Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 30 November 2023

Burl reviews Fallen Leaves! (2023)


Ha ha and hello again everybody! I sure am sorry I’ve been such a no-show lately – I’m working on a book, and that always eats into my movie reviewing time and energy! I’ve still been watching plenty of movies though, many of them great candidates for review! There’s a bit of a backlog and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to them, so for now I’ll just review a picture I saw with friends and family the other afternoon at the local arthouse! It was a fine outing, the more so because the movie was the latest Aki Kaurismäki picture, Fallen Leaves!

Ha ha, as a person of mostly Nordic blood, I’ve always enjoyed deadpan Scandinavian movies, and I’ll say right off the hop that this one was a real delight! I used to watch Kaurismäki joints with my pal Pellonpäa, who is so nicknamed because of his undying love for the great bohemian and excellent actor Matti Pellonpäa! Unfortunately Pellonpäa (the real one, not my friend) died a long time ago, so he couldn’t be in Fallen Leaves! But we sure enjoyed him way back when in the Leningrad Cowboy movies and Night on Earth, and best of all in La vie de bohème, in which he played the role he was born for: a bohemian! After all, in real life he had no home – he lived in a car and a big booth at his favourite Helsinki bar, and that’s a pretty boho situation right there!

So there’s no Pellonpäa in Fallen Leaves, but there are some pretty acceptable substitutes! Our story revolves around two lonely, quiet, early-middle aged people in Helsinki! Ha ha, they’re taciturn in the great Finnish tradition, and because this is part of a series of Kaurismäki pictures set amongst the proletariat, they work a series of menial service or industrial jobs from which they keep getting fired or otherwise becoming unemployed!

We meet Ansa, who looks uncannily like my friend Mary and is played by Alma Pöysti, as she toils in a bleak supermarket under the close and creepy gaze of a monstrous security guard! She lives in a lonely apartment and whenever she turns on the radio it plays dire news of the war in Ukraine! And across the city is lank-haired, ghost-moustached Raunio, who drinks a lot, lives in a shipping container with four other dudes, works some kind of compressor-based job while wearing a thick boiler suit, and is played by Martti Suosalo!

These two lonely folkünn first spy one another at a charming karaoke night, where the show is stolen by Raunio’s buddy Huotari! There are some further mutual (or not mutual) sightings, and then finally they go on a date to see a movie: none other than the Jim Jarmusch zombie feature The Dead Don’t Die! Ha ha! This occasions a few funny cinéaste gags in which the movie is compared to a Bresson film and also to Godard’s Bande à part!

But (in a plot mechanism that rings a little false, I must say), the two never get around to telling each other their names, so when Raunio immediately loses Ansa’s phone number he’s unable to find her, and true love must wait! Then when they reconnect it must wait again thanks to Raunio’s devotion to the demon alcohol! And at the last, once the bottom has been reached and rebounded from, and it looks like the two will finally get together, fate intervenes yet again in a slightly unlikely cliché that is depicted in perhaps the laziest, most clichéd and most rote way possible!

But ha ha that’s completely forgivable, because Kaurismäki’s hand is so steady on the wheel that we know it must all be by careful design! The same goes for the cute dog which is introduced in the final act of the film – there’s nothing lazier than tossing in a cute dog to win the hearts of the audience, but here we don’t care because the dog underplays his part in just the same stoic manner as the rest of the cast, and is genuinely charming and hilarious as a result!

There are other on-screen charmers too – ha ha, I thought Huotari, the buddy, was a heck of a fellow, and he reminded me of some real-life people I know! Ansa has a nice friend too! The picture was shot on real celluloid film, so it looks very nice, and, typically of Kaurismäki, thanks to the locations, sets, props and costumes, it seems as though it could be taking place any time between the 1950s and now; although of course there are such modern touches as cell phones, karaoke, and the war in Ukraine, so we know it’s set in the now!

It’s a feel-good sort of movie without any of the laboured heart-tugging that phrase usually bespeaks! It’s slight, but it’s simple in the best ways, and as a date picture you could do much, much, much worse! I say that if you get a chance to see it in a little arthouse cinema like I did, take that chance! I give Fallen Leaves three and a half expired sandwiches, and will try to be a bit better with my movie reviewing in the future! But if I’m slow with it, at least you know why! Ha ha!

Thursday 12 October 2023

Burl reviews Dark Night of the Scarecrow! (1981)

With a rustle of straw, it’s Burl, here to talk to you all about killer scarecrows! Ha ha, we’ve seen them before in pictures like Scarecrows of course, and everyone remembers the eerie dancing man o’ straw from The Wizard of Oz, but still, when you bring up the subject, everyone’s mind will instantly conjure up images from a television movie more than forty years old – ha ha, yes, I’m talking about Dark Night of the Scarecrow!

The teleplot is simplicity itself! Our setting is a small town in what I believe is meant to be the American South, although it’s patently California! Bubba, a jolly but soft-brained man played by Larry Drake from Darkman and For Keeps?, is playing in the fields with his friend Marylee, a ten year-old girl! Watching from the sidelines is venal postie Otis Hazlerigg, essayed with narrow eyes by Charles Durning from Stick and The Hudsucker Proxy! Otis impugns all sorts of unsavoury motives onto Bubba, but of course he’s projecting in the Bell & Howell style, and in fact the friendship between Bubba and Marylee is completely innocent!

The next thing you know the little girl is attacked by a yard dog and Bubba bursts in through the fence to save her, but initially he gets blamed for her injuries anyway, even though he protests that BUBBA DIDN’T DO IT! Otis rounds up a posse made up of good old boys like Harliss, played by Lane Smith from Night Game; Skeeter, who is Robert F. Lyons from Death Wish II and 10 to Midnight and other Bronsonfests; and Philby, essayed by Claude Earl Jones from I Wanna Hold Your Hand! (Ha ha, somehow I don’t think Claude is a part of the great Earl Jones acting dynasty, but as we know from pictures like A Family Thing, I may well be wrong!) The posse discovers Bubba hiding in a scarecrow and shoots the poor man to death, just before it’s revealed to them that he wasn’t only harmless but a hero for saving the girl!

Well, this hateful lynch mob is instantly acquitted in a highly unbelievable courtroom scene, and soon after this, the scarecrow vengeance begins! The stuffed anthropomorph appears in Harliss’s field and that night the beer-swilling redneck is chawed in his own wood chipper! It next shows up in Philby’s acreage and soon he’s found in his silo, drowned in grain! Panicky Skeeter gets a graveyard klonking from Otis, and there’s a pumpkin-crushing, pitchfork-poking climax wherein we discover that indeed it’s Bubba’s spirit inhabiting the scarecrow that’s behind all this vengeance! And a good thing, too – ha ha, what a disappointment if the killer had turned out to be a more corporeal presence, like the D.A., or the little girl, or Bubba’s rightfully angry mama, who’s played by Jocelyn Brando, older sister to Marlon!

Of course Drake played other soft-brained men in his acting career, most notably on the law show I never watched; and he also played a character called Bubba in his very first film role, in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s hicksploitation drama This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! He was a good actor, and he does fine work here – ha ha, he's a little broad here and there perhaps, but never unrealistic! And Durning is good too – he can play the most avuncular guy you ever saw in movies like Tootsie, but he has this way of just squinting a little bit and presto, he instantly looks evil and pædopheliac! Ha ha, and this is no small trick, given that Otis is for some reason always wearing his silly postal service outfit, complete with blue pith helmet!

So the movie has a couple of solid performances and some cornfield atmosphere (though it could have leaned harder into that I think), and there’s a Halloween costume-ball scene, which I always like in a movie – ha ha, remember Primal Rage? But it suffers a bit from a TV movie blandness, from the So-Cal locations, and also from the padding needed to fill it out to the length required of a movie in a two-hour broadcast slot! The affrights were decidedly muted this time around, but since it really did me a spook-up back when I was eleven, I want to give it some residual credit for that! Some added walking scarecrow action might have been effective, but since that one head-turn we get at the end really works, I’m not completely sure where I stand on that! So in the spirit of my somewhat confused and ambivalent feelings, I’m going to give Dark Night of the Scarecrow two flower leis!

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Burl reviews Night of the Living Dead! (1990)


It’s Burl once again with the shambling and the moaning and the munching – yes, it’s zombies all right, and not only that but it’s the same zombies, almost! Yes, last time I reviewed Night of the Living Dead, and now here I am with a review of Night of the Living Dead! Ha ha!

This is the one directed by trick effects makeup man Tom Savini, who did his gory necromancy in pictures from The Burning to The Prowler! Here he’s behind the megaphone and leaving the rubber wrangling to others, and ha ha, did you know what – he did a decent job of it! Like Stan Winston with Pumpkinhead and Tom Burman when he made Meet the Hollowheads, Savini seems to have picked up mostly the right things from being on so many movie sets before taking up the megaphone himself!

Well, it’s the same old story: Barbara and her ever-complaining brother Johnny pull up to the graveyard, a zombie man jumps them, Johnny gets a klonking, and Barbara finds a farmhouse! But this time it’s in color, and Barbara is played by Patricia Tallman from Road House and Army of Darkness, and Johnny is good old Bill Moseley from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2! And when Ben pulls up to the farmhouse, knocking over a zombie along the way and clutching a mighty hayer’s hook like he’s auditioning for Candyman, he’s played by Tony Todd from Enemy Territory!

Again we find cowering in the basement an objectionable slaphead, this time played by Tom Towles from Mad Dog and Glory, and even meaner, barkier and more crazed than the 1968 version! Ha ha, I thought this was a setup for when Ben shoots Cooper, as he did in the original – you know, make Cooper dangerously insane so we don’t consider Ben's action egregious! But that’s not where the movie goes with this particular relationship! And along with Cooper we again have the wife, the ailing daughter, and the young hayseed couple! The lad in this latter duo is played by William Butler from Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood, and he has about the same luck in both movies!

Aside from being in colour (though Savini’s idea, nixed by unimaginative moneymen I assume, was to start it in monochrome and gradually bring in the colour), the most remarked-upon change from the original is to reconfigure Barbara from a shock-paralyzed nobody to an actual character with agency! This is of course an improvement – one imagines that for Romero, who wrote the screenplay, offering the more badass Barbara was a sort of mea culpa for the wimpy old Barbara in his movie, ha ha! There are other small misdirects for those familiar with the 1968 version, and other welcome changes here and there, especially in the third act! But one thing they’ve kept: the incessant hammering of boards across windows! Ha ha, this update has even more hammering, I think, and it makes the middle act awfully monotonous! I also have to say that the inky, eerie, spookshow atmosphere of the original is almost entirely missing!

Most of the changes are improvements, however, even if they feel fairly strategic! Equally strategic are the things kept pointedly the same, like an appearance by Chilly Billy Cardille as a TV interviewer once again, and the return of the sheriff who says “They’re dead, they’re… all messed up!” (Ha ha, and that new sheriff is played by Russell Streiner, who was Johnny in the original, and was one of the producers of the old one too!) And of course the new movie is gorier than the original, but not as much as you'd think a movie directed by beloved goremeister Savini might be!

Altogether it turned out better than anyone could have expected it would! There’s nothing very organic or sincere about it, and I think it was at least in part a reaction to Return of the Living Dead (or maybe to Return of the Living Dead part II, which had just come out a year or two before), and generally designed to reclaim ownership of the Living Dead brand; but at least it was made by people connected to the original, who were willing and able to put some effort into it! It’s no 1968 Night of the Living Dead, but I’m going to give 1990 Night of the Living Dead two pairs of old man pants!

Thursday 5 October 2023

Burl reviews Night of the Living Dead! (1968)


Ha ha, they’re coming to get you Burlbra! Yes, it’s Burl here, reviewing an influential classic of independent horror cinema! Before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, before Halloween, along came the cheap little horror movie that could, and did, give the world a new idea about where smash-hit movies might come from and what they might be like! So, in glorious black and white, here comes that all-timer Night of the Living Dead!

It’s a movie I’ve seen many times, but I showed it to my son the other day as a part of his general horror education, and was very pleased myself to watch it again! It’s a really solid piece of work, being as it is a low-budget first feature from a little Pittsburgh gang of twentysomethings whose usual line of country was commercials and industrial pictures! They went out into the rural areas on weekends, or into their jerry-built Pittsburgh studio, and made a movie that resembled almost nothing that had come before it! It was gruesome and boundary-pushing and eerie and dark, and entirely of a piece with the times into which it was released: the tail end of a decade of war, assassination, racial unrest, and riot!

Of course the lead beard on the picture (ha ha, before he even had a beard) was George Romero, “creator of the living dead,” as the mall PA system tells us in Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home! Romero later brought us pictures like Creepshow, and of course many further zombie stomps, including Land of the Dead! There’d been zombie pictures before, naturally, but so far as the whole modern walking dead cycle goes, ha ha, this is the wellspring!

We all know the situation and the characters! Barbara and her jerky hip-nerd brother Johnny have driven out to a remote graveyard to visit their father, and Johnny’s complaining and joking around is interrupted by a zombie man, with the net result being Johnny’s head klonked on a tombstone! Well, Barbara is immediately reduced to a shocked jelly, but, shrieking and falling down the whole way, she makes it to a nearby farmhouse, where she sees scary things and meets up with capable Ben, played by Duane Jones! They start boarding up the windows against the gathering ghouls outside - well, Ben mostly, with a little help from the near-catatonic Barbara - and after a lot of banging and nailing it transpires that there are people hiding in the basement: angry, frightened slaphead Cooper, his wife and injured daughter; and a young hayseed couple, Tom and Judy!

There’s a lot of arguing about whether they should stay upstairs or go hide in the basement, and then, during an attempt to gas up a pickup truck as a prelude to fleeing the scene, everything starts to go terribly wrong! Frankly, nobody comes out of the situation in very good shape, and the final, cruel irony of the finale feels monumentally unfair, but also consistent with the mood of both the film and the era! It’s still a real gutpunch, however, and reading Roger Ebert’s account of the weeping and crying children at the 1968 screening he attended – children who’d been dropped off by their parents on the assumption this was another silly childish horror movie – one wonders if it was the flesh-munching and other shocks that so upset them, or the atmosphere and downer ending!

As you’ve surely gleaned, I admire this movie greatly! It’s not perfect: there’s not much respect given to the character of Barbara, who’s just dead weight to the other characters and to the film itself, really! The characterizations in general can’t be called nuanced or profound, although I found the acting to be of a very high quality! Duane Jones in particular is good, and it’s interesting, given the times, that he’s black: this easily could have been a purposeful thing, a political statement from the progressive Romero, but in fact he says that Jones was simply the best actor they knew! This is borne up by his performance, and everyone else is pretty good too, or at least acceptable! This goes a long mile in a low-budget production!

It's rough in spots (which I don’t personally regard as a debit), and the characters occasionally do dumb things, and it probably all seems quaint and silly and overly familiar to today’s zombie-soaked audiences! But it still works for me, and I have every respect for its place in horror history, so I give Night of the Living Dead three and a half keys to the gas pump!

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Burl reviews Thunderbolt and Lightfoot! (1974)


Wacka-doo, snakecharmers, it’s Burl, here to review a picture I’ve long wanted to see but somehow never got around to until now! It’s a Malpaso picture from the 1970s, and you know what that means: Clint! And most of those movies, whether Eastwood directed them or not, have that Malpaso feeling: you watch them and just know that each take is the first or at most the second, and that whether it was directed by Don Siegel, who was Clint’s directing mentor, or James Fargo, whom Clint mentored in turn, or by Clint himself, in each case the same philosophies and work methods were employed! So there’s a sameness to these films, which isn’t unwelcome – in fact it’s comforting! Nevertheless, when you see one that’s clearly operating on its own principals, it’s pretty refreshing, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is just such a film!

Of course we know Eastwood from such pictures as Blood Work and Tarantula, and here he plays a laconic vault cracker-turned-fake-priest known as Thunderbolt, and we meet him at the pulpit just as an angry George Kennedy from Creepshow 2 and Earthquake arrives at the church and tries to shoot him dead! In his frantic escape he hooks up with a young Jeff Bridges, not yet of Starman and King Kong fame, who has just stolen a roadster from a used-car salesman played by none other than Gregory Walcott from Plan 9 from Outer Space! Bridges, of course, is Lightfoot, and soon this pair of sillynames are bombing around picturesque Montana, being buddies and, in their masculine, mid-70s manner, falling in love!

Their first adventure together involves catching a ride from a completely insane driver played by Bill McKinney from Cannonball! Ha ha, this demento keeps a caged badger in the front seat and tears it up on and off the road, and after he’s barrel-rolled the auto it turns out he’s got a trunk full of live bunny rabbits, which he starts blasting at with a shotgun! Soon we get a taste of George Kennedy again, and it turns out that Kennedy is playing Red, an old partner of Thunderbolt’s who believes the craggy longuebönes to have stolen some ill-gotten loot! Red and his confrere Goody, played by Eastwood buddy Geoffrey Lewis, whom we’ll recall from Smile and ‘Salem’s Lot, first do some fisticuffs with and then enter into a foursquare partnership with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in order to once again take out the vault Thunderbolt et al. had robbed the previous time!

So the gang is assembled and the plan is made, but first they all have to get jobs to buy the equipment they need to do the heist! Ha ha, we get all sorts of amusing vignettes featuring famous faces like Gary Busey from Silver Bullet, looking young and handsome; Burton Gilliam from Fletch, playing the sort of grinning good old boy he made his stock-in-trade; Dub Taylor from Creature from Black Lake just being Dub; and Luanne Roberts from Simon, King of the Witches as a stark naked housewife! Lightfoot has an encounter with a motorcycle rider who’s handy with a hammer, played by Karen Lamm from Ants!; and before the heist can be pulled off, the fellow monitoring the security alarms must be taken care of by a drag Lightfoot, and the security fellow turns out to be a chubby, girlie magazine-reading individual played by Cliff Emmich, who played another chubby security officer who gets hit on the head later on in Halloween II!

The picture dwells less on the robbery details than most heist pictures do – perhaps because it’s not centrally a heist story but is organized more around buddy themes! Still, there is the unique aspect that the vault is broken into by means of a 20mm cannon, ha ha, and the use of this tool is what earned Thunderbolt his name! And then of course after the heist it all goes pear-shaped, and the tensions within the group are expressed physically (and boy-arr-dee, how great an actor is George Kennedy!), and we come to realize that a line delivered earlier in the picture (“Ate ‘im?”) was a case of Dramatic Foreshadowing!

Now, this is the first picture from Mr. Michael Cimino, who vaulted into the prestige picture business with his follow-up, The Deer Hunter! This one isn’t a prestige picture though – it’s a genre film with a higher-toned style and an almost defiant insistence on theme and subtext! The idea of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot as unconsummated lovers is not very subtle (although I’m not sure Clint was cognizant of it, Bridges was, definitely), and what it really is, once you factor in the other couple, Red and Goody, is a study in how well an all-male machine, each component having a few teeth missing from their gears, can operate; and the answer is, ha ha, not very well! I found the movie a splendid entertainment, wonderfully photographed and impeccably cast: an unsung gem of the 70s! I give Thunderbolt and Lightfoot three broken cigars!

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Burl reviews Cockfighter! (1974)


Buck buck b’kaw, it’s Burl, here to review a movie at which many would cry fowl! Ha ha, you know, old Burl is an animal lover, so I find it hard to get behind a movie that depicts – indeed, has caused – harm to any creature! I actually think Cannibal Holocaust is a pretty effective movie, but that tortoise-killing scene really sours it for me! (To be honest, some of the other gnarly stuff in there does too!) I’ve praised many an old Western film, but when they start tripping horses I spend the rest of the movie thinking about how mean that is! And then comes along a movie whose story, theme, very essence, and even title, involves heavy doses of terrible animal cruelty: Cockfighter!

What to make of it? I’d seen it before but watched it again the other day, because someone I know is writing a book about the movie! Ha ha, I’m raring to read it! And I’ll tell you what, I also met the director of this picture, Monte Hellman, when I stayed at his house in the Hollywood Hills, where he hosted an Air B‘n’B! He was a nice fellow and we chatted quite a bit about movies and such! The third outside factor which might somehow affect how I think about this movie is that once, for moviemaking reasons too complicated to get into, I had to keep a rooster overnight in my apartment! I built a big cage for the thing, put it in my living room, and then of course the bird went off at four-thirty in the morning, cock-a-doodle-dooing away and waking up all the people in my building; and only playing the song “Bali H’ai” from South Pacific could get it to shut up! Ha ha, the incident didn’t endear me to roosters, I’ll say that!

So: Cockfighter! It’s the story of Frank Mansfield, played by Warren Oates from Blue Thunder and Race with the Devil, a down-South fighting-cock trainer who has taken a vow of silence after letting his own foolish words cause him to lose out on a chance to be Cockfighter of the Year! Only once he wins that medal does he plan to speak again, and so far, we gather, it’s been a couple of years since he first clammed up! (Ha ha, we get to witness his pre-vow chattiness in a flashback, and he’s so obnoxious that I was quite happy to have him spend most of the movie with zipped lips!)

Frank travels around with his birds and a gal named Dody, who has only ever heard Frank talk in his sleep, when he blusters and yells and threatens to kick people across the room! Dody is one of a very few performances from Laurie Bird, who was also in Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and later in Annie Hall, and that’s it! Frank loses yet another bet to his frenemy Jack Burke, played by the great Harry Dean Stanton from Christine and Repo Man, and Jack walks away with Frank’s money, car, camper trailer, and girlfriend! This is where we get a sense of how much Frank values human relationships, in particular with women, which is to say not very much! We also see how he treats his brother (played unexpectedly by matinee idol Troy Donahue, known from Grandview U.S.A. and Deadly Prey) and sister-in-law: Frank arrives at the family home, stays the night, and the next day steals the house (which technically he owns) right out from under them and has it shipped off down the road on a truck!  

But Frank does have at least one true pal in Omar, essayed by Richard B. Shull from Klute and Spring Break! Ha ha, Omar is a mighty appealing character, or at least as appealing as someone who engages in a pointless blood sport can be! Frank hangs out with Omar and with Buford, another affable fellow, here played by James Earl Jones’s dad Robert Earl Jones, whom we may recall from Trading Places! Much of the middle act of the picture involves Frank hanging out with these two, or episodes in which he encounters such characters as a gangly overall-clad goofbuster played by Ed Begley Jr. from Get Crazy, or Steve Railsback from Lifeforce, playing a cocky cockfighter with a loosey-goosey pointin’ finger who likes to give his birds a little bit of digital persuasion!

I’ve not talked much about the cockfights themselves, which are frequent and often bloody! They’re faked to an extent – the sharp spurs are mostly not actually made of metal – but there’s only so much you can fake these things really, and there are times when the cocks are clearly killing each other! It’s pretty grotesque, but also a powerful dramatic device! Through the course of the picture, in spite of or maybe because of Frank’s silence, we move more than we may like into his point of view and the fights become less brutal and alien; but when the object of his silent amours, his fiancée Mary Elizabeth, played by pretty redheaded Patricia Pearcy from Squirm, finally witnesses a cockfight, we see the bloody spectacle from her perspective and are suddenly repulsed anew by it, along with her!

The picture is exacting in its detail and almost never strikes a false note! It’s clear the cock pits we see are real cock pits, the spectators are real spectators, and of course the roosters are real roosters, fighting and clawing and beaking each other bloody! The cast is just about perfect: ha ha, what a gallery of faces, and in addition to those already named we get folks like Warren Finnerty from The Laughing Policeman, Tom Spratley from Deadly Friend, and even Kermit Echols from Grizzly! But it remains that Mansfield, as ingratiating as he can sometimes be in his silence – slapping his knee in response to a joke, or darting out his hand for a shake to seal the deal or to indicate agreement – and as marvelous as Oates’s performance is, is ultimately a damaged and inhumane guy; and that the sport itself, in spite of occasional bursts of first-person narration trying to explain Frank’s love of it, is indefensible! It’s a wonder that this movie exists, and, cruelty aside (if that’s possible), it’s one of the most perfectly-crafted things Roger Corman, or the 1970s for that matter, ever produced! And that’s saying something on both counts, ha ha! I give Cockfighter three and a half busted beaks!

Monday 25 September 2023

Burl reviews Oppenheimer! (2023)


Bang boom and blast, it’s Burl, with a report on a big summer movie that I’ve only just gotten around to seeing, as opposed to the big summer movies I managed to see but haven’t yet reviewed! (I hope to review them for you soon, but who knows!) This is one of the biggest of the summer pictures, or at least one of the longest, and I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that I mean Oppenheimer!

Ha ha, as a casual WWII buff, I already knew the broad strokes of the story, and was aware that, after spearheading the logistics of the bomb-building and after the war was won and his utility exhausted, Oppenheimer was subsumed by the Red Scare business of the 50s, mostly, it seems, just to get him to shut up, and also for revenge! All of this is told fairly plainly in the film – we jump around a bit in time, as is the norm in a Christopher Nolan picture, but it seemed pretty straightforward biopic material to me!

Oppenheimer is played by the veteran zombiefighter and Irish-man Cillian Murphy from 28 Days Later, looking rather gaunt and zombielike himself! Ha ha, with his suit and hat and skeletal physique, he seems a pretty good candidate if they ever want to make the William S. Burroughs story! (Unless Peter Weller wants to do it, ha ha - maybe they could share the role!) We meet the titular atom-juggler as he’s testifying before some kind of panel we don’t yet understand, but we will many times return to this small, unprepossessing room to see more of what we soon understand to be a kangaroo court!

We flash back to Oppenheimer’s time at Cambridge, where he nearly kills first his tutor and then, accidentally, Niels Bohr (played with appeal and a fine Danish accent by Kenneth Branagh from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) by means of a poisoned apple! Then we get into some science madness and relationship wackiness, including a few nude-lady scenes which elicited a gasp from the woman sitting next to me! (Ha ha, is a perfectly tasteful sex scene really so shocking? Have we really sunk so far back into puritanism?) We also get into Oppenheimer’s politics a little bit, which were refreshingly similar to my own! And of course then mustachioed army man Leslie Groves, played sternly by Matt Damon from The Martian, shows up to enlist Oppenheimer into the Manhattan Project, and the race to build the biggest bomb in all the world is on! (Ha ha, but they prefer to call it a "gadget!")

Of course once the Trinity test is successful and the bomb carted off by the army, and Oppenheimer has qualms about the morality of it all, there’s still the third hour left in the picture, which is mainly back to the kangaroo court I mentioned before! We learn that an administrator and would-be Cabinet member called Strauss, played very well by Robert Downey Jr. from Weird Science and Due Date, has orchestrated Oppenheimer’s downfall because one time Oppenheimer was a wisenheimer and Strauss has never forgiven him for it!

We meet many, many characters in the course of all this, most of them played by familiar faces! Oppenheimer’s tart-tongued wife Kitty is played by Emily Blunt from Edge of Tomorrow; his emotionally disturbed girlfriend Jean Tatlock is Florence Pugh from Midsommar; Roger Robb, the bulldog prosecutor in the disciplinary panel scenes is played by gimlet-eyed Jason Clarke from Twilight (the Paul Newman one, not the vampire one); silver fox inventor Vannevar Bush is Matthew Modine from Full Metal Jacket; Strauss’s aide is Alden Ehrenreich from Stoker; a fellow called Borden, whom Strauss uses as ponyboy in his pursuit of Oppenheimer, is David Dastmalchian from the more recent Dune; a miraculous defender of Oppenheimer is played by Rami Malek from No Time to Die; and a presidential aide called Gordon Gray is Tony Goldwyn from Plane!

It’s a long picture, but made up mostly of short, often punchy scenes – ha ha, you can tell there was a very concerted effort to keep things moving to offset the inevitable criticisms that this really is mostly a movie about white guys endlessly talking in rooms! It can be difficult to keep track of who’s who and what their motivations are, but a general understanding is really all that’s required to discern the larger themes and narrative drive at work! And some the major concerns here include power and responsibility, and it seems to me the picture is proposing an inverse to Uncle Ben’s great maxim “With great power comes great responsibility!” Oppenheimer – and Oppenheimer, for that matter – asks whether that responsibility still applies when it turns out one doesn’t have much power after all! The conundrum torments our science bug, and is addressed directly in late-picture scenes featuring a no-nonsense Harry Truman, played by Gary Oldman of Track 29 fame, and, separately, an avuncular Professor Albert Einstein, impersonated here by Tom Conti from Reuben, Reuben!

Nolan provides some poetic visuals that are meant to spring from Oppenheimer’s imagination: here we have raindrops depicting the sort of atomic chain reactions he’s looking for in a bomb, or rather gadget; there, a trick effect dramatizing what might happen if the chain reaction simply didn’t stop! But these sometimes seem shoehorned in as sops to the audience, and, as with the deliberate punchiness of the scenes, the non-stop music attempting to wallpaper over the seams, and the declamatory quality of some of the dialogue, one can here and there see the popular-cinema pulleys, cogs, and wheels hard at work, more so than the director intends!

Still, it’s a real achievement, almost as much as it assumes itself to be, and the sheer volume of craft on display is nearly overwhelming! I’m glad this long, talky, science-minded picture was made and that it’s doing well, and I for one was consistently engaged! (My twelve year-old got pretty antsy after the Trinity test, however, ha ha!) There’s something marvellously old-fashioned about it even beyond its mid-century setting, and I’m going to give Oppenheimer three slatherings of a topical jelly!

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Burl reviews Somewhere in Time! (1980)


Tick tock, it’s Burl here with a touch of time travel for you! Ha ha, when you think of late 70s-early 80s time-travel pictures, what comes to mind? The Final Countdown, of course, and also, no doubt, Time After Time! But there was another time-travel extravaganza of the era, in which not a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, not Jack the Ripper, but a simple lovelorn longuebönes is sent hurtling through the temporal rift! Yes, I’m talking about the cult romance picture Somewhere in Time!

The longuebönes is a playwright named Richard Collier, played by Christopher Reeve, whom we all recall from Monsignor! In 1972, when he’s a young scribe celebrating his first success beneath the proscenium, an old lady approaches, gives him a pocket watch, and whispers “Come back to me!” Ha ha, eerie! But horror isn’t where we’re going with this, more’s the pity: we flash forward eight years by which time Collier is well-known and much-produced, and struggling to finish his next play! He decides on a change of scenery and drives to the giant Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, where he soon becomes infatuated with a woman in a portrait: a famed stage actress from yesteryear called Elise McKenna, played by Jane Seymour from Live and Let Die!

Well, ha ha, he figures out this is the very same old lady who approached him eight years before, and, his infatuation rapidly metastasizing into obsession, he attempts to hypnotize himself into the year 1912 so that he can meet the object of his fancy! Eventually this actually works, and sure, why not? He manages to meet and charm Elise despite energetic counterefforts from her moustache-twirling manager Robinson, essayed by Christopher Plummer, whom we know so well from bad-guy roles in Dragnet and The Silent Partner and Dreamscape and so many others! But Robinson, though evidently in the grip of his own Elise obsession, even willing to employ toughs to rough Collier up, is unable to prevent the couple from achieving their romantic and sexual destinies! However, the ill-timed discovery by Collier of an anachronistic coin in his pocket sends the gangling clockhopper hurtling back into 1980, where he becomes so depressed that he locks himself in his room, turns white, and dies!

Now, ha ha, this movie was no hit when it was released, but in the years since it’s attracted a cult of romantically-minded people nearly as obsessed with the movie as its hero is with Elise! That doesn’t make it a good movie, but it suggests that there’s something to it, some core attraction worth considering! Is it in the concept, or the execution of that concept, or both? I think it’s maybe a bit of both: the concept is compelling but not exactly groundbreaking or unique; the execution is competent but not exactly brilliant, and these virtues together add up to something that a certain sort of person is just going to love!

The story is very simple: maybe, it seems to me, too much so! That simplicity is probably one of the secrets of its appeal to those who love the picture so much that they travel to Mackinac Island every year for the big Somewhere in Time celebration! Yes, there really is one! But there are lots of little virtues here that I appreciated – the location is very nice, and the acting is strong, for example! And it’s dandy to see veterans like Teresa Wright from Shadow of a Doubt, who plays Elise’s latter day companion, Miss Robert, and Bill Erwin from Jet Pilot and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, who is the elderly bellboy Arthur!

And I do like a time travel story! This one suggests a looping and rhyming time structure, especially once we realize that the photo which initially entranced Collier is the same one we see being taken in a later scene, and that her smile in the photograph was her genuine reaction to catching sight of him coming into the room, so the smile was indeed and directly meant for Collier, which is what entranced him about the photo and led him to do his time travel in the first place! Phew, ha ha!

There’s something very 1980 about the picture, and it fits in, or at least alongside, the other movies of the era that fascinated me as a youngster by the insights into the adult condition which I believed they provided! (I’ve spoken about this elsewhere regarding pictures like The Last Married Couple in America, Six Weeks and It’s My Turn!) As a time travel picture it slots more into the dreamy, was-it-even-real tradition of Midnight in Paris than it does the nuts and bolts approach of, say, The Terminator, but I say there’s room enough for all of them! I can’t say I’ve ever fallen under this film’s spell, but I’ll acknowledge that the spell is real, and that weaving a spell for anyone regardless of their predispositions, is a genuine achievement, and so I give Somewhere in Time two old suits!

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Burl reviews Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds! (1977)


Screech screech and aiyeeee it’s Burl, here with Japanese monster action! Ha ha, when I was a kid I had several issues of a magazine called Hammer’s House of Horror, and one of them contained a piece on a movie called Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds! The article was allegedly a review, but the author obviously hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t try to hide that fact; but the write-up, which described centipedes acting up and eels appearing in people’s beds, along with the accompanying photos of dinosaurs and monster birds, made it look like a must-see!

Now all these years later, thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with this (in my mind) legendary movie! Now, first off, the title: despite the plurals, the movie contains just one dinosaur and one monster bird! (I guess you could say it’s the titular legend speaking of multiple creatures rather than being a promise of the title itself, but I still say the plural is a bit of pocus!) Secondly, there were no centipedes or eels to be found, unless I nodded off for a minute and missed them! And, I’m sorry to say, nodding off during this picture is a definite risk!

The story is set at one of the lakes which surround Mount Fuji, and I really liked that specificity because I didn’t previously know much about this region! Dinosaurs and monster birds aside, it looks quite pleasant! Nearby is that forest you’ve heard about where people go to kill themselves, and that gets a mention in the movie too – a skeleton discovered there is dismissed as just another suicide, rather than being recognized as the dinosaur and/or monster bird victim that it is!

We open with a woman – a would-be suicide, I think – wandering in the woods! She falls into a cave (there’s a terrific shot of her plummeting toward the camera), where she finds some eggs, and then an egg cracks open and she sees a goochy eye staring back at her! Then we meet the picture’s alleged hero, a geologist called Takashi, who’s described in the film’s IMdB synopsis as an “action scientist,” and ha ha, I guess that’s what he is! On the other hand, for most of the picture he seems almost as sleepy as the Russ Tamblyn character in War of the Gargantuas, a film I was strongly reminded of as I watched this monster bird movie!

The scientist sees the story of the woman who discovered the giant eggs on TV and instantly becomes obsessed first with finding the eggs and then, once he realizes the possibility, with seeing an actual living dinosaur, which was also a pet project of his late father's! Once at the lake, Takashi hooks up with an old flame, Akiko, who is an underwater photographer! More stuff happens, not much of it having to do with either dinosaurs or monster birds though, and finally the picture borrows a scene whole from Jaws (a major inspiration on the first half of this movie) when two wiseacres panic people with a fake fin in the lake! The stunt cruelly interrupts a country music concert held on a floating barge, but thankfully the two pranksters are first swirled in the water like the turds they are, then chomped! A third fellow witnesses this, but, in a heartrending scene, no one will believe him when he reports it!

The monster rumours extend far enough to bring a Scotsman, who tells everybody that, as a Scotsman, he knows it’s no picnic dealing with giant lake monsters! Akiko can certainly confirm this once her diving buddy is chomped in half by the dinosaur, but the gruesome tragedy doesn’t prevent her from taking a shower (providing the picture with that rarity in the kaiju genre: a nude scene!) and doing a cheesecake underwear scene which concludes with a cutaway shot of a doll in diving gear with pink troll doll hair!

When the monster bird finally shows up, it’s almost worth the wait! He grabs people with his talons and then drops them like a jerk; he buffets them with his wings and slaps them with his tail, then causes them all to blow up! Inevitably the two props battle it out, bumping into each other and making screeching noises! A volcanic eruption puts a stop to this rumbustification and provides a seemingly endless final scene in which the two leads are caught in a deadly situation, dangling from a log over a river of bubbling lava!

This absurdly overstretched sequence and its uncertain terminus are frustrating but apt for a movie that’s a frequent bore and a narratively unstructured mess, ha ha! Plus, the monster bird looks like a really ugly version of one of those dino-head grabber toys, and the dinosaur has a freakishly pliable neck! Other trick effects are actually pretty good though, and the slight nudity and slightly more frequent gore give the whole thing a grindhouse feel; also we get the occasional striking shot or moment, like that plummet in the cave! Too often it’s tedious though, and sure could have used more monster attacks, more people being eaten up like junior mints, better characters, a proper story, and a heavy dose of pep! If it comes down to a choice, stick with War of the Gargantuas, but if you do watch Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds you will be able to wring at least some enjoyment from it! I give this picture one and a half depth charges!

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Burl reviews Humongous! (1981)

Wauuugghhh, it’s Burl, here with late-summer maniac madness! Yes, it’s another Canadian slasher picture today, this one from the director of Prom Night, so he had previous experience in the form! Ha ha, I recall seeing a poster for this one back in my childhood and thinking it looked pretty darn scary, but of course I was too young to check it out back then! I’ve seen it several times since, though “see” may not be the right word, as the VHS release is so very dark that often you can hardly discern what’s going on! Anyway, the movie is none other than Humongous!

That bad tape transfer has given this movie a reputation as being unwatchably dim, but I suspect and hope there have been subsequent releases which correct this! But even on VHS, one can apprehend the basic story: in an opening scene, set on the Labour Day weekend of 1946, a lady is set upon by a drunken reveler outside a big island lodge house! He achieves his unsavoury object, but is soon set upon by hounds and torn to shreds, and the lady finishes the job with a big rock! 

Then we cut to the present day, which I gather is the Labour Day weekend of 1980, to find a clutch of young folk heading out for a weekend of cabin cruising! We have two brothers, one, Eric, played by David Wallace from Mortuary, and the other, Nick, essayed by John Wildman from Blackout! Eric is a boring bozo, while Nick is a full-on jerk with all manner of issues! Eric’s girlfriend Sandy, played by Janet Julian from Smokey Bites the Dust and Fear City, is a sensible lass (and our clear Final Girl), while Nick’s ladyfriend Donna, played by Joy Boushel from Pinball Summer, has trouble keeping her shirt on, ha ha! And rounding out the quintet is little sister Carla, a female glasses nerd played by Janit Baldwin from Phantom of the Paradise!

Well, after a day cruising around in the family yacht, the fog rolls in and the youths rescue a stranded hoser named Bert! Then of course Nick goes mentyl with sibling resentment and steers the watercraft into some rocks! Everybody jumps off, and we see a small model of the boat go up in flames and explode! By the next morning they’ve all washed up on Dog Island, Bert with his leg broken, Carla missing, and Nick feeling the painful shame of the lamebrain; and by the sound of those moans and groans in the woods it’s nearly time for them to meet Mr. Humongous!

Humongous is the result of the rape scene in the film’s prologue, and he’s played by Garry Robbins, the Canadian Giant himself, who would later play another malformed backwoods psycho in Wrong Turn! Now, Humongous usually gets classified as a slasher film – not least by me, ha ha – but Humongous himself doesn’t actually do any slashing: he kills mainly by bearhug! Nick is the first to go, a relief for the audience; and thereafter we are treated to a lot of dimly-lit searching around the island, the boathouse, and the big old lodge itself! Bert meanwhile is ministered to by Donna, who finds her wherewithal when she collects berries in her décolletage, and removes her shirt one last time to keep the shivering hoser warm; but soon enough Humongous shows up to stomp them!

The rest of the story unfolds pretty much as you might expect – more creeping through impenetrable darkness, and then even at the end, when the boathouse is on fire and the moaning and groaning of the Humongous reaches a crescendo, you still can’t really see what’s going on! Paul Lynch, the director (he also brought us Bullies, ha ha) favours canted angles and shots framed through broken panes of glass and so forth; but none of this helps things much! As far as the slasher taxonomy goes there are a few Special Makeup Effects here – a glimpse of Bert’s floating head, some bloody dogbites – but most of the carnage is lost in the gloom! Similarly, while the Humongous is meant to be monstrous in appearance, we have to take that on trust, ha ha! I couldn’t tell you what he looks like if you offered me one million doll-hairs!

So it all feels a bit of a cheat! If ever I find a better transfer and my impression of the movie is materially improved by the viewing of it, I’ll come back here to append an extra paragraph saying so, as though this review needs an extra paragraph, ha ha! The movie as it stands has its pleasures though: principally a Canadian-ness so intense it seems to have infected even the actors (Julian, Wallace, Baldwin) who were imported from America or thereaboots! The Humongous is not a one-note monster but a fairly sympathetic character whose death one doesn’t mourn precisely, but we don’t really celebrate it either! The ending is downbeat in the way familiar from many other such movies, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on down: the heroine has survived, but, we wonder, has her sanity? So it’s got some things going for it, but at the same time it’s sorely lacking in pep; the characters are mostly jerks, dimbulbs, or hackysacks; and the attempts at terror frequently fall flat! From my youthful sighting of the poster and many subsequent years of admiring its box on the video shelves, I will always have a fondness for the movie, but in the end that has little to do with the movie itself! I give Humongous one and a half plaid shirts!

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Burl reviews Roadhouse 66! (1984)


With a jolly “paarp, paarp” on my motorcar horn, it’s Burl, arriving in town to do you a new review! Ha ha, we all love stranger-in-a-small-town movies, don’t we? It’s a pretty reliable microgenre, and maybe not so micro either, as, once you’ve tossed in Westerns, samurai pictures, and action movies from the 80s, there must be hundreds, nay thousands of these things! It’s a very basic formula, therefore theoretically hard to mess up, but one thing you learn when you watch a lot of movies with a critical eye: anything can be messed up! Ha ha, I wonder if that’s the case with today’s movie, Roadhouse 66!

Ha ha, I’m not going to make a joke about this being the 65th sequel to Road House, because I expect that hoss’s been rode before! No, it’s the tale of a travelling fauntleroy called Beckman Hallsgood Jr., played by Judge Reinhold from Ruthless People and Gremlins in effete-nerd mode! Beckman is scion to a belly-bustin’ fast-food pork franchise and is driving his T-bird across the desert to scout locations or something, but as he approaches Kingsman, Arizona he’s set upon by the town goons, the result being his flivver disabled by gunfire! Luckily a wandering rockabilly who knows how to fix cars, played by Willem Dafoe from Streets of Fire and The Lighthouse, shows up to play it cool and help out Beckman in exchange for a ride into town! The rockabilly’s name, of course, is Johnny Harte, for how could it be otherwise!

Conveniently enough there are two beautiful sisters living in the town who are single and sell auto parts! Kaaren Lee from The Right Stuff and Remote Control is Jesse, the older sister with the incomprehensible past, and Kate Vernon from Pretty in Pink and Mob Story is Melissa, the younger and more impulsive one! But also in the town are the louts who shot up Beckman’s car: a fearsome triumvirate led by Hoot, a meatbones played by Alan Autry from Brewster’s Millions and House! His minions are a scabie little guy named Dink, played by Kevyn Major Howard from Full Metal Jacket and Alien Nation, and Moss, played by Peter Van Norden from The Best of Times, who looks like if Mike Starr had been removed from the oven twenty minutes early!

The whole middle act is an escalating campaign of harassment from Hoot and his boys directed at Beckman, who’s stuck in town until the ladies can order up a new radiator! Luckily Johnny Harte is around to help him out of trouble, and lucky too that they have a place to sleep in the junkyard owned by old drunken Sam, played by Stephen Elliott from Beverly Hills Cop; and later, of course, they take up with the two sisters: Johnny with Jesse, Beckman with Melissa! And that incomprehensible past of Jesse’s that I mentioned? Well it turns out she used to be married to Hoot, a thoroughgoing jerk with a drywall personality and the physique of Cousin Eddie from Vacation! Who’d have thunk it! But things come to a sticky wicket when Hoot and co. start a vengeance fire that turns fatal for one of the characters!

Meanwhile I know you’re asking “Ha ha, what about this roadhouse we’ve been promised by the title!” Well some of the action, including a fight between the two heroes and the gang, does take place there, but it’s not as central to the plot as you might assume! Erica Yohn, who was Madame Ruby in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Selma in Amazon Women on the Moon, is the roadhouse proprietor, Thelma, who observes the goings-on with wry detachment, but is there for our heroes when needed! And the roadhouse itself is a pretty bland place, free of any atmosphere or style!

The climax of the picture, once we finally get there, is one of the least exciting car races ever filmed! It starts out promisingly when Hoot sticks a scorpion in Beckman’s car, but from there it’s mostly a series of static shots of cars rolling by at moderate speeds! Ha ha, at least that gives us a good look at the nice autos – a T-bird, a Chevy, a wonderful ’66 Mustang! I won’t tell you how it ends up, but we never really find out what happens to Hoot – who, after all, is an arsonist and a murderer as well as being a scorpion-dropping jerk!

I’ll wrap it all up by saying this: Roadhouse 66 is a pretty unmemorable and unexciting small-town meller, but if you like Dafoe and Reinhold and always wondered what it would be like if they teamed up, you may wring some enjoyment from it! But I myself had never wondered that, so I didn’t get a whole lot from the picture! I liked the cars though, and the small desert-town location! I’m going to give Roadhouse 66 one new radiator!

Saturday 19 August 2023

Burl reviews Star Crystal! (1985)


Beep boop and by Gar, it’s Burl, here to review low-budget space-based VHS insanity! You know, there was no shortage of Alien rip-off pictures in the wake of that 1979 superhit, and following the grand success of E.T. a few years later there were more than several small-scale coattail riders on that one too! But there was at least one picture to manfully attempt to rip off both hits at once, and the result is just as bifurcated a narrative as you might expect! Ha ha, the movie, for reasons of its own which it keeps to itself, is called Star Crystal!

We begin on a surprisingly convincing Mars, where a pair of louts find a rock – I suppose this may be the titular crystal, but it doesn't much look like one – which they bring onto their ship! Next thing you know the rock has hatched and everyone on the ship is dead because the oxygen got turned off by somebody! The action then relocates to a space station that looks like it was, and according to an article I read about the movie in Cinefantastique magazine, actually was, constructed out of painted water bottles! Then something goes wrong and the space station blows up, and the space ship that escapes has the creature that hatched out of the rock on board!

Well, you know the drill! The crew, an uncommonly stupid and unlikeable bunch, are one by one attacked by the creature and turned into puddles of goo! And then, when there are only two of them left, the alien taps into the ship’s computer and reads all the information therein, which includes the Bible! Yes, ha ha, Holy Bible! This of course has the effect of radically changing his personality, and before you know it, the alien, whose name is Gar, is best buddies with the remaining spacefarers, even after brutally murdering all their friends! Proof of this friendship comes in a hilarious montage during which, as they work on repairing their failed systems, Gar does shenanigans like using his telekinesis to spin a wrench around in mid-air as everybody laughs! And shortly after this jaw-dropping turn of events, the picture comes to an end - an end I will characterize as "unceremonious!"   

Some really head-scratching decisions were made in the production design of this picture, ha ha! The number of sets is pretty minimal, with most of the action taking place in a single room, like a play; but to enter or leave the room the crew must use dog doors for some reason, and then they have to crawl like hens through seemingly kilometres-long tubes to get from one part of the ship to another, as though the craft had been designed by hamsters! No character mentions the absurd inconvenience of this; and one hopes the cast were issued knee pads, since collectively they must crawl a marathon’s worth of distance in those dumb tubes!

The picture reaches some sort of nadir when, after a fatal encounter in the crawl tubes leaves him with his skin melted away, the film’s lone black character turns out to have a black skeleton too! Ha ha, it’s ridiculous! So is the creature, which looks like somebody sculpted a sad-eyed E.T. out of wax and then took a blowtorch to it, and which is shown only in grotesque close-ups for most of the film – his twitchy eyeball or his undulating flesh or his goofy Beaker-like mouth! Ha ha, don't let that image on the poster fool you - it may be Gar's meaner cousin or something, but by garr, it sure isn't Gar! (There are no floating glass coffins either!)

I was really hoping for something approaching those Roger Corman Alien rip-offs of the early 1980s, like Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror - pictures that may not be good, but show energy and imagination in their mad quest to purloin! No dice with Star Crystal though! My son, a wise old cynic at age 11, declared this the worst movie he’s ever seen and likely ever will see! He maintained that opinion even after we recently watched The Creeping Terror, so you can be certain the ineptitude on display in Star Crystal really made an impact on his young mind, and I guess maybe that’s an achievement in itself! Ha ha! I give Star Crystal one futuristic sippy-bottle of Coke!

Friday 18 August 2023

Burl reviews Hog Wild! (1980)


Like open pipes at midnight, it’s Burl crying vroom vroom vroom! Ha ha, remember the Quebec-shot comedy I watched about the bunch of jerks and their girlfriends who play a lot of pinball and get into an escalating prank war with a motorcycle gang? You’ll probably say “Sure Burl, ha ha, that one was called Pinball Summer!” Well, you’d not be wrong, but that description also snugly fits a picture known as Hog Wild!

It seems a military cadet called Tim, played by an apple-cheeked Michael Biehn from Aliens and The Abyss, gets himself deliberately tossed out so he can go to a regular high school! On his arrival at the new alma mater, he finds the place run by a half-goofy, half-dangerous motorcycle gang called the Rustlers, who are very much in the mode of the Pinball Summer organization, or the Nazi dunderheads from Any Which Way You Can!

The leader of the gang is Bull, played by Tony Rosato from SCTV and The Silent Partner! (Of course he was also in a lot of those bad, weird, middlebrow Canadian comedydramas, like Nothing Personal, Utilities and Improper Channels!) Much like Bobcat Goldthwait’s incoherent screaming character from movies like One Crazy Summer, Bull is unable to speak like a normal person, so his mumblings are interpreted by his loyal factotum Ben, who is well played by Angelo Rizacos from Nightstick! Rizacos does it as well as he possibly can, but this translation routine gets tired well before the picture's end!

And Bull’s lady Angie is played by Bilitis herself, Patti D’Arbanville from Time After Time! When he lays eyebones on her Tim develops an instant crush, and this puts him at odds with Bull and the gang and thus begins the escalating and destructive prank war, which targets not just Tim but his little Archie Comics-like group of pals! Ha ha, at one point the Rustlers somehow manage to hoist Tim’s car up the school flagpole! One of them also cruelly crushes and eats a pet tarantula beloved by one of Tim’s friends, whose response to this outrage is surprisingly sanguine! Of course it all culminates in a race, as is almost always the case with these pictures, and in the last few seconds, as Bull watches his ex-ladyfriend stroll off with the victorious Tim, the movie attempts to engender some sympathy and even a little respect for the mush-mouthed hooligan!

The picture is jam-packed with familiar Canadian faces who also turned up in the contemporaneous Meatballs, like Matt Craven, whom we also know from Till Death Do Us Part and Happy Birthday To Me, playing a claw-handed biker called Chrome; Jack Blum, playing, as he so often did, a glasses nerd; and Keith Knight, who was also in My Bloody Valentine and here plays a portly imbecile named Vern who desperately wants to be a Rustler! There’s also Michael Zelniker, whose presence reinforces the many connections between this picture and Pinball Summer! Karen Stephen and Helene Udy, the girlfriends in Pinball Summer, are in here too, playing smaller background roles!

John Rutter, who was in Between Friends and played the laughing cop in Black Christmas, is also a cop here, but not in this case a laughing one because, ha ha, he’s impotent! Bronwen Mantel from City on Fire plays his frustrated wife, while Sean McCann from Starship Invasions and Tulips is Tim’s military-loving father, who likes to unexpectedly smash his son across the back with a pool cue, just to keep the lad on his toes!

It’s a pre-Porky’s picture, meaning that despite its oinker-themed title, Hog Wild’s antics are mostly free of the leering sexual aspect the teen shenanigan films developed after the runaway success of the Bob Clark pig picture! That gives it a bit of novelty; and, too, you can detect thematic and stylistic holdovers from an earlier era of Canadian youth movies: pictures like Rip-Off and Homer! All of this has Hog Wild sitting awkwardly athwart several genres and eras, riding sidesaddle as it were, ha ha, and so it never really gels as a fun or uproarious movie experience! And smushing that tarantula? That was uncalled for! I give Hog Wild one and a half slams across the back with a pool cue!