Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 30 June 2023

Burl reviews City in Panic! (1987)


 

Ha ha, speak up everybody, you’re on the air - it’s Burl here to review a fairly obscure little Canadian mystery-slasher picture! It’s one of those grimy, vaguely giallo-inspired movies that came along regularly through the early and mid-80s – pictures like American Nightmare and Evil Judgment are close cousins, it seems to me! The movie we’re talking about today goes by several titles – among them, reportedly, The AIDS Murders – but I’m going to refer to it by the name on the VHS tape I watched: City in Panic!

The city in question is Toronto, and though they don’t name it, it’s pretty identifiable! Ha ha, there are plenty of recognizable cityscape shots, and the piles of dirty snow seen everywhere identify the climate and the season for us as well! It looks like it was a cold shoot - ha ha, as someone who has worked on movies in Toronto in the wintertime, I had real sympathy for the cast of this picture, and even more for the crew!

The panic has already begun as the story begins: enough people, maybe two or three, have been murdered for the police and the public to realize it’s a serial maniac! Because the victims are mainly gay men, the action starts outside the Oak Leaf Steam Baths on Bathurst Street, which I cheered when I saw because, even though I never went to the steam baths, they were in the same building as Mimi’s, a great restaurant at which I used to frequently eat my breakfast! Ha ha, they made a terrific French toast! Mimi’s was a marvelous place, always full of famous, semi-famous, and non-famous musicians, and Mimi herself was a real character!

Anyway, the man comes out of the steam baths looking chagrined and heads home for a shower! The killer is on his tail, and what follows is the most slavish recreation of the Psycho shower scene outside of Gus Van Sant’s weird 1998 remake! Then we’re introduced to the competent but unremarkable actors who will essay our main characters: firstly Dave Miller, impersonated by David Anderson, an anodyne talk radio host who plays with toys as he broadcasts and whose catch phrase is “Speak up, you’re on the air!” The topic du jour on Dave’s radio show is of course the murders, and his position on the matter is tough to define, but it’s apparently at odds with that of the town’s other media giant, a Truman Capote-ish columnist called Alex Ramsey!

Although these two constantly reiterate their respective opinions on the killings and on the approach the police are taking to solve the crimes, I was never quite sure what those positions were! As near as I can tell, Dave is asking the public for patience, opining that the cops have a tough job so let them do it; while Alex Ramsey just wants someone to declare martial law and do whatever they have to do to get this murderous scoundrel off the streets! Meanwhile we meet other characters: Dave’s radio producer Louise, played by Bonnie Beck from Wild Thing; Ramsay’s assistant (and, I think, Dave’s ex?) Elizabeth Price, played by Leeann Nestegard; and Dave’s best friend, who’s also the detective on the case, Barry McKee! We also get to know Barry’s partner, who is the world’s angriest cop!

But the killer seems unstoppable! Kitted out in giallo-wear (black hat, cloak, gloves and glasses), the fiend takes out He-Man, a ponky male stripper who prances about to the screams of the ladies! Ha ha, even the cops, even his best friend, even He-Man’s own physician refers to him only as He-Man! And there’s more! Every so often the killer will roll up in a sweet boogie van right out of Prom Night and put the knife to, oh, let’s say a fellow hanging upside down in the gym, or else a security guard who takes advantage of a glory hole and by garr pays the price! Arghhh, ha ha! A letter M is always carved into the victims, and later on a poster for Fritz Lang’s M provides an important if belated clue to Detective Barry McKee!

I guess I shouldn’t give away the killer or the motive, but despite the fact that the victims are almost all gay men and are afflicted with AIDS (which, in keeping with the mid-80s provenance of the picture, it assumes is an automatic death sentence for anyone who’s got it), it’s not a simple case of murderous homophobia! I suppose the movie is pretty progressive for its day, in that none of the gay folk are simple caricatures; but it’s nevertheless very much of its day, so keep that in mind and be warned if you’re thinking of watching it!

I can’t say the solution to the mystery surprised me, and, ha ha, I’m pretty easily surprised! Also, the movie is simply not terribly well made, even if it could have been worse! Some of the acting is not bad, and some of it is; and it’s not a movie with much of a sense of humour – by the end, I must say, it gets pretty grim! But then suddenly, with a bonk on the head, it’s all done, and the only thing left is to wait for the AIDS to inevitably claim any still-living infected characters, as far as the movie's medical understanding goes! As movies go it’s a bit unusual and it’s a bit Toronto, and those are its main virtues, so I’ll give City in Panic one set of gravity boots!

Thursday 29 June 2023

Burl reviews Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3! (2023)



Ha ha and pieww-pieww, it’s Burl here with space action-comedy for you! Yes, it’s the summer blockbuster season, and the big shows are being rolled out weekend by weekend; and, seeing as how my son and I recently watched the first two entries in the Guardians of the Galaxy series of pictures, which come from the director of Super, James Gunn, we thought we might go out to catch the third in the series! The official title of this third entry seems to be Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3!

I will here and now confess that I’m no great adherent to the Marvel superhero pictures, which I mostly find cacophonous and bewildering! Well, they’re not that bewildering – I’m not an idiot after all, ha ha – but when watching one I’m always conscious there’s a whole mess of back story and relationship dynamics of which I’m cheerfully unaware, and knowing this tends to dull my enjoyment of their product! But of all the various series, the Guardians of the Galaxy ones have been among the most amusing, both because they seem to sit apart from the Avengers and all those associated heroes, and because there is for the most part a refreshing lack of reverence for the interwoven Marvel universe as a whole!

The Guardians of the Galaxy are of course a motley band of space people who live in a lumpus called Knowhere, are led by a ragamuffin called Quill, played by Chris Pratt from Jurassic World, and occasionally cruise around in their spacecraft doing missions! Ostensibly they’re flying around out there to battle evil, but most of their time seems spent on investigating their own origins and past traumas, as though the whole hero caper is really just some good old fashioned recovered-memory therapy! The first one dramatizes the origins of the group, but takes time to investigate how the battling sisters Gamora (who is green and played by Zoe Saldana from Star Trek Into Darkness) and Nebula (a mostly-blue patchwork essayed by Karen Gillan from Oculus) came to be what they are, which has something to do with their father, a rock monster! Then the second one showed that Quill’s father was secretly a space god played by Kurt Russell!

This time it’s the raccoon man’s turn to look back on his life! The character of Rocket is an irascible procyon with the voice of Bradley Cooper, and at the beginning of the picture a golden boy flies in and tries to kidnap him! After a fearsome battle the golden boy is driven off, but poor Rocket hovers on the edge of death! It turns out the only way to save him is for his pals to bust in to the scientific facility that created the raccoon: a place run by Chukwudi Iwuji from John Wick: Chapter 2 playing “The High Evolutionary,” who’s a maniac with pretensions to godhood! This is our bad guy, and the rest of the movie bounces between the Guardians’ efforts to find the information that can save him, and Rocket’s comatose recollections of his childhood, in which he was caged with three other similarly mutilated weirdo child-animal friends!

It's as melancholy a picture as Marvel will allow, meditating (ha ha, again, as much as Marvel will allow) on loss and survivor’s guilt; and it’s also got a strong anti-vivisectionist message! These things are over and again subsumed by the pieww-pieww, but you can tell Gunn means what he says because there’s significantly less joking around than in the previous installments, and a lot more talking about feelings! There’s a scene that takes place in what I took to be heaven’s antechamber that, for a conversation between two non-human CGI confabulations, is really quite touching! And eventually everyone cries, even the raccoon!

It’s a long, busy picture – ha ha, the Marvel extravaganzas all seem to be in running time and character-number competition with one another – but fairly straightforward when you break it all down! The High Evolutionary is a mean man but gets what’s coming to him, and I could never decide whether Iwuji’s performance was a minor triumph or a silly hamfest – ha ha, or maybe it was both! I liked it, though! Otherwise except for the occasionally dour tone, the movie mostly follows the pattern set by the previous volumes, including the requisite moment of fighting triumph for the tree-man; some literal-mindedness from manmountain Drax, played by Dave Bautista from Dune; a cameo appearance measurable in seconds by Sylvester Stallone from First Blood; and lots of cacophony and endless song cues! Although, ha ha, they seem to have dropped the trope of Quill listening to mix tapes his mother made him – although there are still 1970s AM radio cuts here, the selection is also watered down by what I suppose are simply songs James Gunn likes!

Anyhow, it’s more enjoyable than the usual Marvel nonsense, and it has an alternate earth populated by animal people, so I’ll give Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 two blue jay men!

Monday 26 June 2023

Burl reviews She Demons! (1958)

 


To the beat of the jungle drums it’s Burl, returning to the land of Cunha! Ha ha, we’re all very familiar with, and fond of, his work I’m sure, particularly the Great Quartet of Fifty-Et, which includes Giant from the Unknown, Frankenstein’s Daughter, Missile to the Moon, and the movie I’m gabbing about today, the exotic, buxotic, quixotic She Demons!

The plot is largely lifted from Eyes Without A Face, or would have been if Eyes Without A Face hadn’t come out a year later, ha ha! It seems that there’s been a Gilligan’s Island-style marine mishap, and the castaways include spoiled debutante Jerrie, played by beauteous Irish McCalla, most famous for playing the title role in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and who, a trivia, was born exactly the same day as the great Dick Miller! The boat captain and generic hero type is Fred Macklin, played by Tod Griffin, who had, after all, already appeared in She Devil so should have known what to expect on this island! There are a couple of crew fellows too: Sammy Ching, played by Victor Sen Yung, famous for his role as number one son Jimmy Chan in the Charlie Chan film series and who also appeared in movies like Moontide, Soldier of Fortune and The Killer Elite; and Kris Kamana, played by Charles Opunui, who had appeared, very briefly, as an “Eskimo” in The Thing From Another World!

After exploring the beach, which looks a lot like Paradise Cove in Malibu, they venture into the island’s interior, which looks a lot like Griffith Park! Unfortunately their buddy Kris suffers a mishap that leaves him chock full of spears, ha ha, and it’s soon revealed that the perpetrators are a group of goochy-faced ladies who like to dance around and attack anyone who happens along! And these ladies, instantly dubbed “She Demons” by our intrepid castaways, turn out to have been created by Colonel Osler, of course!

But who is Colonel Osler? Well, he’s played by Rudolph Anders, who’d essayed plenty of Nazis and other assorted evil Germans before this, and was Dr. Louis Dupont in The Snow Creature, and here he delivers a particularly rootin’-tootin’ performance as a Mengele type guy acting out of the usual maniacal uxoriousness, which of course he’s happy to drop as soon as he claps eyes on Irish! It seems Osler’s wife Mona, played by Leni Tana from Torn Curtain, was involved in a lava accident and needs a replacement face, and local island ladies figure in this treatment somehow, and whenever the procedure fails, as it constantly does, the result, somehow, is a She Demon! The filmmakers don’t really explore the medical whys and wherefores of this, however!

Of course Osler has his Igor figure, here called, imaginatively enough, Igor, and played by familiar face Gene Roth of Strange Illusion, Jet Pilot and Zombies of Mora Tau; he also has a number of generic sub-henchmen who all try to keep their faces in those frowny expressions Nazi henchmen always seem to wear in B pictures! Ha ha! And as the island’s volcano gets rumblier, and Fred and Sammy are captured and tortured while Jerrie is captured and wooed, and then everybody escapes with help from the bandaged Mona, who has finally recognized what a monster her husband is (and whose face, partly revealed near the end, is genuinely gross), and Osler rants and raves and grins and grimaces, and the She Demons keep dancing around, we come to realize just how long 77 minutes can seem!

Nevertheless, I liked this little movie! After all, it starts from a pretty solid foundation, because I’m naturally fond of these little 50s programmers and always enjoy the world of Cunha! In the first half of the movie Jerrie is a supremely annoying spoiled rich girl, but it’s rewarding as she transforms into a regular person! Sammy, for his part, is just a regular sidekick sort of a guy instead of the Asian caricature I was fearing, and that was good too! He’s goofy, but also resourceful and brave! And then it’s always nice to see Nazis on the receiving end of a lava shower, ha ha! It won’t make you change your religion or anything, but you’ll probably enjoy the movie, so I give She Demons two powder-blue cashmere shorties!

Thursday 15 June 2023

Burl reviews Twister! (1996)


 

From within the whirling winds of the Hollywood Midwest, it’s Burl, with a review of some big-budget 1990s weather spectacle! Ha ha, the second half of the 1990s saw the rise once again of the large-scale disaster movie: we had the lava duello of Dante’s Peak and Volcano; meteor-vs.meteor with Armageddon and Deep Impact; alien blast-vasions in Independence Day and Mars Attacks; and various randos like Daylight, Titanic, Godzilla and Firestorm! But among the earliest in this cycle was the tornado drama Twister, the summertime success of which helped kick off the late-90s disaster-spasm!

Ha ha, I remember reviewing this one back in my semi-professional movie reviewing days, and I didn’t care much for it, declaring it, rather harshly perhaps, "flatulence from the sky!" But whether it’s a softening of my heart, or of my head, or the stench of nostalgia, or wistfulness for the days when Bill Paxton was alive and could headline big movies, my attitude toward this twistravaganza has improved somewhat! I still think there’s too much bickering in it and an overly healthy dose of silliness, and that it irresponsibly encouraged the goofy sport of tornado-chasing; but I must admit that on a recent re-viewing of this windy action-drama, I more or less enjoyed it!

Paxton, whom we recall from Aliens and Weird Science and so many others, plays Bill, who does a little weird science of his own by sniffing dirt and looking at the sky to see when the tornados are going to appear! He’s a former tornado chaser, legendary for his recklessness, who rejoins his old gang, temporarily he thinks, in order to have divorce papers signed by ex-wife Jo, who’s played by Helen Hunt from Next of Kin (which Paxton was also in, actually)! Bill has in tow his fiancée Melissa, a straight arrow played by Jami Gertz from Mischief and The Lost Boys, who is initially interested in the tornado gang but, after a few close calls, is happy to walk away and let Bill have both his twisters and his old wife back!

That’s the human drama part of the movie, and too much screen time is spent on it if you ask ol’ Burl! And then there’s the antics of the tornado gang, which is to say the crew of pseudo-scientists who drive the highways and byways in their motley of vehicles in pursuit of supercells, and pine for the days when Bill was their wild and fearless leader! This group includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman from Jack Goes Boating and Mission Impossible III in the role of Dusty, the most comedic scientist; Alan Ruck from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Rabbit, the crew's putative wise man; Sean Whalen from The People Under the Stairs as Allan; Scott Thomson from Parasite and Police Academy as Preacher; Wendle Josepher from Intolerable Cruelty as Haynes; famous director Todd Field as Beltzer; and Joey Slotnick from Plane as Joey! Ha ha!

But this rabble are unconvincing not just as scientists but as genuine human people, and their interest in, essentially, air is about all there is to them, and makes them only as substantial as that passion would suggest! A scene in which the whole gang stops off unannounced at the home of Aunt Meg, played in granny-artist mode by Lois Smith from Black Widow and The French Dispatch, and proceed to eat her entire supply of steak, is meant to be endearing and humanizing but it comes off more as just a bunch of insensitive louts mooching off an old lady, no matter how affable Aunt Meg is about it nor how much it’s implied that this has happened many times before and Meg must be used to it by now! Ha ha!

And then there are the rival scientists, who drive in shiny black trucks, have all the latest equipment, and are led by windbag showboater Jonas, played by Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride! Of course the ragtag heroes disdain them, in this Universal Pictures-Warner Bros. co-production, for accepting corporate sponsorship to fund their activities, though the script doesn’t bother detailing which corporation would want to sponsor tornado chasers, nor why! At least there’s some nuance in the presentation: Jonas is a bad guy, but not so bad that the heroes don’t try in earnest to dissuade him from blundering into an F5! But he’s still the bad guy after all, and for his sins he reaps the whirlwind! Or rather, ha ha, the whirlwind reaps him!

So it all comes down to the tornadoes, doesn’t it, and these scenes are pulled off with, if not realism, all the techno-aplomb the mid-90s could offer! The trick effects are still impressive today, and the number and length of the tornado scenes stop just short of the point where they’d become repetitive and boring! The filmmakers take care to vary the types of debris thrown at the heroes: trucks, exploding trucks, farm equipment, exploding farm equipment, cows; and there’s a good nighttime scene at which a drive-in movie screening of Psycho and The Shining is interrupted by one of the larger twisters! Still, as thrilling as these scenes often are, and as awesome as the tornadoes shown here can be, it still falls short of the one seen in The Wizard of Oz, and that was just a big black sock wasn’t it!

The physics displayed here are about as authentic as they are in Oz (a film much alluded-to in this production), and the great goal of Bill's team - to release their science instrument named Dorothy into a tornado so as to discover its characteristics and therefore be better able, somehow, to predict them - seems both unrealistic and a bit underwhelming! Meanwhile the dialogue is unspeakable, most of the characters are annoying, and the drama is flaccid! But the effects sequences remain marvellous and the atmosphere of Midwestern heavy weather is nicely achieved! There’s a summeriness to the movie that I like, too, so in the final puff I’ll give Twister one and a half handfuls of dirt!


Wednesday 14 June 2023

Burl reviews Cottage Country! (2013)


 

Ha ha and welcome to the cottage, it’s Burl! I had lake cottages I could visit while I was growing up – grandparents had one, uncle had one, some friends of course – but they were either far away or could only be visited occasionally, so I can’t say I really had the childhood cottage experience! But eventually I married into one, and now I do have it, and man is it sweet! It’s a lot of work, though! I’ve built additions, sheds, decks, docks, wooden walkways and garden boxes, and have done more tree-chopping, wood-splitting, outhouse-moving and various sundry other tasks than I ever thought I would! But if that sounds like complaining, think again: ha ha, I’m very grateful to have it!

But my place is a lot more rustic than the cottage seen in the movie I’m reviewing for you today: by name, Cottage Country! It’s a Canadian picture, and at times a very Canadian picture, so as a cottaging Canuck myself, I thought this picture might strike a chord! Well, maybe it did, but a fairly dull one with little resonance and not always the most pleasing of tones! Still, it proved better than I was expecting! Read on, sweet primate, and I’ll give you the particulars!

Tyler Labine from Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Rise of the Planet of the Apes plays Todd, a milquetoast Toronto salaryman with a family cottage in the Muskokas and a blonde girlfriend who at first seems out of his league, and to whom, this magical weekend at what Ontarians call “camp,” he plans to propose! Malin Ackerman who played Debbie Harry in CBGB is Cammie, the girlfriend, and she does a good job at immediately situating the character as a very specific type, who later in the movie will evolve into a different, but related, specific type!

Anyway, after a brief encounter with a woods-hobo played by Earl Pastko from Heads and Land of the Dead and Roadkill and The Sweet Hereafter, Todd and Cammie arrive at the cottage, which is more like a regular two-story house; and before Todd can make his ill-considered proposal, even before Cammie can enact a prefatory session of whistle-dog, who should burst in but Todd’s obnoxious brother, whose name, improbably, is Salinger, along with his dour Eastern European girlfriend Masha, played by Lucy Punch from Hot Fuzz! This unwanted invasion sets up the big conflict of the picture, which comes to a head when Todd semi-accidentally puts the chop to his brother’s neck!

Things get a little Macbeth from here: Cammie turns out to be the sort of lady who won’t let anything get in the way of her personal happiness and the vision of her life which she has conceived! Ha ha, you know the type! Well, she’s soon browbeaten Todd into helping her murder Masha, and from there things get complicated with the chopping up of the bodies, the sinking of the parts, and the unexpected party which the brother had arranged before his axing! With increasingly suspicious guests – one in particular likes asking the hard questions, ha ha – the murder-happy couple’s desperation grows, and their willingness to kill, or at least Cammie’s willingness to kill, grows apace!

Eventually Todd and Salinger’s parents show up, played by Canadian acting veterans Kenneth Welsh, whom we know from any number of things including the latter-day Romero picture Survival of the Dead, and Nancy Beatty from City on Fire! They’re a pair of bickersons right out of Till Death Do Us Part, and the name “Salinger” becomes even more unlikely once these L7s appear, but the actors are talented enough that their worry for their missing son, and increasing suspicion about what might have happened to him, hits a genuine emotional note!

There are some hoser cops that include Jonathan Crombie from Bullies, and then there’s a car chase and the final dislocation between Todd and Cammie! Ha ha, in the last act the picture begins to recall the British killer-couple movie Sightseers, but it never fully commits to the heartlessness and black-comic violence of that picture! Still, there are casualties and things occasionally get bloody! The acting is pretty sharp all around, the locations pretty, and the rest of the show is perfectly functional! But it never really flies, and it never really lands either – it’s not scary and not all that thrilling, and if the intention is satirical, the targets (WASPy couples? Affluent cottagers? Families?) escape unscathed! But it has moments of sharpness, minor suspense, and gratifying humour, so it was hardly a total loss! I’ll give Cottage Country two pairs of expensive headphones!

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Burl reviews Till Death Do Us Part! (1982)


 

By hidden camera, it’s Burl, here to report on a piece of oddballania from the Great White North! Ha ha, many strange concoctions have emerged from that land, and the movie under discussion today is not the strangest – but most certainly it is not the most normal, either! It’s claimed in certain quarters to be a made-for-TV movie, but I don’t think that’s true! I think it’s just a plain old freaky little mystery, and it goes by the name of Till Death Do Us Part!

I can see why some would think it’s a TV movie though – the VHS version I saw had been sort of transformed into one with some weird and very apparent editing elisions; a clearly re-cut credits sequence, which shows bits from the movie to come; and an abbreviated running time! I suppose it was chopped and reordered from whatever it started as into a post-hoc TV movie in much the same way as Dr. Moreau surgically alters people into half-animals! So it’s a bit of a mutation, this little movie, but does it still work? Ha ha, sort of!

We open in a big country house at night, with a scullery maid played by Riva Spier from Pinball Summer discovering a young man rocking back and forth in his chair as he watches a screen showing two people engaged in pre-bohankie! The maid steals the big ¾ inch video tape and escapes the house by the tried-and-true method of tying sheets together and shinnying out the window – though, ha ha, her knots are not so good and she takes a tumble! Worse still awaits her in the woods, where she is killed, has a cross carved into her forehead, and is crucified on some trees by person or persons unknown!

Then it’s the next day and we’re back at the country mansion, which proves to be a marriage counselling retreat run by a radical post-Freudian psychologist called Dr. Sigmund Freed, ha ha, who’s played by none other than the director of Mon Oncle Antoine, Claude Jutra! (Some pretty unsavory stories have come out about poor Jutra in recent years, but as they haven’t really been confirmed so far as I’ve heard, and as he’s dead anyway, drowned in the St. Lawrence, I tried not to let that bother me as I watched the movie!) His character is meant to be a crazy unpredictable obsessive wearing a thin veneer of rationality, and for a non-actor he pulls it off pretty well!

Anyway, three married couple arrive for therapy: we have the world’s rudest man, Wally, played by Jack Creley from Tulips and Videodrome, and his long-suffering wife Edna, essayed by Helen Hughes from Incubus; floppy-haired Robert Craig, played by the picture’s requisite American star, James Keach from Cannonball and Vacation, and his wife Dr. Susan Craig, who is played by Candace O’Connor from The Silent Partner; and, late to the party and therefore subject to a fearsome dressing-down from Freed, drugs aficionado Tony, impersonated by veteran summer-camp actor Matt Craven from Meatballs and Indian Summer, along with his wife, played by someone I forget who, ha ha!

Already at the big country house is Freed, of course, along with his wife Honora, played by Toby Tarnow from Utilities; Honora’s brother, who seems mute but later protests that he’s only shy, played not by an actor but by a lighting technician; and Terrence Labrosse as a crusty, gun-toting, bunny-loving handyman! The bickering couples are subjected to various mind games and constant surveillance, and are informed that they must not leave the premises for the entire weekend! Ha ha, but after Freed does things like pretend to machine gun everyone to death, it’s inevitable that they will insist upon leaving in the most strenuous terms! Except, ha ha, they don’t really – they make a lot of noise, but these are not very proactive people!

And eventually, they start dying! Wally, the world’s rudest man, is first to go: bonked on the head with a meat tenderizer, a cross carved in his forehead, and sent plummeting down a well! And it seems to take forever, but eagle-beaked Tony goes next: after a long sequence in which he’s blitzed by mind drugs given him by Freed, he relaxes in a hot tub and is heated to death! (We have to assume this – we don’t see it, but he is later found in the tub looking a little ruddier than usual!) There’s also a knife to the gut! And eventually – ha ha, spoiler alert I suppose – the killer bonks Freed on the head, and the garrulous quack goes down still talking as though nothing has happened, but dies once he’s on the floor!

Well I won’t tell who the killer is, but I will say that I, a notoriously bad guesser of such things, was not surprised at the culprit! Nor do the other characters seem terribly shocked, but this is in keeping with their reactions all throughout the movie, ha ha! They muster only the most feeble of requests to call the police once bodies start turning up! Keach, wearing a truly bizarre hairstyle, turns out to have a secret of his own, and is positioned as the hero, but like everyone else he pretty much just stands around in small-mouthed astonishment as the film’s climax unfolds! (He does deliver one minor punch to Freed, however!) We never really find out what the deal is with the crosses in the forehead, but I assume that’s just a holdover from the Duplessis era in Quebec, where the movie was shot!

It’s a strange little movie: part horror, part country-house murder mystery, part comedy! The bizarre lengths Freed is willing to go and his psychopathic egoism; and the outsized behaviour of many of the other characters, in particular the world’s rudest man and the necro-groper handyman who’s constantly fondling bunny rabbits; and the astonishing passivity of the patients, all help make up the oddballness of the picture, and are what makes it compelling despite the long stretches of not much happening and the unpleasantness of many of the characters! The acting is fine, the direction adequate if unspectacular (the director went on to a long TV career, naturally), and the screenplay eccentric enough to make it interesting! It’s no lost classic, though it is virtually lost, and I’m going to give Till Death Do Us Part two polygraph machines!

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Burl reviews Twilight of the Ice Nymphs! (1997)

 


With a cry of boodle-doo, it’s Burl, here to review arthouse! Ha ha, yes, it’s time to talk about another movie from that billet-doux of film directors, Guy Maddin! You’ll recall how much I enjoyed his mountain picture Careful, and now here’s a movie universally recognized as the very worst feature film he ever made, a star-studded superattraction entitled Twilight of the Ice Nymphs!

Now, ha ha, I say “star-studded,” but it’s all relative, isn’t it! In this case it means there are a few recognizable stars salted into the cast here – in fact, some actors I like very much! And of course, whether or not this being his worst movie (assuming that’s true) makes it a bad movie also hinges on a comparative relativity, since I do tend to like not just his movies, but also the old semi-silents that inspire him: movies like, oh let’s say, Eternal Love!

Anyway, the story here, liberally borrowed from a Knut Hamsen novel called Pan, has a newly-released political prisoner returning to his homeland, a country of perpetual sunlight called Mandragora! The prisoner, Peter Glahn, is played by an uncredited Nigel Whitmey, who later turned up in Saving Private Ryan; on the boat ride home, he meets a strangely gorgeous lady called Juliana, played by Pascale Bussières from When Night Is Falling and August 32nd on Earth, who teases him silly! On arrival at the family ostrich farm, Peter is reunited with his spinster sister Amelia, played by none other than Shelley Duvall from The Shining and McCabe and Mrs. Miller! Amelia longs for the embrace of a local mesmerist and science doctor, Dr. Solti, played in high comic fashion and with a proto-Christoph Waltz accent by R.H. Thomson from Who Loves the Sun; she is also involved in a bitter feud with the farm’s hired man, Cain Ball, essayed by a grizzly-looking Frank Gorshin from Invasion of the Saucer Men and 12 Monkeys, a long mile from his days as Best Dressed Man of 1978!

Wandering amidst all this, through the extravagantly artificial forests of Mandragora, is Zephyr, a fish-widow played by an especially ethereal Alice Krige, an actor who's a great favourite of mine from movies like Ghost Story and that Star Trek picture where she plays a robot queen! Peter becomes involved with her, but then rediscovers Juliana, who turns out to be the ward of, and perhaps lover of, the limping Solti! Solti's gone gimpy because a statue of Venus he’s recently unearthed has fallen on and crushed his leg, and this statue will claim more victims before the story is through! So Peter and Juliana start an affair, which makes Zephyr jealous; while Peter himself becomes increasingly jealous of Juliana’s involvement with Solti, and Amelia, the smoke-dried stick, pines desperately for the mesmerist! At home the stakes rise in her feud with Cain Ball, and soon the melodrama – and it is melodrama: the Hammer Films-style musical score never lets up for a moment – includes assault, insanity, immolation, self-mutilation by shotgun, a nail pounded into a head, and a semi-mystical death-by-crushing!

Narratively it’s a lot like Careful in many ways: we have, for example, a scene in which the tragic final events are precipitated by the hero wrecking a female relation’s romance with a local nobleman! Here the difference is that the romance never would have happened anyway, so the import of the hero's act is greatly diminished! So, too, is the sense of place: Careful, as artificial as it is, has a few crowd scenes and a little town, and so seems to be happening in a world inhabited by other people; Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, on the other hand, is really just a half-dozen crazy characters wandering around a too-often scantily-dressed fake forest!

 


 

Ice Nymphs is a bigger-budgeted movie than Careful, but it seems the money went to the actors and the 35mm photography, and therefore the art department budget suffered; and, ha ha, now and again it shows! The acting can be a bit over the top occasionally, but this always seems deliberate, a calculated facet of the Reinhardt/Dieterle Midsummer Night’s Dream effect Maddin is shooting for! (No Joe E. Ross in evidence though, ha ha!) But the Shakespeare work it recalls most is The Tempest, and when Peter gets so outraged that he commands the trees of the forest to bend to his will and help him vanquish his enemy, and the trees actually sort of respond, the sense of an island powered by glitter and magic comes to a full boil!

I’ll have to agree that, of the ones I’ve seen, which is most of them, this is Maddin’s worst picture! However there’s lots of wonderful stuff here: for example, dialogue that's as rich and purple as a fine blood pudding, and filled with quotable gems! And one must admit there’s really nothing else out there that looks like it, and that’s very much a point in the movie's favour! And, too, it has ostriches, ha ha, plenty of ostriches, and those guys are mighty charming if you don't have to stand too close to them, or downwind! Shelley Duvall turns in a really fine and completely heartbreaking performance, easily selling the idea of someone driven mad by loneliness, heartache, and disappointment! It’s an underwhelming movie in many ways, but it’s also very much worth seeing, and I urge you to do so if the opportunity arises! I give Twilight of the Ice Nymphs two and a half night bogs!

Monday 5 June 2023

Burl reviews Surf II! (1983)


 

Hang loose, hodads: at the sign of the shaka shaka and with a big bau bau, it’s Burl, here to review one of the kookier comedies of the 1980s! Ha ha, they made all sorts of teen sex comedies back in those days, and while most of them were fairly normal exercises in peeping tomfoolery and beer-fuelled hoot-n-holler, there were some that yearned to be a little different! Here you might have a Zapped!, incorporating science fiction themes into the mix; there, maybe a School Spirit, which went with the supernatural; and then there were some that couldn’t settle on anything but wholesale weirdness, like The Party Animal! Today’s movie takes a little pinch from each bucket, and the messy and inchoate result was given the title of Surf II!

Ha ha, it’s all like some crazy shenanigram from another dimension! Our location is a coastal surf town, where there are a pair of idjits very like Greg and Steve from Pinball Summer, though not quite as bad as Greg and Steve, because nobody is as bad as Greg and Steve! This pair is Chuck and Bob, played by Eric Stoltz from The Wild Life and Some Kind of Wonderful, and Jeffrey Rogers from Friday the 13th part III, and instead of a boogie van they drive a dusky orange VW bug! They’re surfers, and so obsessed with the sport that they animatedly exchange surfing stories even as their exasperated girlfriends (one of whom is Brinke Stevens from The Slumber Party Massacre) remove their tops in a bid to get some attention from these dumbasses!

But why they want attention from these clods I couldn’t tell you! Anyway, thankfully there’s much more going on than whatever Chuck and Bob are up to! Strange things, in point of fact, are afoot: surfers are being sucked below by something in the water that looks like a UFO, and are resurfacing as zombie-like punk wasteoids! (And by the way, as an old punk rocker myself, ha ha, I sort of resent the implication that punks are all gross nosepicking dumbasses! They were a pretty prim bunch as I recall, and usually pretty  intelligent!)

Anyway, behind it all is glasses nerd Menlo Schwartzer, played by nerdo di tutti nerdos Eddie Deezen from I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Desperate Moves! He’s a perpetually outraged goon who took too much frazz from the high school surfer bullies, and now is taking revenge against all surfers whether they bullied him or not! He’s invented Buzzz Cola, which is really just motor oil and detritus, and I was never sure about the part where the surfers got sucked down to his lair, because why was that necessary? And what about these mutilations we hear about but never see? And then there's Menlo’s reluctant partner-in-crime, Sparkle, a pretty gal played by Linda Kerridge from Fade to Black and Down Twisted, who once was a homely glasses nerd herself but is now beautiful thanks to Menlo’s weird science!

Chuck and Bob’s fathers, it turns out, are the local distributors of Buzzz Cola! They’re a couple of old surfers, mercenary capitalists in quasi-hippie guise, forever asking people if they can relate! The dads are played by Morgan Paull from Blade Runner and Biff Maynard from Lunch Wagon; the moms by Ruth Buzzi (the female Joe E. Ross, ha ha), whose voice, they say, was heard in The Rescuers, and Brandis Kemp from Clifford; and one of the movie’s most impressive and memorable scenes has the two families shown in a split screen (actually a set built like a split-screen shot) having the same conversation at the same time!

Meanwhile Chief Boyardee, played by Lyle Waggoner from Swamp Country, and Inspector Underwear, who’s none other than Ron Palillo from Friday the 13th part VI, dopily investigate the disappearances, or mutilations, or personality changes, or whatever is going on! Those character names give you a taste of the level and variety of the movie’s humour, ha ha; and further investigation into the case comes from the school science teacher, Beaker, played by Peter Isackson from Grand Theft Auto! And on the sidelines, watching with increasing incredulity but to absolutely no narrative purpose, is the school principal, Mr. Daddy-O, wielding a megaphone and played by Cleavon Little from Vanishing Point and Blazing Saddles!

And meanwhile again, there’s plenty of beach- and surfing-related buffoonery involving the younger set! One of the first possessed surfers is Jocko, played by Tom Villard from Parasite and One Crazy Summer, who’s a pal of Chuck and Bob, and a pal too of Johnny Big Head, played by Joshua Cadman, who was in The Sure Thing and of course was Bronk in Goin’ All the Way, and whose oft-repeated catch-phrase is "Bau Bau!" There are side antics with Johnny Big Head’s family: his brother Little Big Head played by Pat Romano from Hot Moves, and who became a celebrated stuntman; and his mother Mrs. Big Head, played by Lucy Lee Flippin from Summer School! And there are some sisters, Cindy Lou and Lindy Sue, played by  Corinne Bohrer from The Beach Girls and The Kid With the 200 IQ, and Lucinda Dooling from The Alchemist, and their parents, whom we see for some reason, are played by Terry Kiser from Weekend at Bernie’s and Friday the 13th part VII, and their mom, Carol Wayne from The Party! And then, just to provide colour commentary, there’s a so-called teen called Becker played by Ralph Seymour from Ghoulies and Killer Party; and finally there's a pair of seat-splitting sand ‘n’ surf superchubbins played by Fred Asparagus from Fatal Beauty and Jim Greenleaf from Joysticks!

Phew! That’s a lot of characters, and a lot of familiar faces playing those characters, and many of those faces are, in their way, beloved by those of us who watch these kinds of movies! Does it add up to something worth sitting through, though? Well as you can see, it’s a complicated case! For example, as we also find in The Party Animal, and who can forget Party Party, the movie has a strangely killer soundtrack that would seem well beyond its budget to afford! We get several Beach Boys tunes of course, since it’s a beach picture; plus She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby (because of science); a Circle Jerks song (included to underline the ragged wildness of the crazed punks, but to me just plain good music); some Oingo Boingo numbers; a triumphant use of Six Months in a Leaky Boat by Split Enz; songs by The Stray Cats, Talk Talk and The Ventures; and of course Wall of Voodoo’s hit Mexican Radio! Pretty good, ha ha!

Anyway, I’m sorry this review was so darn long! Surf II is weird, which is good, but also is bad, which is bad! And mixed in with the badness like spots on a domino are the occasional moments of terrific timing, or a good gag, or a clever shot, or a "Bau Bau," so it’s not a total loss! Why, it gets turkey-points for the breakfast scene alone! Ha ha! It’s hard to quantify the value of this movie exactly, as it is and should be with any work of art, but I guess I’ll give Surf II one and a half cries of "Bau Bau," for how could it be otherwise? Ha ha!