory that I was heartened to see! Flyte, once he’s hooked up with our gang of protagonists, compares the malevolent entity to a petroleum jelly, so I guess that’s how I’ll refer to it to, because, much like most of the film’s characters, I never really had any idea what they were up against!

I did appreciate such background as is provided: Flyte calls the creature the “Ancient Enemy,” and spins vaguely Lovecraftian tales of how this ageless jelly occasionally rises up from the earthen underworld in which it dwells to wipe out entire towns or civilizations! I like that kind of thing in a movie, but they don’t do a lot with it here! When it’s not a moth or a zombie, or shaking down The Thing by incarnating as a dog and then bursting forth from within it, the jelly resembles a sort of fudge, or a putty of sorts, or maybe just a big shmoo! Its powers are ill-defined, its goals unclear (it seems to crave publicity, of all things), its weakness implausible and its inspirations obvious! But, ha ha, on the other hand it will occasionally telephone the characters and scream at them through the receiver!

O’Toole and the rest of the cast take all this as seriously as they’re able, and I have to admit they didn’t do a bad job of it! This being a Miramax production and featuring Rose McGowan in a leading role, one gets the creeping willies thinking about that horrible Weinstein brother and his monstrous treatment of McGowan and who knows how many other women – in fact, there’s a moment when Wargle tries out some of his perv-dude talk on Sheriff Affleck and is promptly shut down; one wonders if this was meant as a sort of proxy dramatization of real-life Weinstein-Affleck conversations, with Affleck in the role of the righteous hero and the slobbering madman rapist standing in for Weinstein! Well, who knows!

But it’s a real lombego, this movie! I saw it in the theatre, so I’m feeling that extra bit of affection I carry for such pictures, and the simple fact is I do like a monster movie, and I really like The Thing, which this is trying to be! But ha ha, that it sure ain’t! The dialogue clangs about like a collapsing church organ and the goofnugget level is off the charts, but there are a few effective scenes if you let yourself get into it! It’s dumb and it’s derivative, but the things it’s imitating are mostly fun and interesting, so it benefits from the echoes! It reminds me of a bigger-budget version of something like The Kindred, or a lower-budget simulacrum of the 1988 The Blob, and it receives additional credit for possessing, more or less, that spirit! It’s bad and nothing can change that, but you might find it entertaining! I give Phantoms one and a half phone calls!

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Burl reviews Only the Lonely! (1991)


Hoch now, it’s Burl with a review for all the lonely people! Where do you all come from? Ha ha, just a little Beatles reference for you, but it should be said that the picture under review today is less a Beatles-type movie and more of a Roy Orbison joint! At least that’s where the title and the opening credits music comes from, and of course we can be talking about no other photoplay than Only the Lonely! (Ha ha, actually we could be talking about Pretty Woman or In Dreams, but nope, not this time!)

John Candy, so well known and loved from his roles in The Silent Partner and Volunteers and The Great Outdoors and many more, is Danny Muldoon, a Chicago cop who, alongside a partner played by Jim Belushi of Trading Places fame, has the job of transporting dangerous felons and also, mainly it seems, carrying away the dead bodies from the crime scenes! (The picture only very slightly explores the potential psycho-emotional ramifications of such a job, and there I think it might have missed a bet, although one scene is dedicated to plumbing its comic potential!)

Danny is a big friendly fellow who’s devoted to his mother, but not quite in a Norman Bates-y sort of way – though you can tell the relationship might be headed in that direction if allowed to fester, ha ha! Mother is played by flame-haired Maureen O’Hara, whom we recall from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, and who was here returning to pictures after a twenty-year absence; and it must be said that she hadn’t lost a step over that two decades of whatever it was she was doing instead of acting! And of course Mother is perfectly happy for her son to while his life away in service to her, and for his social life to comprise entirely of trips to the pub with her to hang out with Doyle and Spats, two barfly buddies nicely played by Milo O’Shea from The Purple Rose of Cairo and Theatre of Blood, and Bert Remsen from McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Lies!

There’s also a younger Muldoon brother, Patrick, essayed by Kevin Dunn of Marked for Death and Godzilla, and he’s the one who went to law school and got married and had kids (one of whom is that rapscallion Macauley Culkin, ha ha), and who catches a well-deserved punching from Danny in one of the picture’s more dramatic moments! But the big transformation in Danny’s life comes when he meets funeral home assistant Theresa Luna, played by Ally Sheedy from Blue City! She’s shy and mousy and can’t get dates because of her job, but of course to Danny, who handles corpses for a living, that’s no problem! Ha ha, her death-centric career notwithstanding, as someone who had a pretty big crush on Sheedy in the 1980s I did find it a bit unbelievable that Ms. Luna couldn’t get dates!

Mother, meantime, is an old-school bigot who seems to hate just about everyone who isn’t Irish – we hear all about her anti-Italian, and in particular anti-Sicilian, prejudices, and thanks to an amorous neighbour played by Anthony Quinn from The Guns of Navarone, we learn of her anti-Greek opinions as well! Of course she has many lilting objections when Theresa comes on the scene! As Danny and Theresa get closer, she becomes so desperate that she consults a “Polack priest” played by Marvin J. McIntyre from Fandango, who has no time for her nonsense! “I know you realize it’s the nineties, Mrs. Muldoon,” he tells her! “I’m just not sure you realize it’s the nineteen-nineties!”

So that’s the conflict: Danny is devoted to Mother and is constantly stopped in his tracks by alarming fantasies in which she meets a violent doom thanks to his distractedness; while Mother continues being nasty and spiteful and racist (we never hear her thoughts on, say, Jewish and Black people, which is probably for the best); and Theresa, for her part, quickly gets tired of her beau’s mommy fixation! The picture doesn’t always go exactly where you think it will with these dynamics, and that’s refreshing, though Sheedy’s character does seem to overcome her alarming shyness in unrealistically quick order! Candy is very much in Uncle Buck mode here, and one could argue that the performances are too similar, but on close inspection I found him to have an array of subtle techniques for individuating the two characters! So I feel grateful to Only the Lonely for helping me better appreciate the big man’s craft, an appreciation that I will admit took a hit after I saw JFK!

I watched the picture because I like Candy (ha ha, who doesn’t!) and want especially to see all the movies he starred it, with the possible exception of his final bow, Wagons East!, but frankly I wasn’t expecting much! It was a little better than I thought it would be, however, and while not particularly memorable and featuring too many instances of Candy's catch phrase "It's good to be a cop," it’s a solid showcase for the big man and demonstrates how good he could have been had he survived into his later years! (Ha ha, imagine his Lear!) Still, I wish the movie was better, and that it had a bit more pep and humour and grit and real complication! It’s not much more than a pale copy of Marty, but, mainly thanks to the cast, enjoyable enough while it’s on, and so I give Only the Lonely two breakfasts in bed!

Burl reviews Street of a Thousand Pleasures! (1972)


Toora-oop-de-doo, it’s Burl, bringing you a review of a picture that isn’t pornoo, but veil-dances mighty close to it at times! If you’re looking for a story, pass this one by! If you want art or craft, keep on moving! But ha ha, if you’re after a parade of naked ladies being leered at and nuzzled by a first-person camera, then sister, take a walk down the Street of a Thousand Pleasures!

Floppy-haired John Tull, whom we recall as the pig-lovin’ Junior in Sassy Sue, plays “field geologist” John Dalton, leaving his unseen but shrewish-sounding wife to do some field geology in the Middle East! On arriving he manages to save his host, a fake sheikh, from a would-be assassin, and as a reward is allowed to visit the forbidden slave market, which is where most of the rest of this mind-numbing production takes place! The prevailing theme is erotic astonishment, and indeed a truly astonishing number of naked ladies are paraded before his eyes!

We hear the aptly-named John’s creepy thoughts as he observes the unclad ladies: “These girls are naked! She’s so young looking!” Happily none of the ladies are particularly young looking – they’re not old, but they’re clearly beyond their teenage years, and with the camera taking Dalton’s perspective we continue to leer at them and hear his thoughts! “Uhhhh, ohhhh, so soft!” he says as he, or at least the camera lens, kisses a breast! Occasionally it cuts back to Dalton with a disbelieving look on his face, and then it’s back to his gross and unwanted narration as his hairy hands caress the ladies: “Ooh, such hard little nipples! Like elevator buttons!”

You can see from this what kind of movie it is, and one feels for the women on display here – not actual slaves perhaps, but maybe not far off either! The gross creep Dalton keeps up his inner commentary for what seems like forever, moaning things like “Oooh, aaahh, your buttocks are so firm!” and “Nice! Very nice! Very, very nice! Very, very, very nice!” and “I’ve never seen a woman so beautiful! I’ve never seen a woman so beautiful!” And of course he must continue with his POV kisses on their breasts, bellies, and thighs, complete with little lip-smack sounds and occasionally the imprint of the camera lens visible on the body as it pulls away!

Occasionally more human thoughts intrude: “She looks so sad!” Or, commenting on the other fake sheikh and fez-wearers wandering the market, “They look at them like they were livestock! Well they’re a far cry from livestock!” He reacts with mild disfavour when he sees the girls being mistreated, but then it’s back to the same monoto-logue: “Mmmm, so beautiful! Just wandering around, just milling around, all nude! They just never wear clothes it seems! Ha ha!”

Things turn a little darker when he spies a woman tied up and a devilish figure molesting her, but he’s soon back to his old tricks, ogling and fondling the girls as his neverending monologue runs, expressing disbelief and admiration, chuckling and smacking his lips, guessing at the nationalities of the girls and so on! But soon he’s begging “No more delights!” In a different room, a sheikh played by the director is receiving a fake BJ from a lady, and the scene doesn’t end until the sheikh has said “Ho!”

But in the last moments there’s a bit of incident, and suddenly John is on the run with one of the slave girls in tow, then we catch up with the two of them back in America, with John in a secret room in his house where he keeps the slave girl away from the prying eyes and barking voice of his horrible invisible wife! It doesn’t seem like a sustainable situation, but that’s where we leave our floppy-haired protagonist! And yes, more naked ladies dance naked under the end credits!

Some of the ladies in the picture are familiar, like Joyce Mandel of Weird Science and the mighty Uschi Digard from Truck Stop Women and many Russ Meyer productions! But most are just mildly uncomfortable-looking women who’ve been thrown a couple of bucks to stand around in the buff, either tied to posts or dancing lazily! You can really see the difference a few years on from nudie pictures like Hot Nights on the Campus, which had more plot and fewer naked ladies, versus this one, which has endless nudity – and even some dudes, ha ha – and no plot at all! Well, maybe plot is overrated! I give Street of a Thousand Pleasures one half of a pathetically fake Arab sign!

Saturday 5 November 2022

Burl reviews Last Man Standing! (1996)

Blam-blam-blam, it’s Burl, here with a tale of genre-splicing gun-fu from the mid-1990s! What are the genres in question, you might wonder? Well, they took Kurosawa’s great picture Yojimbo, and, as Sergio Leone had done thirty years earlier, transplanted the story to the Old West! Except they made it less old – although everything is set in what looks like the typical Western town, the action takes place in the 1930s, and the cowboys have been replaced by bootleggin’ gangsters! Ha ha, and the result they poured out of the genre-mixing cocktail shaker is titled Last Man Standing!

It’s a Walter Hill picture, but more on the Extreme Prejudice end of things than, say the Brewster’s Millions one! This means the story is full of manly men with stone faces expressing manly sentiments and punctuating these with cannon-like blasts of their guns! Bruce Willis, whom we know so very well from festive pictures like The First Deadly Sin and Die Hard, is the stoniest-faced of them all, and he’s the nameless hero who rolls into town and quickly divines that there are two gangs nearly at war with one another, and that he might profit from this conflict!

One gang is Italian and is led by Strozzi, played by Ned Eisenberg from The Burning and Moving Violations! The other more consequential gang is Irish, and while the nominal kingpin is Doyle, played by David Patrick Kelly from Commando and Dreamscape, the real terror in this bunch is a fearsome scarface essayed by Christopher Walken, well known from The Sentinel and A View to a Kill and of course The Prophecy! Initially neutral parties in the town include a corrupt but redeemable sheriff played by Bruce Dern, a fine actor we’ll recall from The King of Marvin Gardens and The Laughing Policeman, not to mention Hill’s The Driver; and innkeeper William Sanderson from Blade Runner and Nightmares, who I guess was cast not just because he was perfect for the role, but because he’d already been in an earlier picture called Last Man Standing! Ha ha!

If you’ve seen Yojimbo – and I assume and hope you have, ha ha! – you know how it goes! Willis joins up first with one gang and then the other, playing both sides against the other and appearing to be a step ahead of them all the time! But then of course he gets ahead of even himself and suffers the sort of beating that would have any actual person hospitalized for months, but which Willis weathers with only a limp and the occasional pained wince! Of course it’s not giving away much to indicate that yes, despite this punishment, by the final frames of the film he indeed is the last man of the title!

Walter Hill’s in full Peckinpah mode here, though the movie conspicuously lacks the poetry and profundity not only of Peckinpah’s best works, but of Hill’s! (I don’t call it a rip-off, though, especially because Hill knew and worked with ol’ Sam, so that gives him a certain leeway in this arena!) Whatever resonance there was to this particular story had already been wrung out of it by Kurosawa and Leone, I guess, and so when this iteration comes to an end, and as entertaining as it may be while it’s on (and given the cast and Hill’s well-honed craft, it is entertaining), the only reaction possible is a sort of shoulder shrug! I give Last Man Standing two ahh-ooga cars!

Friday 4 November 2022

Burl reviews I Walked With A Zombie! (1943)


By a gust of the tropical winds it’s Burl, here with a film I’ve long loved! Ha ha, if you’re a fan of zombie pictures you’ll know there’s no shortage of such movies which predate the one commonly thought of as the great-grandpappy of the genre, Night of the Living Dead! Of course there are plenty that came before! Naturally there’s White Zombie, and Revolt of the Zombies, and King of the Zombies, and of course Zombies of Mora-Tau! But my favourite of them all is this wonderful Val Lewton production, I Walked With A Zombie!

As is often mentioned in reviews and notices, the story cribs a little from Jane Eyre: in this version, a Canadian nurse, Betsy, played by Frances Dee from Mister Scoutmaster, is engaged to care for the wife of a Rochester-esque sugar planter on a West Indies island, as the wife has gone cataleptic! The planter, Paul Holland, is played by Tom Conway from Bride of the Gorilla, here very much in “George Sanders’s older brother” mode, and when Betsy arrives in the fictional land of San Sebastian she finds not just a cataleptic woman but a whole hotbed of family dynamics, some dynamite calypso music, and an island nation founded on the blood and sweat and tears of slaves! It’s a colonialist tale for sure, but, for the time, an uncommonly sensitive one!

Paul Holland has a younger half-brother called Wesley Rand, played by James Ellison from Sorority House, and there’s bad blood between the semi-siblings – something to do with the mute and mindless Mrs. Holland, who nightly glides around the island in her flowing white gown, a puppet of the voodoo houngans! There’s also Paul and Wesley’s mother, Mrs. Rand, who seems helpful enough, and a doctor, played by James Bell from A Lawless Street, who doesn’t believe in voodoo powers! But the locals know better, ha ha – these personages include Theresa Harris from Strange Illusion as Alma, the maid; and Sir Lancelot, who was also in Curse of the Cat People and The Ghost Ship, here performing some marvelous calypsos, through which he supplies some background on the Holland-Rand family and their tribulations!

The walk of the title is one of the picture’s highlights! Betsy takes Mrs. Holland to the voodoo hounfour in a bid to cure her, pushing through jungle and reed, past a skull and a dead pariah dog hanging from a tree, and meeting big tall Darby Jones playing the zombie guardian Carrefour! Ha ha, I love that walk! It’s beautifully photographed by J. Roy Hunt, whom I think of as the guy who shot Mighty Joe Young rather than as a master of sinister light, but here he even gives regular Lewton cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (who shot The 7th Victim and whose very name conjures up velvet-black shadow) a decent run for his money!

And of course it’s all nicely directed by Jacques Tourneur, responsible also for such marvels as Lewton’s The Leopard Man and the great noir Out of the Past! The conclusion is dark and tragic, but not hopeless – it’s all a sort of tropical poem haunted by death and by the clacking of dried palm fronds, the moan of the wind, and the crash of the surf at night! It’s a picture I hold close to my heart, and I recommend it highly! I give I Walked With A Zombie three and a half carafes!