Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Burl reviews Phantoms! (1998)


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Burl reviews Only the Lonely! (1991)


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burl reviews Street of a Thousand Pleasures! (1972)


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 5 November 2022

Burl reviews Last Man Standing! (1996)



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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 November 2022

Burl reviews I Walked With A Zombie! (1943)


 

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Burl reviews The Howling! (1981)

 


Ah-roo and graw-graw, it’s Burl, here to walk on two legs with a movie I’m surprised I haven’t already reviewed! Yes, it’s a werewolf picture – you’ve already guessed that, I’m sure, from my introductory noises – and it stars the finest of actors, Dick Miller, and it’s a key film of my youth! Ha ha, my pals and I just loved it, along with An American Werewolf in London, which is sort of its compadre and rival in the werewolf world! It was one of the gems of 1981, which was designated by Cinefantastique magazine as the Year of the Wolf! Of course, in my usual long-winded way, I’m talking about Joe Dante’s fine picture The Howling!

And as noted it’s a werewolf picture, but it starts out like a crime show, with TV newslady Karen White, played by the ever fragile-seeming Dee Wallace from Secret Admirer, hot on the trail of the notorious Smiley Face Killer, who's known for leaving a smiley face sticker at the scene of each brutal slaughter! But when Karen comes face to face with the maniac in a dark and scary pornoo booth, something so oddball happens that she’s traumatized! The cops shoot the killer dead, but Karen can hardly remember the weird thing she witnessed! Her husband, played by Christopher Stone from The Annihilators, her station manager, in the person of Dennis Dugan from Smile, and her best friend, Belinda Balaski from Cannonball, are all sympathetic, but nobody can stop her nightmares or recover her memory!

Patrick Macnee from Sweet Sixteen plays the sort of pop therapist whose field of study happens to be exactly what the movie’s about, and his advice to Karen is to get out of it for a while and go up to his therapeutic compound on the coast! This woodsy and rustic place proves to be, among other things, a hotbed of great character actors like John Carradine from The Boogey Man, Slim Pickens from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Noble Willingham from City Slickers! Of course I don’t think I’m giving away a confidence by telling you that in addition to providing a satirical look at the sort of self-actualization pocus that the 70s was known for, the therapeutic compound is also a breeding ground for werewolves, and so things get pretty hairy for Karen!

But meanwhile her friends Dugan and Belaski are doing some investigating back in the city, and they find that the Smiley Face Killer, played here by Robert Picardo from Explorers, has turned up missing even though he was dead, and that’s because he’s a werewolf of course! Some silver bullets are provided by none other than Dick Miller, and then the stage is set for a battle of fang and tooth! It does take a little long to get there by modern standards – ha ha, there are long werewolf-free passages in the first two thirds of the picture, and a surprising dearth of ah-roo overall – but the journey is one of absolute enjoyment! The Pino Donaggio score is a big help, and the script is a gangbuster!

And oh frankenstein, what a supporting cast! In addition to the many champs already named we get veterans like Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the role of the grumpy owner of Karen’s TV station, Ken Tobey from It Came From Beneath the Sea as a cop, and best of all the fabulous Miller from A Bucket of Blood, here again playing Walter Paisley, this time in the guise of the mercenary occult bookstore owner who calls werewolves “worse than cock-a-roaches!” Ha ha! We also get cameos from Roger Corman and Forrest Ackerman and screenwriter John Sayles, who also turned up in Dante’s Matinee!

Of course there were many sequels to this picture, beginning with Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, then moving on to the one with the were-marsupials, and only getting worse from there! Ha ha, I’ve seen a few of them, but all I recall is that they were stank! This one is the real deal, though – a terrific follow-up to Dante’s previous picture Piranha! My friends and I watched it plenty back in the old VHS days, and I can tell you it holds up! The standing-up werewolves look cool and the transformation trick effects are tasty! There’s even a touch of stop motion, as you'll find in most Dante pictures! Yes, it’s a solid entertainment, very hairy, and so I give The Howling three and a half frying hamburgers!

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Burl reviews Videodrome! (1983)


 

Beep boop and chugalug, it’s Burl, here with another review, and do you know what? Ha ha, it’s my one thousandth review! That’s a round 1000! Yes, I’ve gone and reviewed a thousand movies so far, and what I’m trying to decide is, should I keep going? Do enough people read and enjoy these reviews to make it worth it? I like doing the reviews, so there’s that, but sometimes it seems I’m just laughing into the void! I suppose that shouldn’t matter since I enjoy it and all, so I guess I’ll just figure out for myself if I ought to keep going with my little funtime reviews! Your input is welcome, though – feel free to tell me if you think I should just hang it up!

Anyway, today I’m reviewing another great favourite of mine! It’s a picture I’ve seen many times, but only once on the big screen: at the late, great Scala Cinema (celebrated, as you’ll recall, in the documentary Scala) on a double bill with another quality Canadian picture, Un Zoo La Nuit! The movie under discussion today is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome – perhaps his finest film, and by garr, to me that’s saying a lot!

Because after all, I’m hugely fond of Dead Ringers, Crash, Scanners, and almost all his other movies! But Videodrome somehow stands above them all, even if it’s maybe the shortest full-length feature he’s made! Certainly it’s the most outré, and one of the Cronenbergiest, ha ha! Like much of his best work it serves as a strangely accurate peek into the future – it predicted all manner of techno-organic interfusioning and manipulation by media and virtual reality metadonaldination, and also foresaw James Woods going bonkers!

Woods, whose hollow cheeks we’ll recall from Night Moves and Best Seller, is Max Renn, a low-level Toronto TV magnate who’s always looking for racy late-night content for his disreputable cable channel! When his in-house tech wizard Harlan, played by Peter Dvorsky from Millennium, shares some fuzzy S&M video he’s managed to pick up while cruising the contraband airwaves, Max knows this is exactly what he needs for his station and he gets on the trail of the snuff program known as Videodrome!

Debbie Harry, the child-eating witch from Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, is a sultry radio hostess called Nicki Brand, and she first becomes Max’s love interest, then shows up as a guest star on Videodrome! Ha ha! In his quest to figure out what Videodrome is, and as he begins to realize that exposure to the program is doing a weird number on his own mental and physical self, Max bumps shoulders with a number of familiar Canadian thespians, including Sonja Smits from The Pit, Les Carlson from Black Christmas, Jack Creley from Tulips, Lynne Gorman from Nobody Waved Good Bye, and Julie Khaner from Spasms!

Of course Max is trapped and doomed from the moment he first lays eyes on the signal – ha ha, the New Flesh will have its way no matter what he does! Hallucination and reality become one, tumorous weaponry sprouts, new orifices develop, airwaves and brainwaves meld, and, in an ending that feels a little bit made up on the spot because, in fact, it was, Max finds himself aboard a rustbucket lakeboat watching the last TV show he’ll ever see! Ha ha, and while I can’t say it’s a happy ending, for an improvised conclusion it does manage to feel inevitable!

I’ve really liked this picture for a long time, and my admiration has not diminished with the years! It still seems a brainy, diabolical, occasionally gruesome, and very Toronto piece of work! It has some rubbery trick effects courtesy of Rick Baker, who’d made the greasy dog in An American Werewolf in London, and a terrific cold-as-a-mackerel score from Howard Shore! And it seems to be about something, which, let’s face it, most movies aren’t, and what it’s about seems to shift cunningly from viewing to viewing! I think Cronenberg was firing on all cylinders here, and being a motorcycle and general racing enthusiast, he has a lot of cylinders to fire! Ha ha, I give Videodrome four smears of pizza sauce!


Thursday, 13 October 2022

Burl reviews Withnail and I! (1986)


 

Get in the back of the van, it’s Burl, here to review a picture that I’ll tell you right off the top is one of my favourites! Ha ha and sweet john fiddlesticks, it’s a movie I’ve delighted in ever since it was released, one I find not just beautifully written and acted and made, but extremely funny! And I know I’m not alone in these feelings, though sometimes I wish I were! Of course the film to which I refer is Withnail and I!

Along with The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows and Night of the Living Dead, I think it’s one of the great feature directorial debuts! That may seem hyperbolic, and it probably is, but I do find it an impressive accomplishment from someone who apparently claimed throughout the shoot that he didn’t know what he was doing! That someone is Bruce Robinson, who followed this up with the okay if not nearly as satisfying How To Get Ahead in Advertising; but he knocked it out of the park on this first go round, that’s for sure!

Our setting is London’s Camden Town in late September and early October of 1969! Two unemployed actors, the titular gentlemen, live in a squalorous flat and drink as much and as frequently as they are able, pausing only to pop pills or drag on enormous joints! Richard E. Grant from L.A. Story is Withnail, while Paul McGann from Alien 3 is I; and their sometime pal and drug dealer, Danny, is played by Ralph Brown, who was in Stoker and was also in Alien 3, ha ha! And there’s even an appearance from Chocolate Mousse himself, Eddie Tagoe of Top Secret fame, here playing Presuming Ed!

Wishing to get out of London for a time, the flatmates cadge a cottage key from Withnail’s florid uncle Monty, played wonderfully by Richard Griffiths from Gorky Park! Accompanied by the guitar stylings of Jimi Hendrix, the lads drive up to the desolate farming mountain of Crow Crag, where the cottage proves nearly as shabby as their London digs, the rain and cold are unceasing, and the promontory decidedly sterile! Ha ha! Not only that, but a rough poacher threatens to put a black pod on Withnail, which terrifies him into a babbling frenzy! Then Monty shows up with a gleam in his eye and the holiday becomes a truly threatening experience for the young, Lennon-bespectacled I!

More of the plot I won’t divulge, mainly because there is no plot really; and that the movie gets away with this so handily is merely another of its charms! It’s a portrait movie: a portrait of these two friends, of this particular moment in time, of London, of poverty, of substance abuse and dependence, of romantic desperation, of career despondency, of the end of an era and the dwindling of hope! “I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth,” soliloquizes Withnail at the end, and we realize it’s exactly that loss of mirth we’ve been witnessing throughout the movie! Ha ha, it’s not the funniest conclusion a comedy ever had, but it’ll stick with you!

Now, while it’s true I’m not a full member of the cult of Withnail and I, which is made up mostly of young (though perhaps now aging), pasty, educated, middle class white men whose principal affectation is the misplaced notion that they have no affectations, but who then go around wearing long coats and tartan scarves right out of the film anyway and quoting lines from it until you want to punch them, I will here admit that not only have I owned coats much like those each of the two titular characters wear, but that I have also, with this movie fully in mind, sat on a bench in the Regent’s Park and swigged directly from a bottle of red wine!

Ha ha, I’ll go further! Though it was not in conscious imitation of the film, I have also roared drunkenly around London from pub to pub in a clapped-out Jaguar! (I was not driving, but the fellow who was had consumed just as much booze as I had, risking not just traffic calamity but police arrest, not having one of Danny’s fresh-pee contraptions on hand!) I have in my time also complained of “a bastard behind the eyes” and bellowed “There must and shall be aspirin!” But I have never obnoxiously demanded the finest wines available to humanity, nor fretted that my thumbs had gone weird, nor wept in butcher’s shops, nor declaimed Hamlet’s soliloquy to wolves! No, I just find the movie well performed and funny and, so far, endlessly rewatchable, and for a’ that, I give Withnail and I four shag-sacks!

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Burl reviews Trucks! (1997)


 

Ha ha and double ha, it’s Burl crying vroom and giving you a review of a vehicular picture from the 90s! In fact it’s a remake of that sweet perennial from 1986, Stephen King’s one and only directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive! I suppose though that the producers of this picture might insist it’s not a remake, but rather a make of the original King short story! And to bolster their claim, the movie carries the same title as that story: Trucks!

Once again we have a little gang of people trapped by living trucks at a choke-and-puke! The action allegedly takes place somewhere near Area 51, and there’s some theorizing about alien control, but otherwise we don’t get an explanation for the behaviour of these vehicles! Unlike the 1986 movie, it’s just trucks who’ve become sentient, not drawbridges, gas pumps, carving knives, video games, or bank machines, ha ha! So this effort is a little more straightforward than King's!

It’s an ensemble movie, but our putative lead is the ginger-haired owner of the little ramshackle rest-a-ree-a, Ray, played by Timothy Busfield, who’s well known from movies like Stripes and Sneakers! He’s got a teenage son called Logan, essayed by Brendan Fletcher from Violent Night and Ginger Snaps 2, and the sleepy, sloe-eyed townslady is Hope – yes, it’s Brenda Bakke from Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight! There’s Jack, a portly old hippie played by Jay Brazeau from Live Bait; bickering father-daughter duo Thad (Roman Podhora from Jason X) and Abby (Amy Stewart from My Winnipeg); an old counterman played as a Canadian cross between Donald Moffat and M. Emmet Walsh by Victor Cowie from Careful; and an amorous couple essayed by Sharon Bajer from Eye of the Beast and a fellow whose name I did not catch!

From many of these actors and their other credits, you might suss that this movie was made in Canada! It seems that in fact most of it was, but at some point they decided the trucks and the truck stop and all those characters I mentioned were not enough, so they shot some additional, slightly bloodier scenes in California, and these can be identified by the fact that they contain characters which have exactly nothing to do with the plot, and by the beautiful blacktop highways, which stand in marked contrast to the rough grey concrete, spiderwebbed with tarry cracks, that are found in the Canadian scenes! Ha ha! And while I’m getting into the production weeds, I should also make special mention of the work of Ina Hanford, who does a terrific job here!

The California scenes are the movie's goofier ones, and are much less truck-centric; so points for eclecticism but debits for straying, even if slightly, from the theme! These scenes have a hydro man shaken by his boomtruck and electrocuted; a hazmat suit somehow filling with air and becoming an axe murderer; and goofiest of all, an enraged radio-controlled toy 4x4 bursting through a door and slamming a luckless postman to death! Ha ha! Meanwhile, in Manitoba, the motley group huddles in their restaurant watching a parade of about half a dozen belligerent trucks circle the place, occasionally taking out someone dumb, brave, or dumb-brave enough to venture out! All of this is shot without style or pep, is absent of wit or verve, and is certainly unburdened by affrights! The stars don’t seem to be trying too hard – Busfield comes off as a seriously slumming Paul Giamatti being forced to play the role at the point of a gun held just off camera, and Bakke appears to be heavily barbiturated throughout!

So if you thought Maximum Overdrive was pretty bad (if quite a bit of fun!) and that as a director Stephen King makes a pretty good book writer, you’ll be shocked at how much more poorly this story can be told! Trucks demonstrates this amply, having, as it does, the feel of a movie made in a gravel quarry by people with no appreciation of the genre they’re working in or, frankly, any love of cinema! I don’t wish to tar every crew member with this terrible brush, but I will spread disdain like a jam across the whole of the above-the-line personnel! Sure, there are some good movies about angry self-driving vehicles - The Car is terrific, and Christine is a near-gem too – but this is not one of them! Trucks is a cracknel biscuit and no mistake, and I award it one culvert!

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Burl reviews Dream Demon! (1988)


 

In the shadow of Freddy it’s Burl, here to tell all about a British knock-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street! Maybe that’s not completely fair – though it’s a rubber-reality dream picture for sure, and approaches its dream sequences much in the style of any 80s horror picture, it has its own non-Kregeresque business going on, though the exact nature of that business is a bit opaque! Yes, I’m talking about Dream Demon!

 

It comes from the director of Malone, and I won’t try spelling the fellow’s name, because I notice he himself spells it differently from picture to picture! The story is set in London, and our heroine is Diana, a young bride-to-be played by Jemma Redgrave! Her fiancé is a comically upright and squarejawed Falklands war hero, or I should properly say “hero” because everything about this guy is in doubt, called Oliver, played by Mark Greenstreet! I’ll give away now that he turns out to be a total jerk, but that doesn’t spoil much because he has that aura right from the beginning!

 

Diana is being plagued by pre-nuptial anxiety dreams in which Oliver abuses her at the altar, and she in turn decapitates him, which is frankly no more than he deserves! In her dreams the world is lit like a rock video, and she is plagued not just by Oliver, but by bugs! Meanwhile a pair of tabloid reporters set their sights on her for some reason, crowding her at her doorstep and asking impertinent questions! This duo is a reporter played by Jimmy Nail from Howling II and a crude, moon-faced paparazzo essayed by Timothy Spall, whom we recall from Dutch Girls and Gothic! The apparently near-friendless Diana then gets a new acquaintance in the form of Kathleen Wilhoite, more or less playing the same sort of psychic punkette she played in Witchboard! Wilhoite’s Jenny shows up at Diana’s door because that’s the house she lived in as a child, and where she experienced some trauma she can’t quite remember before being spirited off to America!

 

Whether Jenny has some psychic triggering ability or Diana is a powerful dream empath, or it’s something to do with the house is never made clear, but the upshot is that soon Diana and those in her orbit (except Oliver, who I suppose is meant to be so thick and imagination-free that he doesn’t even dream) are spending half their time in the oneiric netherworld of Diana’s subconscious! The tabloid jerks, especially the photographer, become the Freddy stand-ins that pop around corners and scare her; Jenny, meanwhile, has had enough and very sensibly decides to flee the scene, but it’s not so easy! By this time Diana doesn’t know whether she’s dreaming or not, and Jenny falls into a long reminiscence, or perhaps dream, of her nasty sculptor father, played by Nickolas Grace from Salomé’s Last Dance, chasing her around and forcing her to pose for a gravestone sculpture he’s making!

 

I said earlier that this was a Nightmare on Elm Street pretender, and indeed it is in many ways, but I should qualify that by saying that its dreams are much more subtly insinuated into the narrative than in the Freddy pictures! Sometimes the lighting changes, or the set becomes weird and you know it’s a dream, but other times we just ease into them and can’t be sure until something oddball happens! The debit side to this approach is that there’s rarely a whole lot of imagination pumped into the dreamscapes, and the reluctance to get funky deprives the picture of the pep it might otherwise have displayed! Clearly this was a choice made early in the production, and in the end it comes off a more mature work than the Freddy pictures, but it’s not one of those beloved gloop specials the 1980s were so good at turning out!

 

Still, it has some gross-out moments and trick effects, most of them centering around Spall’s vile photographer character! But the filmmakers never really cracked their narrative problems or seem to have decided what their picture was really about! Obviously it’s got a good deal to do with the virginal Diana’s sexual anxieties, but beyond this dime-book Freud, as Orson Welles would call it, there’s not a lot of there there! I did like the little coda in which the tabloid jerks’ ultimate fate was revealed, and believe me when I tell you that you won’t see that one coming! I give Dream Demon two plates of red spaghetti!