Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Burl reviews Somewhere in Time! (1980)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Burl reviews Humongous! (1981)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 August 2023

Burl reviews Roadhouse 66! (1984)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 19 August 2023

Burl reviews Star Crystal! (1985)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 August 2023

Burl reviews Hog Wild! (1980)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2023

Burl reviews Steele Justice! (1987)


Killoo-killay, it’s Burl here with classic VHS action! Ha ha, there sure were a lot of action movies made in the 80s for the booming VHS market! Some of them – many of them in fact – had a theatrical release, but as the decade wore on, such a release became more cursory, more obviously just a promotion for the videocassette release that would allow wide (and double-wide) audiences to see the pictures! In the wake of Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo there was no end to the low-budget cop and war variants eager to cash in, and occasionally there were combo platters aiming to suck from both troughs at once! One of these – its glowering VHS cover familiar to many an 80s kid – is the subject of today’s review: Steele Justice!

Ha ha, is there any other kind? Steele Justice begins at the tail end of the war in Vietnam, with stone-faced, rock-brained John Steele, played by Martin Kove from White Line Fever, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, and of course Rambo, standing tall in a small hovercraft as it cruises up a jungle tributary! Steele is so tough he wears a snake as a necktie, and accompanying him is his best pal Lee, essayed by Robert Kim from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! They discover a bunch of dead bodies and realize their supposed South Vietnamese ally, General Kwan, played by Soon-Tek Oh from The Man With the Golden Gun and Death Wish 4, is not actually a very nice man! Kwan has Steele and Lee shot, but that doesn’t kill them, and Steele in turn shoots Kwan with a gun that shoots knives, but that doesn’t kill him either! And somehow a colonel named Harry played by Joseph Campanella from Hangar 18 figures into this preamble!

A dozen or so years later, Steele is married and divorced from Sela Ward from The Fugitive, and has been employed with and fired from the Los Angeles police department! His buddy Lee is still a cop though, and when Steele bottoms out, Lee is there to help him up! But, uh oh, Lee and most of his family (including a granny with a Moe haircut played by Kimiko Hiroshige from Blade Runner and Fletch) are murdered by Kwan’s evil son, impersonated by Peter Kwong from Big Trouble in Little China; and as a further ignominy it all happens while Steele is relaxing in a bath, so he gets very angry and figures on delivering a little Steele justice!

Kwan has become a respected American business man, and so Steele is faced with a bogomil crisis when Ronny Cox from The Car and The Beast Within shows up as his old boss on the force, Bennett! And there’s another cop played by Bernie Casey from Ants! and Never Say Never Again, who’s more sympathetic to Steele and his methods! While protecting the surviving Lee daughter, played by a terrible actress I’m sorry to say, Steele first bothers, then intimidates, then finally attacks and kills Kwan and his crime bunch!

As though a political psychodrama is lurking camouflaged within the movie, there’s a lot of real estate dedicated to showing the depths in respect, both self- and from everyone else (except for Lee and his family, who are the biggest Steele fans in the world), to which the agate-visaged hero has plummeted since the war! Killing is his only balm, and after the massacre of his only friends he seems almost gleeful at the opportunity to dispense the Steele justice I spoke of earlier! Of course his necktie snake gets involved, and the final fight against Kwan involves the old “battle-atop-a-shipping-crate-being-lifted-by-a-crane-operated-by-?” routine!

It’s a dumb, reductive, reactionary, Reagan-era movie, of minor (but hardly unique) interest thanks to the Asian gangs angle! But the bad guys are allegedly fearsome, and, ha ha, you know General Kwan is really mad when he appears on the scene wearing a floral print dress! Kwan has Shannon Tweed from Dragnet on his side as a fellow crime boss, or at least the daughter of one; meanwhile Phil Fondacaro from Phantasm II and Land of the Dead shows up as a wee bartender, and of course Al Leong henches once again, just as he henched in everything from Lethal Weapon and Die Hard to Death Warrant and Protocol!

As sedimentary as its hero, the picture does nevertheless provide a few hyocks, a modicum of confusion, a fine B movie cast, and occasionally the impression that it must have been written and directed by Clyde the Orang-utan! It sat on shelves in the Action section alongside The Patriot and Instant Justice and Born American, and there perhaps it should stay - but, ha ha, that's up to you! I give Steele Justice one RPG – Rat-Propelled Grenade! Ha ha!

Sunday, 30 July 2023

Burl reviews Any Which Way You Can! (1980)


Ha ha, right turn Clyde, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review one of the good ol’ boy apestravaganzas Clint Eastwood appeared in back in the late 1970s! In fact, the one I’m reviewing for you is not the epic that kicked it all off, Every Which Way But Loose: nope, although I did watch that one a while back (but didn’t review it for some reason), I’m skipping right to the second and final entry in this abbreviated series, Any Which Way You Can!

You might ask “Ha ha, but Burl, aren’t these movies terrible, and why are you wasting precious, precious minutes of life, which is so dear, to watch them?” Your inquiry has merit, and I’ve asked the same questions myself! But while the movies are indeed fairly terrible, they have a hominess to them, along with a little bit of nostalgia, that afford them a certain edge! They have other values as well, which I’ll get to presently!

But first: the plot! No, ha ha, there’s no plot, so I’ll give you the setup and the situation instead! It seems there’s a beer-drinkin’, engine-block haulin’ bare-knuckle fighter, lean mean and taci-tureen, who goes by the name of Philo Beddoe! He has a best pal, Orville (or is Orville his brother?), but an even better pal in his orang-utan roommate Clyde, an inveterate cop-car shitter! A hapless gang of Nazi idiot bikers are constantly after Philo, and are always outwitted by him, which, ha ha, isn’t all that impressive really, since they're dopes! He has an irascible old Ma, and in the first movie he fell for a lady singer named Lynne Halsey-Taylor, who dumped him at the end of it!

In this one, Philo decides to quit bare-knuckle brawling just as some gambler gangsters organize a big-money brawl! They want to pit Philo against their east coast monster Mr. Jack Wilson, played by Big Bill Smith from Fast Company and The Mean Season; but in the meanwhile Philo and Lynne Halsey-Taylor (played again by Sondra Locke from The Shadow of Chikara) have rekindled their romance by playing bohankie in the filthy barn where Clyde dwells, as the fascinated and horny ape watches! Ha ha, yikes! So under the influence of his family and friends, Clint decides to pull out of the fight; the mobsters kidnap Lynne Halsey-Taylor in an attempt to force the issue; Mr. Jack Wilson and Clint become friends while jogging and work together to save Lynne Halsey-Taylor; and then they have a big fight anyway! And, in an ending I did not expect, the Nazi bikers become millionaires!

See, here’s where we come to one of the virtues of this picture, to which I alluded before: the cast! Of course Clint, whom we know so well from Tightrope and Tarantula, is Philo, who is a pretty dopey guy really, and from his facial expressions frequently seems overwhelmed by a mystifying modern world that baffles him at every turn! But he’s a generally amiable dimwit, and he’s backed up by Geoffrey Lewis, familiar from Smile and ‘Salem’s Lot, in the role of Orville, the unscrupulous tow-truck driver who also lives in the compound; and Ruth Gordon from Rosemary’s Baby and The Big Bus is Ma, crotchety old Ma, ha ha!

Familiar faces abound! There’s Bill McKinney from Cannonball, Barry Corbin from My Science Project, Al Ruscio from The Naked Flame and Michael Cavanaugh from Collateral Damage! Plus the cast is filled with stuntmen of course, because the movie was directed by a stuntman, Buddy Van Horn, and so there are plenty of casual stunts to go along with the more obvious and heavily planned stunt gags! And then there are the Quinces, a Midwestern couple recently arrived in California and played by real-life spouses Logan Ramsey from The Beast Within and Anne Ramsey from Deadly Friend! They serve as completely marginal story elements, like living Sergio Aragones drawings, whose coincidental proximity to the ape-fuelled antics at first provides only alarm, but eventually reinvigorates their moribund sex life!

Digressions like this are one reason the picture runs an unconscionable 114 minutes, and musical interludes are another! In addition to the songs sung by Lynne Halsey-Taylor, we get material from both Glen Campbell and, amazingly, Fats Domino, sporting a cowboy hat and singing a country song in a shitkicker bar! And weirdest of all is the opening theme song, a duet by Eastwood and Ray Charles called “Beers to You!”

So there are items of interest salted throughout the picture, but ultimately it’s a pretty dumb good-old-boy comedy: the kind of picture that wildly over-commits to the running gag of an orang-utan befouling police vehicles! As a director, Buddy Van Horn makes an excellent stunt coordinator, and there’s a loose and ramshackle vibe to the whole thing that’s appealing if you’re in the right mood, irritating if you’re not, and in any event loses all value no matter what mood you’re in once the picture is over and you’re trying to remember it later! Ha ha, I give Any Which Way You Can one and a half flying car hoods!

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!