Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Sunday 30 April 2023

Burl reviews Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would! (1994)


 

Bumpkins rejoice: it’s Burl, here to review the animal show! Ha ha, cast your mind back to the year 1994, when a garrulous young pig took the culture by storm, capturing hearts and spraying bacon world-wide! That young pig’s name was Babe, and he has nothing to do with the movie under review today, except that he utterly crushed it and left it flattened and forgotten on the pop culture highway like an old piece of jerky! The name of that misbegotten pig picture? Well it’s Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would!

Ha ha, and you won’t believe it, but I actually saw this porkshow in a movie theatre! I was a semi-professional reviewer back then, and I guess I attended the free preview screening – certainly, ha ha, I didn’t pay for the privilege! I didn’t care for the movie then, but when chance and galactic happenstance recently put a VHS copy in my hands, I thought I’d give it another oink!

To the picture’s credit, it gets off and trotting from the get-go, quite literally! Gordy is a pig who lives in the barnyard of a foreclosed farm with his mother, father, and five piggy siblings! Rough men arrive from the meat packers’ and haul away the dad, and as Gordy is galloping behind the truck carrying his porcine pater, back at the farm the rest of the family is scooped up too, and all of them are taken Up North, the terrifying direction from which no oinkers return! Gordy is left on his own, trotting up the highway in a desperate search for his family!

He soon meets a family country music band who travel the highways and byways in an attractive RV, and briefly, and hearteningly, the movie turns into an RV picture, which you know is something ol’ Burl likes! Ha ha, from Race with the Devil to Paul, the genre is filled with gems, though the movie RV is an exception to the rule! The dad in the band is played by Doug Stone, evidently an established country music star, but I didn’t know him from Joe Bopkins; the tween daughter, meanwhile, a junior-league Lee Ann Rimes, sings about pulling hangnails and checking out your own butt while people line dance before her! Ha ha, line dancing! There seems no terpsichorean form more determined to bleed the fun and spontaneity out of dancing!

But soon Gordy is on his own again, and he hooks up with Hanky, the young scion of a junk food company whom Gordy saves from drowning! This somehow makes him famous, and the next thing you know there’s tedious corporate intrigues, and the daughter of the old man who runs the company – mother to Gordy’s new young friend Hanky – has a boring stuffed shirt for a boyfriend, who works at the junk food company and is trying to win the old man’s heart! But of course when the old man dances off his mortal coil, it’s Hanky who owns the company, along with Gordy! They turn it from a junk food company into a health food company, and inexplicably this causes the company to skyrocket in value! From there– well, let’s just say that none of the subsequent plotting will surprise you very much, but I was glad when the RV and the family band reappeared!

It’s not a movie overburdened by movie star power, ha ha, but there are a few familiar faces and/or voices! The family band’s manager, Cousin Jake, is played by Tom Lester from many a hayseed comedy, and one of the antagonist boyfriend's hired thugs is essayed by Afemo Omilami from Trading Places and The Money Pit! The picture also employs the voice talents of Hamilton Camp from No Small Affair and Earl Boen from The Man With Two Brains, and of course those of the everywhereman Frank Welker, whose golden throat adorns Gremlins and Explorers and so many, many more! And of course there’s a cameo appearance by the young people’s favourite, Louis Rukeyser!

The climax takes place in Branson Missoura, and involves the country-fried talents of Roy Clark from Matilda (the kangaroo one, naturally, not the Roald Dahl one); Jim Stafford of Bloodsuckers From Outer Space fame, and also for singing “Spiders and Snakes;” Mickey Gilley from Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws; and of course Boxcar Willie, decked out in full railriding hobo-face, but with a gee-tar in hand instead of a bindle! Then there’s some fisticuffs between the family band dad and the weasel-faced boyfriend, lots of face-pulling from Cousin Jake, and then the final race to save Gordy’s family, intercut with nightmarish shots of butchers sharpening their knives!

Don’t worry, it all ends up fine, with the last moments of the movie making it seem like the origin story of one of those rural sitcoms of the 60s, most particularly Green Acres! As for the movie itself, everybody in it seems just a little bit off-brand! The grandpa seems like he should be played by Will Geer from Moving Violation or Richard Farnsworth from Into the Night, although the old boy they got is perfectly adequate in the part! Cousin Jake is the sort you can see Jim Varney from Ernest Goes to Camp or Lou Perryman from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 playing, though again, the varmint they cast instead is quite serviceable! And then there’s Gordy himself! He’s cute enough and all, but, as in Francis, a voice is overdubbed as the animal opens and closes its mouth rapidly, as though someone has shoved peanut butter in there, or maybe iron filings!

I haven’t said much about the quality of the movie, but I guess I have to admit that the script and dialogue are a little hamfisted, and the filmmaking itself is of pork wality! Scenes sometimes go on a little bit when there should be cold cuts instead, though I will say that the pacing in general is not bad, and I never sausage a thing as that climactic country music concert! Ha ha, I guess they couldn’t afford Johnny or Waylon or Willie or Kris! And then there’s the star of the show: well, Gordy is not as annoying a character as he might be, but I’m here to tell you he’s not charming either! I give Gordy: The Little Pig Who Would one congratulatory phone call from President Bill Clinton!

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Burl reviews Killer Party! (1986)


Feeling somewhat the April fool, it’s Burl, here to review a horror picture that initially was called April Fool’s Day, but when that other April Fool’s Day came out, the non-slasher slasher picture which I remember the Three Dog Night version of Mama Told Me Not to Come was used prominently in the TV ads for, the title was changed to Killer Party!

The sentence above is a bit tangled and convoluted and difficult to decipher, I realize, but those are entirely apposite qualities for a review of this particular picture! It opens with a funeral scene, an EC comic story in miniature with a hateful relative and a vengeful corpse! But no, this proves to be a movie-within-the-movie being watched by a young couple at a drive-in, and when the young woman goes for popcorn, supernatural shenanigans occur and then a hair-metal band begins to play! We see now, thanks to a chyron, that this is a music video by a band called White Sister, and it’s being watched on TV by a loafing co-ed!

Finally the story proper can start, for the co-ed is one of three who serve more or less as our main characters! There’s Phoebe, played by Elaine Wilkes from Sixteen Candles, and Vivia, essayed by Sherry Willis-Burch from Final Exam, and there’s another one too, and of course they are for some incomprehensible reason trying to join a sorority house run by your basic bitchy sorority queen type! There is a lot of talk about goats, and a lot of goat noises, and everyone has to eat goat eyeballs of course! Pranks are pulled, including one involving a jar of bees and some ladies in a hot tub, and that seems to have no connection with anything except to continue the general atmosphere of prankishness!

In fact nothing seems to have anything to do with anything else, or not much at least! This disjunctive story was written by Barney Cohen, from whose quill also flowed Friday the 13th part 4, and I think the established backstory and structure of the Jason pictures is what this particular scenarist requires in order to turn in a shootable story! The picture was directed by William Fruet, who brought us Spasms and Funeral Home, and usually (Spasms excepted of course), his movies are a lot tighter and more sensical than this!

Lots of other characters show up, but it’s often difficult to discern their narrative function! There’s a smoothtone called Blake played by Martin Hewitt from Alien Predators; a goony weirdo called Martin, played by Ralph Seymour from Ghoulies and Fletch; and an uptight English instructor named Professor Zito, played by the always-welcome Paul Bartel of Piranha and Chopping Mall and Rock n’ Roll High School! All these performances are perfectly adequate, but I for one missed the gallery of 80s Canadian actors who usually show up in these things – still, ha ha, we do easily recognize it as a Canadian film by the snowflakes that are often swirling past the camera lens!

The collegiate shenanigans take up more than an hour of screen time, and I think the beginning of the movie is meant to take place in the fall while the last part tries to justify the original title by occurring in the spring! This time jump, which many will miss, only adds to the dislocated feeling of the movie! But it seems there’s an old frat house where a frat brother was killed in, I want to say, a hazing incident? The sisters wish to hold a spring prank party in the manse, but the ghost of the frat boy, unable to abide anyone associated with the Greek letter clubs, possesses one of the ladies and there follows a series of bloodless slasher-style killings!

The picture was shot by John Lindley, a cinematographer who would go on to lens bigger-budget items like The Serpent and the Rainbow, Field of Dreams, Sneakers, Pleasantville and The Core, so Killer Party looks a little better than many such movies do! That only means that we get a better-lit look at impenetrable goings-on, however, so it’s not a great help! Also, whatever gore the movie had in its first condition – I remember shots in Fangoria of a trident-poked lady and a fellow with a chopped-off hand – has been ruthlessly excised as though by the killer frat boy ghost himself!

I’ll give it this, though: for a movie shot in 1984, it looks awfully 1986! Is that a compliment? I mean it as such – being a year or two ahead of your time counts as an accomplishment, I think! And though almost all of the scare scenes in the last act are poorly staged and free of affrights, there is one good shock moment in the last bit of it, concerning the surprise appearance of the possessed girl on a roof! The very end has some impact too, though it borrows that from Twilight Zone: The Movie! Otherwise it’s all pretty dire: poorly done, scattered, incoherent, sometimes boring, often stupid!

Some folk like it though, and I want to acknowledge them! Me, I can’t find much in it to love, ha ha, and with its pathetic shenanigan-to-carnage ratio it reminded me of Cheerleader Camp: an unforgivable crime! There’s also a theme song that will tend to make your ears bleed! But I liked Vivia, or was it Phoebe, and how she was half sexy goodtime girl, half glasses nerd! I guess I’ll give Killer Party one and a half guillotines, which I’d say is a pretty generous rating, but hey, it’s spring!

Monday 10 April 2023

Burl reviews Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves! (2023)

 


With a rousing jig and a hoy-te-toy and a merry, merry click of the heels, it’s Burl, here with a review of the latest in theatre hits! At least I assume it’s a hit – ha ha, I don’t keep track of the box office figures, so for all I know it might be a big old flopparoo! But the people in the theatre seemed to like it, so I’m going to guess it’s doing well! Incredibly enough it’s not a sequel, but it is an adaptation of a recognized intellectual property and I guess that’s what counts for daring originality in today’s marketplace! Of course I’m talking about Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves!

Chris Pine from Star Trek Into Darkness plays the role of the roguish, not too bright, charming-scamp hero, Edgin or Ederin or something; but like the other characters do, we’ll just call him Ed! He’s in a jail with his barbarian-lady chum, and they live in a land more fantastical than, say, the world of Ladyhawke, but maybe not quite so much as The Lord of the Rings! Michelle Rodriguez from Machete is the tough gal-pal, who pines not for Pine, but for a three-footer who dwells in a glen in the forest! They escape their prison by means of a birdman even though they were about to get paroled, and immediately begin a series of enfiladed quests with their buddies!

And who are these buddies? Well, there’s a young wizard without, yet, the self-confidence required to master his trade, and a druid lady played by Beverly from It! They also meet a supernaturally benevolent paladin who joins them for a couple of the interior sub-quests and is a big help when it comes time to battle a porky dragon! The antagonist is none other than Hugh Grant from The Lair of the White Worm, a scoundrel of a rapscallion of a nogoodnik, formerly a chum himself, who betrays our heroes and becomes a rich mayor or something, claiming Ed’s daughter as his own, dwelling in a castle, and employing an evil witch to help with his schemes!

I didn’t expect much from this one, I have to say! I was never a D&D player, though I sat in on a game once! My son is playing it every Sunday with some pals though, and I took him and one of the chums to see it at the theatre, where the exhibitors occasionally busted out some old-style showmanship by projecting extra edges to the frame along the side walls! The effect was surprisingly un-annoying and even a little bit immersive! Anyway, I thought I was just being a decent dad by taking some kids to a movie, but darned if I didn’t enjoy myself thoroughly!

It’s no Conan the Barbarian, but it’s got some laffs along with the usual not-quite-Peter-Jackson level fantasy action scenes! Hugh Grant, whose stammery smarm was always ready and able to be put in the service of evil, gives good value here, and Pine, playing a hero halfway between Han Solo and Jack Burton, does exactly what the picture needs him to do with unshaven aplomb! It’s all nonsense of course, and nonsense with an airy, arbitrary feeling to it; and the story and structure sure could have been a lot stronger; and I for one would have liked more of the grotesque creatures - sucking worms and so forth - that I remember from the monster manuals; but it hits some emotional beats with surprising solidity and integrates the comedy with the fantasy in fine fashion!

Even though it’s machine-tooled to be the first of a series (which they’d better hurry up on before Pine ages out of his scalawag years), it’s nevertheless still at this moment a standalone film and not a sequel, remake, reboot, or requindle; and although it’s derived from an age-old and highly recognizable IP, it’s not one with which I was overly familiar; and the effect of all this on me, and of attending with a pair of 11 year-olds, was the feeling of an old-fashioned 80s-era outing to the movies, which feeling probably brought me more pleasure than the movie itself! But the film is amusing too, and so in spite of its cumbersome title, I’m going to give Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves two and a half gelatinous cubes!

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Burl reviews Vampires! (1998)


 

Bluh bluh and again bluh, it’s Burl, here to review vampire antics gone southwestern! It’s a picture from what can only be considered John Carpenter’s declining years as a director (though not as a composer of course!), by which point he had only a picture or two left in him, and one of them was The Ward! Ha ha! But this one has still some Carpenterian touches, and if you ask me he never made an unwatchable picture! The movie I’m talking about here is Vampires!

It’s based on a novel, which I suppose accounts for the rich backstory that is implied and/or spelled out as the picture goes along! We open with a Vatican-funded vampire-killing team run by Jack Crow, played in very James Woods fashion by none other than James Woods from Videodrome! This well-equipped posse includes second-in-command Montoya, essayed by Daniel Baldwin from Nothing But Trouble, and familiar faces like Mark Boone Junior from The Quick and the Dead and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from Big Trouble in Little China, and there’s also a ridealong priest played by Gregory Sierra from Pocket Money and The Towering Inferno!

Well, they clear out an old farmhouse full of vampires, but don’t find the leader of the bite 'ems: the master vampire! They hold a motel party anyway, and of course the master vampire, played by a tall drink of water named Thomas Ian Griffith, shows up and slaughters everybody! Well, everybody but Jack Crow, his buddy Montoya, and a hired evening-lady called Katrina, played by Sheryl Lee from Wild at Heart! Meanwhile a scarlet cardinal essayed by Maximillian Schell from St. Ives sits at home until the surprise at the end!

Montoya takes charge of Katrina and hotel-rooms her, while Jack Crow and a new ridealong priest, a young beard played by Tim Guinee (who encountered vampires again that same year in Blade), track the master vampire! The rest of the movie almost manages a Phantasm II vibe as they follow the fearsome hemogobbler across the country, evade his traps along the way, and finally confront him at the old mission as he’s about to enact his master-vampire plan! Much baring of fangs ensues, ha ha!

Well, I’ll admit it’s a far cry from the glory days of Carpenter – Halloween, say, or The Fog, or The Thing, or Prince of Darkness! But as I say, there are a few moments here and there which remind you this is indeed a movie from that singular Kentucky-born picturemaker – some characteristic framing, camera moves, Hawksian themes, and of course the score, which is much in the mode of his music from They Live! There’s some nice vampire gore and a performance by Woods that’s so hard boiled it seems demented, but, ha ha, that’s Woods for you!

On the frownier side, the picture has kind of a bad script! There are some bon mots, and Woods elevates it all quite a little bit, but there’s no getting around that this is a simplistic and unfulfilling narrative without much in the way of interior logic! The master vampire is fairly boring, too – he’s just a tall guy who glowers a lot! Much more energy should have been spent on every aspect of this guy: his dialogue, his look, his performance, his pep! He should be a memorable and frightening presence, but he’s just not! He seems more like a local longuebönes recruited for a vampire movie mostly because he’s tall!

There’s fun to be had with the movie, make no McSteak™, but potential-wise I think it leaves a lot of good stuff on the table! While I appreciate the unexpected destruction of the team from an unpredictable, Psycho-inspired narrative point of view, at the same time the movie never really recovers from their loss! The picture tries to make the friendship between Crow and Montoya the emotional centrepiece, but that doesn’t work terribly well, and certainly not well enough to revitalize the Hawksian energy of the opening reel! It’s not too scary and it's too often silly, but après tout it remains a John Carpenter movie! I recall going to see it with my dad back in the day, and it was the perfect sort of movie to see with him, so I have that extra affection for it too! I’m going to give Vampires two hardworking winches!

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Burl reviews John Wick: Chapter 4! (2023)

 

Ha ha and bang bang bang, it’s Burl, here to recount a tale of gunfire and mayhem! Yes, it’s the latest in the increasingly long line of action fables featuring the bearded Keanu Reeves, whom we recall so well from Bill & Ted Face the Music and other associated productions! It’s the John Wick pictures I’m talking about, of which I’ve seen all, but have only reviewed, I believe, John Wick: Chapter 2! This one is called John Wick: Chapter 4, which I figure they chose as a title because, ha ha, it’s the fourth chapter in the series!

Of course these crime pictures are set in a crazy copless world which seems essentially run by a big gangster conglomerate known as the High Table! Ha ha, the movies are so dedicated to this world that they often seem ridiculous, but at the same time the fealty to this criminal fantasyland is so complete as to be kind of admirable at the same time! And my belief – the belief that allows me to fully enjoy these movies, ha ha – is that the filmmakers know about and encourage that ridiculousness, while still endeavouring to make worthwhile action pictures!

I won’t bother relating the plot, as it’s both a continuation and repetition of what’s come before, to wit: John Wick, super-assassin widower and former dog owner, is trying to not be killed by the people who are after him, which is nearly everybody, and endeavouring to get out of this crime-world! (Is there an “out?” Ha ha, if so we never see it!) To accomplish this he must shoot and punchfight all sorts of people in order to satisfy the arcane rules of the people who run things! This time, for John, it ultimately means dueling a fop, but there are plenty of fights to have before that in this nearly three-hour tour!

Characters from previous Wick adventures are here, notably Wick’s pal Winston, played by Ian McShane from Too Scared To Scream, who here loses his beloved concierge and his hotel too! Laurence Fishburne from Fast Break and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 returns as the King of Lower Bumtown, but here his main activity seems to be providing Wick with bulletproof suits, guns, and the occasional boat ride! The new character everyone loves is a blind master called Caine, played by the Ip Man himself, Donnie Yen, known to Western audiences from movies like Rogue One! He’s an appealingly human and ambiguous presence, and his fighting is most impressive!

Other fresh faces include Clancy Brown from Buckaroo Banzai and Extreme Prejudice, who strides through the proceedings wearing a black hat and a big beard, his task evidently to see that the rules of the High Table are strictly followed! There’s a fellow with a dog and a gun but without a name, who will occasionally aim his rifle at John Wick but usually ends up shooting someone else! And then there’s Scott Adkins, who’s been actioning it up in all sorts of movies for some twenty years now, and who here wears balloon makeup and golden teeth in the role of a monstrous card sharp!

There are some fine action scenes, in particular the one up the stairs to Sacré Coeur! The roundelay at the Arc de Triomphe gets a lot of love, and I certainly enjoyed it, but there was a greenscreen weightlessness to it at times – it was all those bodies flying around after being hit by passing Citroëns, I suppose! And I quite enjoyed the long overhead scene in which John Wick blasts people with a shotgun that sets them on fire, ha ha! The last contest with the foppy clothes-horse Marquis, who stands as the picture’s principal villain, is okay, but maybe wasn’t quite the satisfaction I was looking for; but the last-act tribute to The Warriors was a mighty big help, boppers!

In sum, there’s plenty to enjoy here for the action enthusiast, and even the Ridiculous Action enthusiast! There’s a rake-gag aspect to some of this: you’ll lose count of how many times John Wick gets hit by a car, or falls down the stairs, or plummets a distance that would cripple a normal man! There’s a more general repetitiveness of tone as well as event through much of the picture: many times, for example, Wick will meet up with someone with whom he used to be friends, and they’ll refer to this bosom chumship in sober and reverent terms, but every time this happens it leaves you wondering just exactly what sort of friendships these were! Ha ha, did these guys go out for beers or socialize in any recognizable manner, or did they just run across each other in the course of their killing sprees and develop their friendships as a sort of parallel play between gunshots? It’s a conundrum, and it’s perplexities like this which keep you from fully engaging with the movies on a human level – ha ha, that’s is why Donnie Yen is such a breath of fresh air in this hermetic and cloistered environment! But you know, I took my son to see it and we had a fine old time at the picture house, and so I give John Wick: Chapter 4 three doorless cars!

Monday 3 April 2023

Burl reviews Cold Pursuit! (2019)


 

By krim-kram and by the flurries of winters past, it’s Burl, here to review yet another picture featuring an aging Liam Neeson carrying vengeance in his heart! He’s done this oh so many times before – look at movies like Next of Kin and Darkman and Taken 2, and there you’ll see that old familiar figure of Liam Neeson with vengeance reliably lodged in his heart! And the picture under discussion today is more of the same, and it’s called Cold Pursuit!

This is not just a vengeance picture but also belongs to that subset of movies which are remakes of movies made a year or two earlier by the same European director who made the original, and usually the remake is the filmmaker’s entrée into Hollywood studio picturemaking! Think of The Vanishing, (and, ha ha, then forget it – the remake, anyway), or Funny Games! Cold Pursuit is a remake of the Danish-Norwegian comedeo-vengeance film In Order of Disappearance, which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen! And like all these remakes, bar, I think, none, the original is the better one!

Old Liam plays Nels, which seems like, but isn’t, an anagram for “Liam!” Nels is a solid citizen in a little Colorado mountain town: he’s the man who keeps the roads clear with his big shed full of plowing equipment, and for this he’s being recognized as Local Man of the Year, for which his wife, Laura Dern from Blue Velvet, is proud! But then we see how their son, played by Neeson’s real-life son I believe, has, through his airport baggage job and the shabby offices of a disreputable pal, become mixed up with a drugs gang, and thanks to a misunderstanding, is kidnapped and given a fatal overdose by the gang!

Neeson and Dern each react to this in their own way: Dern takes off for parts unknown and is never seen again, while Neeson becomes vengeance-crazed, turning to his retired-gangster brother, played by William Forsythe from Smokey Bites the Dust and Extreme Prejudice, for information and advice! The tone turns blackly comic as Neeson kills his way up the Denver crime hierarchy, and with each new notch on the belt comes an intertitle memorializing the dead party and listing his gangster nickname! Ha ha, this is a bit on the cutesy side – I recall it working better in the original, where the humour was allowed to be as dry as it needed to be and the little titles didn’t stand out as much as they do in this more studio-tooled, focus-grouped remake!

The nicknames are another running gag, with a puzzled Neeson quizzing his brother about them! But, like the obituary intertitles, this aspect seems nothing more than ornamentation added later to purfle the border of an otherwise ordinary crime thriller! Ha ha, but there are a few details which seem a bit more organically integrated, like the rival gang of Indigenous mobsters! And there’s a subplot involving the son of the main bad guy, a boy-faced mob boss called The Viking, who lacks any evident Viking qualities beyond a general ruthlessness; this subplot has a mild wackiness to it, and lends the picture a bit of dualism which, for the movie’s running time at least, serves as an acceptable substitute for complexity!

The revenge part works well enough, familiar as it is, though I was disappointed that Nels didn’t use his snowplow more! It figures into the last act a little bit, but not enough to make this picture anything more than a mildly eccentric and otherwise unmemorable crime picture, more notable for casting a shadow over the original foreign iteration than for any qualities of its own! Neeson does this stuff with an appealing stolidity, but he could pull that off in his sleep, and in several scenes seems to be doing so here! I say stick with the original version, or maybe Fargo, which did snowbound crime eccentricity better than any other picture I can think of; but I’ll give Cold Pursuit two Fruity Pebbles anyway!