Ha ha!

You certainly never know what movie he'll review next!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Burl reviews It's My Turn! (1980)



It’s Burl’s tur-r-r-rnnn… to review a new picture for you, ha ha! It’s actually an older picture, made somewhere around 1980! I’ve lately been interested in middlebrow pictures from this period, the late 1970s into the early 80s, and I think I’ve finally figured out why! I was a kid at that time, and the adult world was mysterious to me; so maybe somewhere deep inside I believe I can solve all these long-forgotten mysteries by watching what the adults were up to, in films at least, as an adult myself!
It’s a pretty hair-brained theory any way you slice it, but it’s my excuse for watching pictures like It’s My Turn! I imagined this would be a boring, pastel hunk of Self-Actualizing Woman-slash-Woody Allen-lite: An Unmarried Woman meets Annie Hall, done without any taste, talent or verve! Well, I was right to a point – it does seem at times to be a very purposeful amalgam of those two movies, featuring as it does Jill Clayburgh acting like Diane Keaton; but beyond that it actually had some pleasant surprises in store for ol’ Burl! Ha ha!
Clayburgh stars as, if I’m recalling this correctly, Kate Gunzinger, a mathematics whiz who leaves her home in Chicago, and her boyfr*end, Charles Grodin (who frequently ended up in roles like this, didn’t he, ha ha – Seems Like Old Times for Grodin once again!), to spend a weekend in New York! She’s there to take a job interview for an academic position in the Big Apple, and also to attend her father’s wedding to Beverly “Gunslinger” Garland! Ha ha, Gunslinger Marries Gunzinger! Turns out that Beverly’s son is Michael Douglas, an ex-ballplayer, and Clayburgh and Douglas spend the weekend getting to know one another better, ha ha, before they become step-siblings!
The movie is a series of quite long, dialogue-heavy scenes, which makes it seem like it was adapted from a stage play even though it wasn’t! It attempts, and surprisingly often succeeds, at a sort of flibbertigibbet honesty about matters of the heart, and on top of all this there’s a scene in a circa-1980 hotel games room, complete with foosball and tabletop computer baseball! Ha ha, it’s in moments like that you forget that there’s just about zero romantic chemistry between Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas!
It’s nice to see Beverly Garland in a different sort of a role than I’m used to, and there’s also an appearance by Daniel Stern, famed for his role in C.H.U.D., as another math whiz! But I think the Stern role should have been played by Keith “Christine” Gordon, ha ha – he would have been perfect! Even so, this was a surprisingly compelling little movie that rarely went exactly where you thought it would go, and ended in a fairly abstract and unresolved manner, which ol’ Burl always likes! Ha ha, “rerouting through Toronto” is used as a euphemism for something, but you can’t be quite sure what! I give It’s My Turn two and a half daddy-daughter haircuts!

Burl reviews Edgar G. Ulmer – The Man Off-Screen! (2004)



Hi, Burl here, to review a documentary about a fine director of olden times, Edgar Ulmer! The movie is called Edgar G. Ulmer – The Man Off-Screen, and it purports to give us a portrait of the man behind such wonderful motion pictures as The Black Cat, Detour and of course Strange Illusion!
The picture certainly has a lot going for it! Ulmer’s daughter participates – she was one of the producers in fact, I believe – and has a lot of insight, of course! And then there’s a wide range of interviewees, like Joe “Matinee” Dante, or John “¡Three Amigos!” Landis, or Wim “Lightning Over Water” Wenders! These are engaging and intelligent fellows, and they have plenty to say about Ulmer from an informed film fan’s remove! Ann Savage, the star of both Ulmer’s Detour and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, shows up too, and gives a pretty good account of the making of Ulmer’s classic six-day wonder! The lead actor from Strange Illusion is also in there, and it’s great to see him too!
But the movie is hampered by various attempts at style which don’t really come off! Presumably inspired by the road movie ethos of Detour, many of the interviews take place in moving cars, which is hardly fatal, but is both distracting and a little misleading! It’s not as though Ulmer was so well known for his love of filming in cars or anything! You may as well film an Ingmar Bergman doc entirely in a car just because he made Wild Strawberries! Ha ha!
There are other location choices that are mildly off-putting, like the big Vienna Ferris wheel! Ha ha, I’m not saying that should only be used in a documentary about Carol Reed, but that should only be used in a documentary about Carol Reed! And there are two movie nerds who get interviewed in a Hollywood graveyard, and that doesn’t really work either! The bits with the car in the studio in front of a back projection don’t work they way they’re supposed to either – something about the way they’re shot totally fails to bring us back into that creaky Monogram studio in the mid-Forties the way it’s intended to! A noble idea, but the execution just doesn’t make it!
I don’t want to be too down on this documentary production, though! As I say, there are many interesting interviewees and fascinating facts! The filmmakers may have ended up with a bit of a dog’s breakfast style-wise, but at least they tried to mix it up a bit and go beyond the standard talking-heads-and-clips thing! And they deserve kudos for making a documentary on Ulmer at all, I say! And an extra bonus is that the DVD of this documentary includes an entire Ulmer picture, Isle of Forgotten Sins, as a bonus feature! Ha ha, look for a review of that one some time soon!
Well, maybe Edgar G. Ulmer – The Man Off-Screen didn’t rise quite to my exacting standards of documentary bio-pics about B movie directors, but there’s nevertheless much to admire here, not least the fact that it exists at all! I give this picture a hearty two Hollywood strip malls!

Burl reviews Mean Streets! (1973)



Ha ha, paisano, it’s Burl here! I’d like to review the first fully-formed Martin Scorsese picture, Mean Streets, which I recently watched for the first time in many, many years! Turns out it’s a pretty good picture, even better than I remembered!
Yes, it’s a low-budget movie, and was at one time going to be an exploitation picture for Roger Corman, like Scorsese’s previous movie Boxcar Bertha! Ha ha! But Corman wanted to make the characters black, because that was big at the time, and Scorsese decided that wasn’t in keeping with his vision of the picture, which was meant to be a memoir of his own youth in Little Italy!
It’s a strange movie without much narrative drive – a hangin’ out picture, as some might describe it! It’s set in a section of New York whose inhabitants seem to be perpetually celebrating some saint or another’s feast day! Against this background we meet a quartet of, for lack of a better word, friends, who all seem to operate on the fringes of the mob world we see so much more of in other Scorsese movies!
That was something that surprised me, actually! The rascals in this picture – Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and a couple of other fellows – are mostly just peeking in through the venetians at the real mobsters, and engaging in their own extralegal struggles like children playing at imitating the adult world! Keitel’s character is the most mature and likeable of the pals, but he’s plagued by insecurity, indecisiveness and some vague but powerful feelings of guilt! He’s taken on De Niro’s volatile Johnny Boy as a sort of project whereby he can achieve some kind of redemption! But Johnny Boy is a difficult project, since he owes money to just about everybody and seems, in his cavalier refusal to pay any of it back, almost to have a crazy death wish!
In the meantime, Keitel is having an af*air with the young lady who lives next door, who happens to be De Niro’s cousin and a sufferer of ep*lepsy! He’s got to keep this a secret from everybody, since his Moustache Pete of an uncle disapproves of dating ladies who are, as he puts it, “sick in the head!” Of course it all comes to a violent climax, which is notable for being one of the few gun-violent scenes in the picture! Ha ha, speaking of gun violence, there’s an amusing apropos-de-rien sequence in which a drunken David “Armed Response” Carradine is gunned down by a longhair played by his own brother, Robert “The Pom Pom Girls” Carradine, and for a while simply refuses to die!
It’s an excellent picture, rich and atmospheric, with all the kinetic energy we’d expect from Scorsese! It’s certainly for the best he didn’t do the blaxploitation Corman version, but I do admit I’d like to see how that one would have turned out! Ha ha, for its verve and accomplishment, I give Mean Streets three and a half spraying neck wounds!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Burl reviews Weird Science! (1985)


Fats, man, ha ha, it’s me, Burl! Yes, the picture I thought I’d review today is that gem in the John Hughes cineverse, Weird Science! Ha ha, a lot of people will tell you their favourite is Curly Sue, but not me! Of course, I’ve never seen Curly Sue, so who knows, maybe when I do I’ll think it’s just great!
But we are here to talk Weird Science, which is apparently facing a Full Metal Jacket-style soap-beating in the form of an impending remake! Ha ha, I know I’ve promised to review all the movies, but I’m not sure I’ll ever bring myself to watch that one! Not that the original is my most beloved picture ever or anything, but still, most anything enjoyable about it stems directly from either its 80s provenance or its performances!
Gary and Wyatt are two high school buddies in the Hughesian kingdom of Shermer, the fictional Chicago suburb in which most of his movies take place! Nobody likes these two geeks, and they’re pretty hopeless with the ladies! But they have a little sleepover and manage to use computer power, hocus-pocus and just a dash of weird science to create a full, life-sized lady, whom they name Lisa! And Lisa has magical powers in the bargain! Ha ha, not bad for a Friday night in Shermer!
Well, Lisa is played by the lady from Hard to Kill, and the first thing she does for these young hufnagels is to take them to a blues bar, the sort of club you only find in movies like this and, apparently, Adventures in Babysitting! (Ha ha, that’s a picture I’ve never seen! Should I give it a look, do you think?) There we suffer through a long, drawn out Old Bluesman impersonation from Anthony Michael Hall! Ha ha, crazy insane? Insane? Crazy? Answer: yes!
Well, the rest of the plot involves Gary and Wyatt suffering humiliations at the hands of Robert Downey Jr. from The Avengers and Due Date, and Robert Rusler from A Nightmare on Elm Street part 2 and Vamp, and then having a big party where they find their inner courage after a biker attack (ha ha, the terrific Michael Berryman shows up, of all people!) and learn it’s best to try and just be themselves! Blech, ha ha! They also defeat the mighty Chet, played by Bill Paxton! He’s pretty funny, and it’s nice to see those gun-toting jarhead type of guys get the treatment they deserve!
It’s an expensive looking picture because of all the crazy destruction that happens at the party, and the supernatural reversal of that destruction later on! Thanks to the cast it’s often very funny too, though not for the reasons it thinks! Downey get a ha ha from me just for saying “You do!” so brightly in response to a question from Lisa, and Paxton gets one for the line “What are they doing in there?!?!” It’s all in the delivery, ha ha! I also liked Gary’s explanation of his father’s profession!
There’s certainly not much to the movie, and it’s frequently very dumb, and not once does it come close to making any sense whatsoever! But ol’ Burl can roll with that, ha ha! I’ll always enjoy it for reasons that are entirely my own, and I guess that on reflection I’ll award Weird Science two and a half Rex Harrison hats!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Burl reviews The Burning! (1981)



Oh, hello there, it’s Burl! Didn’t mean to scare you! Ha ha! I’m here to review one of the better-known slasher pictures of the early 1980s, The Burning! This was the picture trick effect fellow Tom Savini decided he’d rather do than Friday the 13th part 2, and I can’t say I blame him! It would have been a somewhat quixotic enterprise in either case, since the trick effects in both movies were cut to ribbons by the cens*rs of the day, ha ha!
The Burning may as well be a Friday picture anyway, ha ha, and it also very much resembles Madman, though not quite as blue! (It’s well-photographed for one of these things, in fact: the cinematographer, Mr. Harvey Harrison, also shot several Ken Russell pictures, including the beautiful Salomé’s Last Dance, and also a couple of Ch*ech & Ch*ng movies, ha ha, like Still Smokin’!) It really is the crystallization of the genre, and if a space alien came down and demanded to see a representative example of the slasher form, you could do worse than show him this picture, ha ha!
Well, it seems that several teens at a summer camp tried to do a joke on Cropsy, the caretaker, but it went sadly awry, ha ha, and the next thing you know they’ve created a Cropsymaniac! This entity grabs his trusty gardening shears and makes his way to a different camp some years later; a special camp, apparently, for layabouts in their early 20s! After many scenes of prankage and laffs, and well-earned abuse that is heaped upon a pathetic young fellow named Alfred (played by the Rat himself, Brian Backer, from Moving Violations and The Money Pit) the Cropsymaniac begins his rampage among the trees! He reserves much of his ire for young couples who foolishly choose the woods as a place to make l*ve! Oh, Glazer, ha ha, you big cruickshank!
The woods always seem to me the most proper locale for a slasher picture, I have to say! Of course sorority houses and empty hospitals have their place, but there’s something particularly apposite about a pine-scented locale! There are a couple of urban scenes shoehorned in there too, for those who like a little variety in their pokings! So this picture has that going for it, and it also has quite a few Special Makeup Effects and that great rarity, the Deformed Killer! On the debit side, the killings themselves are pretty unimaginative, and it seemed to me as I watched that many opportunities for suspense were bungled in the execution! Ha ha!
As inept as it often is – ha ha, talk about a by-the-numbers script, too! – this one is a bit of an old favourite! The trick effects are well managed, the competent cast littered with familiar faces (Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher "The Grand Budapest Hotel" Stevens and Ned "Hiding Out" Eisenberg), and many treats of varying kinds are provided the discerning viewer as the movie progresses! I’m going to give The Burning a hearty handshake and two monkeyfaced camp directors!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Burl reviews Attack of the Flesh Eating Tree!! (199?)


Ha ha, it’s Burl here to review an arboreal obscurity made, as near as I can judge (by the clothes, hairstyles and a ham-handed reference to Twin Peaks, ha ha), sometime in the early 1990s! It’s called Attack of the Flesh Eating Tree!!, and yes, those double exclamation points are part of the movie’s official title as it appears in the opening credits!
I found this VHS tape for sale in a video store on Bathurst Street in Toronto at least a decade ago! I bought it and two other similar tapes (which will be reviewed here soon, you can bet!) for a dollar apiece, but never watched them until now! I assumed it was a completely homemade bit of tomfoolery, and as it turns out I wasn’t far wrong!
The movie is set at a lakeside lodge, owned by a couple who are in the midst of some kind of marital discord! It seems the man – a bald, mustachioed nerd who looks like anything but a lothario – had performed an inf*delity, and the lady has photographs of same! The man apologizes and says it’s all over and he never loved that other lady! The wife, probably the most terrible actor in a movie full of them, makes him go sleep on the couch anyway, ha ha! But they have to pretend to be happy over the next couple of days, as the lady is hosting a reunion of some kind!
The next day there are several more ladies at the lodge, along with one fellow who is the b*yfriend of one of them! The main couple needn’t pretend to be happy, because none of the other reunionees is! They all seem to be mean, vaguely brain-damaged people who can only speak in what’s meant to be cuttingly nasty badinage, but comes off as children improvising a fight scene for the school production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf!
Anyway, the flesh-eating tree can’t come along too soon, ha ha, and to the movie’s credit we don’t have to wait too long for an attack! Two of the ladies go off to play shuffleboard in the woods, and the tree eats them up! Ha ha, its bite is every bit as bad as its bark, turns out! Then it chomps a lady on the dock as she prepares to go swimming, and soon after that it knocks her boyfr*end on the head and puts a biting on him too! Then we have many more scenes of the tree munching its way through the cast, until all that’s left are the couple we met at the beginning!
I’m going to go ahead and tell you the ending of the picture in some detail, because the odds of you ever actually seeing it are approximately nil! So here’s the big climax: the tree eats up the lady, but her husband, a most unlikely hero, grabs an axe and chops away at the foliaged fiend! The tree spurts blood and collapses, and the man is able to pull his lady wife out from its maw, and they declare their love for one another! Ha ha, the end!
Well, this has all the professionalism and production values of a movie made over the weekend by a group of people who’ve never held a camera before! You might be asking yourself “Ha ha, how did they pull off the complicated creature effects that would be necessary in a movie about a flesh-eating tree? Well, the short answer is, they didn’t! But the creature is not without charm: it operates an awful lot like the raging carpet creature in that classic of le bad cinema we all know and love, The Creeping Terror! That’s the one where, whenever the monster eats someone, the victim has to actually crawl into the monster’s mouth for the ingestion to be successful, and if the eatee is a lady, her b*m usually gets stuck in the craw for a few moments before the final gulping! Ha ha, same thing here!

The acting is atrocious and the script is worse, and there’s no evidence of any special effort or talent among the filmmakers! But the monster has some appeal, and the location used, which according to the credits was somewhere near Muskoka, Ontario, is quite lovely! There’s a stunning boathouse, and if you’re a boathouse aficionado like ol’ Burl is, you’ll enjoy that! In the end it was clearly just made for fun, so how critically harsh can you be? I give Attack of the Flesh Eating Tree!! one and a half Sony Walkmen!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Burl reviews Universal Soldier: Regeneration! (2009)



Bort bort! It’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review a robot movie, or maybe it isn’t about robots, but they’re some sort of synthetic people! I’m talking about a picture known as Universal Soldier: Regeneration!
I’m not too familiar with these Universal Soldier movies, I have to say! I think I might have seen the first one when it came out on video, or maybe I just saw part of it! I only saw this one sort of by laziness-based chance, and the reason I even considered a viewing is that I read some intriguing reviews of the most recent of these pictures, which I guess I’ll try to catch up with some time! No rush, though!
The concept behind these movies, as I understand it, is that the Army or somebody decided to take soldiers who had died and inject them with some kind of drug cocktail that makes them into unfeeling, indestructible zombie supermen! In this episode, some disaffected Russians who are not Chechens have taken over Chernobyl and kidnapped the President’s children! They’ve hired a turtle-faced rogue nerd scientist to help out, because he has a Universal Soldier of his very own, which he keeps like a pet and rents out to do dirty work!
Ha ha, it was with the introduction of this angry nerd that I became truly interested in the picture, because he looked, sounded and acted just like the mayor of my town! His aggressive, mean, petty petulance is so off-putting that you can’t wait for his inevitable gruesome death, and it was the same with this scientist character! Turns out his death scene was directly inspired by – not to mention wholly ripped-off from, ha ha – Blade Runner! One of his synthetic creations, Dolph Lundgren, looking like Rutger Hauer inflated by a bicycle pump, takes the fellow’s head in both hands and gives it a mighty hard squeeze!
Blade Runner is certainly not the only movie to have provided this picture with inspiration! Of course there are liberal doses of Robocop (whose android pathos it tries to co-opt, but never manages to) and The Terminator (with its implacable, unstoppable zombie wrestler) in there as well! It’s pretty dumb, ha ha, but it has a few peppy action scenes, such as the opening car chase and a fight scene between Jean-Claude Van Dam*e and ol’ Dolph!
The picture was directed by John Hyams, who turns out to be the son of famed, but often lousy, director-cinematographer Peter Hyams, who shot this one and presumably provided Van Damme-wrangling advice! Of the elder Hyams, I have to admit to liking Outland and Running Scared, but when I saw End of Days I thought “Sweet wingalls! Only a terrible filmmaker could have made this!” Hyams the younger made the more recent Universal Soldier picture too, so my judgment on his talents is tabled for now! In the meantime, I’m going to give Universal Soldier: Regeneration one and a half headpipes!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors! (1987)



Ha, and again I say ha! It’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another picture for you, and this time I thought it ought to be A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors! This was the first of the Freddy pictures I saw in the theatre – I had to sneak in, of course, because after all I was too young! – and I really had a spectacular time at the movies that night!
For that reason, and not so much because the movie is actually all that great, I think very fondly of the third Elm Street installment! It’s certainly better than A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, ha ha! It has a slick look, courtesy of DP Roy H. Wagner, that I consider the quintessential 80s horror cinematography! And it’s full to bursting with superb trick effects!
The story is pretty n*nsensical though! It seems there is a group of youngsters living in a Bughouse For Troubled Teens because they’re all suffering from terrible nightmares of a hideous man in a striped sweater! Their doctor is Craig Wasson, from Ghost Story and Body Double, and, unsurprisingly, he’s no help at all! But with the arrival of a new psychiatrist, none other than Nancy from the first movie, there is finally some hope! They discover that Patricia Arquette, one of the troubled teens, has the special power of pulling people into her dreams when things get hairy! Ha ha, shades of Dreamscape, which Chuck Russell, the co-writer and director of this one, also had a hand in!
But in dreamsville this sorry lot all get superpowers for some reason, and that’s where the movie starts to get really silly! Ha ha, you expect a certain level of silly in these pictures, but there are subbasements of silly below that, grand levels of bushwa, that no grown man should have to tolerate! I’ll quote one line of dialogue, just to give you an idea: “In my dreams, I am the wizard master!” Yikes, ha ha!
But despite these magical dream warriors being part of the movie’s title, they actually don’t occupy much screen time, o blessed relief! It seems as though the filmmakers started to feel maybe a bit abashed at the nonsensicality of their motion picture, so pulled back from it a bit! Ha ha! But I’ll tell you this: they spared no effort in their trick effects! There some marvelous stop motion stuff – ha ha, they should still use that technique, because it looks great! – and of course plenty of tricky makeup! Some of the optical stuff is a bit fakey, but that’s okay!
The cast is an interesting one! Laurence Fishburne plays the orderly, and he’s solid as always; Jennifer Rubin, whom I’ve always liked, is one of the teens; and the guy who plays the big burly black teen, Kincaid, has the most non-threatening air about him you could imagine, though he’s supposed to be a tough young man! John Saxon returns, which is always nice to see! Craig Wasson is a strange case, because I’ve always felt there was a weird air about him! I know nothing about the man, but I have to say I just get a strange vibe! Maybe that just means he’s a really good actor, ha ha!
I’m sorry to say that I don’t think Nancy is a very good actor! She was a lot better in the first one, I thought! In this one – well, best not to look at it too closely! Ha ha, she was given a tough part to play (Doogie Howser meets Oliver Sacks, essentially!) and a lot of unspeakable dialogue, so it’s not all her fault! Anyway, she doesn’t ruin the movie, which is not scary or anything, but still sort of an enjoyable romp! I’m going to award it two popsicle stick houses!

Burl reviews Rock All Night! (1957)



Hi, Burl here with a review of another Roger Corman picture! Ha ha, I always like those Corman movies, and of course I like his Poe pictures as much as anyone, but his grimy little black and white five-day wonders do an awful lot of good for me too! This one, Rock All Night, is a classic example! It would make a good companion piece to Carnival Rock, but it’s leaner and livelier and a lot less depressing! Also, Dick Miller has been moved from a supporting role to the lead, so I’d say it’s an improvement all around!
Dick plays Shorty, a little guy with a big chip on his shoulder! He gets kicked out of a club where the Platters are singing an awesome number – actually he gets carried out under the bartender’s arm – and makes his way to another joint nearby! This one is a little more welcoming to Shorty, but has the distinct disadvantage of being the place a couple of gun-toting gangsters have chosen to hole up! There’s also a nervous singer who’s auditioning for a singing job at the behest of a portly beatnik named Sir Bop; a surly shakedown fellow; a bewildered reporter, a muscle-bound truck driver and his salty lady friend; a would-be boxer, his manager and his wife (played by the lovely Barboura "Sorority Girl" Morris from A Bucket of Blood, ha ha!); and the sad-sack bartender who serves drinks to them all!
It’s a fairly big group of people, and helps keep your mind of the inertness of the setting! Ha ha, the bar is a pretty dingy little place! But the picture is only sixty-two minutes long, after all! It was based on a twenty-five minute TV play called The Little Guy, and the great screenwriter Chuck Griffith, who adapted the play for Corman, just threw in a bunch of extra characters and some musical numbers from the aforementioned Platters and a pretty good group called the Blockbusters!
It’s Dick’s character, Shorty, that keeps the whole movie lively! He needles everybody, no matter if they’re two feet taller than him or if they point a gun at his nose! He doesn’t care! And so in the end, after all the big guys fail to defuse the gangster situation, he becomes the hero! Perhaps the greatest hero of them all! And the movie ends with him strolling off with the singer on his arm to catch a screening of King Kong! Ha ha, how happy can an ending get?
 
The movie’s a little one-note, as I mentioned, and it never displays the wit of something like A Bucket of Blood, but it’s still packed with great stuff! It’s got an all-star cast – Bruno Ve Sota, from Attack of the Giant Leeches, makes a surprise cameo, Russell "The Horror at 37,000 Feet" Johnson plays "Jigger," the main gunman, and we also get Beach Dickerson from Attack of the Crab Monsters and Jonathan Haze from Not Of This Earth! Plenty of others too, and Sir Bop is played by the great Mel Welles! I give Rock All Night three marvelous striped bomber jackets! 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Burl reviews Sex With the Stars! (1980)



Bucka-bucka-wow, it’s Burl, here to review a movie all about, you guessed it, s*x! That’s right, ha ha, but it’s not a p*rno flick, not quite! It’s called Sex With the Stars, and it sort of exists in a weird, dingy netherworld between such wink-wink-nudge-nudge British s*x comedies as Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate, and the last, dwindling days of shot-on-film hardc*re!
What I’m saying is there’s a lot of n*dity and simulated s*x, and very little plot! It takes place in London, and begins in the offices of a magazine publisher, a brash, c*itus-obsessed American named Mr. Terson! Mr. Terson is played by an actor called, ha ha, Thick Wilson! The magazine’s astrology columnist is a meek young milquetoast named Peter Bates, and he’s nervously waiting for an audience with Mr. Terson (played, don’t forget, by Thick Wilson, ha ha!) to see if he’ll still have a job!
Thick Wilson, er, Mr. Terson, advises him that he needs to make the astrology column more s*xy, but it turns out that poor bespectacled Peter knows nothing about the act of l*ve! Ha ha, he’s never given it a try! Mr. Terson tells him, well, if you want to keep your job, you’d best make l*ve to ladies of every zodiacal sign so you can provide all the saucy details in your column! And, Mr. Terson continues, you must deliver the results in a fortnight!
Well, the next hour of the movie is the nervous, stammering Peter experiencing a series of highly unlikely assignations, which he falls in to practically by accident! Ha ha, the running gag is how tired the fellow gets, and how overheated Thick Wilson, in the role of Mr. Terson, becomes when he reads Peter’s copy! And the plot complication involves Mr. Terson’s secretary, who was his first c*nquest, becoming jealous and resentful of his sudden zealousness for s*xual congress!
Ha ha, at one point he decides he has become a s*x maniac and resolves to drown himself in a lake! But, ha ha, on the way there he saves a young lady who has fallen in the water, and, upon discovering she’s a Pisces, the next thing you know he’s practically r*ping her as she slowly regains consciousness! Ha ha, what a hilarious s*x comedy!
There’s also a part where, apropos of nothing, everyone picks up their bouzoukis and starts dancing the Greek hazatzka! It’s a little like the accordion entr’acte in Holy Motors, ha ha, although not quite as delightful! The perplexing and nonsensical script to this movie was written by none other than frequent Hammer Films scribe Tudor Gates, who wrote the entire Karnstein Trilogy, The Vampire Lovers, Lust For A Vampire and Twins of Evil! He also co-wrote Barbarella and Mario Bava’s fantastic Danger: Diabolik! But, ha ha, there’s less nonsense in all these pictures combined than we find in Sex With the Stars!
The movie features a tremendous number of n*ked ladies, a lot of bad acting, dishwater cinematography from Peter “Schizo” Jessop, slow-motion s*x scenes and a theme song that will melt your brain! Occasionally, as when the characters go disco dancing, the movie recalls that Euro-s*x classic Summer Night Fever, but it never succeeds in making you HAPPY in quite the way that picture did! I give Sex With the Stars one and a half dancing Thick Wilsons!

Burl reviews The Cabin in the Woods! (2011)



Burl talking on you again! I’m here to review a newer picture that I’ve just finally caught up with, The Cabin in the Woods! I’d heard it was an enjoyable meta-horror lark, and indeed it lives up to that billing quite handily!
Most of the people reading this have probably already seen it, but in case that’s not true I won’t go into the whole nuts and bolts of the plot, because it’s more enjoyable the less you know! But I will say that it starts off like so many other movies, particularly The Evil Dead, with five young people heading out for an unlikely vacation at a remote cabin in the forest!
Once there, strange things begin to occur! A trapdoor opens and they head down into the cellar, where many curious and eldritch items await! I saw what was going on in this scene, more or less, and found it most amusing indeed! After this, it’s time for zombies, monsters, blood and gore, and of course the huge scientific complex that exists beneath the cabin!
Ha ha, the movie has many funny moments and performances – Richard Jenkins, from Killing Them Softly, is particularly uproarious as one of the boffins who work in the subterranean cavern! The filmmakers were smart enough to hire Peter “Evil Dead 2” Deming to do their cinematography, so the picture doesn’t just look good, it looks good in the way it ought to!
I do have a few complaints, however! I noticed a giant spider lurking in the margins of one shot, and I was disappointed that we never saw it in action! Giant snakes are okay, but they’re just not the same! Also, the movie isn’t quite as scary as it could have been, and that’s too bad, because what a wonderfully rounded picture it would have been if it had managed some bloodcurdling between laffs!
The movie was produced by the fellow who made The Avengers, and so it’s a pretty slick piece of work! It’s almost too slick; it could use a little grunge in the early scenes, it seems to me! But that’s really a minor bit of nit-picking! I very much enjoyed the picture, and if this review is a little on the short side, it’s because so many others have had their say about it already, and I don’t want to reveal things to whomever out there hasn’t had a chance to see it yet! So I’ll just say that The Cabin in the Woods is a peppy picture, and I give it three mermen! 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Burl reviews Malibu Hot Summer! (1974)


Ha ha, hey baby, it’s Burl, here to review an early picture featuring the Cos! No, not Bill Cosby, sad to say, but the other, paler Cos: Kevin "Fandango" Costner! His picture Malibu Hot Summer (known on video as Sizzle Beach U.S.A.) brings us to the titular beach community, which is of course a frequent staging ground for such shenanigans as this movie has to offer! The story runs as follows: Janis Johnson, an aspiring singer with a strange, crooked smile, is driving to L.A. to make it big; along the way she meets fellow naïve Midwesterners Cheryl Riley, a pert-nosed, big-chested blonde, and Dit McCoy, a short ‘n’ kooky brunette who has just co-inherited a beach house with her cousin Steve! Dit invites the other two to stay with her at the beach house, and the rest of the movie details the trio’s romantic and employment-related adventures over the next few weeks!
Cheryl is a fitness freak, who in true 70s style is shown munching wheat germ and gulping down raw eggs, ha ha! Jogging on the beach, she meets a rich, middle-aged broker who looks just like John Hillerman! He charms her into dinner and helps her find a gym teacher position at a local high school; it seems certain he’ll prove too good to be true! In short order he’s demanding Cheryl marry him, but, wanting at least a few years to taste the swinging 70s Malibu lifestyle – and who can blame her? – she refuses, and when he issues a stern “marriage or nothing” ultimatum, she dumps him and his moustache too!
In the meantime, though the house seems like it should be bigger than that, Janis has been forced by a lack of sleeping space to bunk with cousin Steve! Slowly, and only after a replay of a stock sitcom situation dramatized also in the movie Starhops (the noises of an innocent but difficult task undertaken by two members of the opposite s*x overheard by others in an adjacent room and mistaken for the grunts of coit*s), Janis and Steve’s initial mutual dislike evolves into a highly unconvincing romance! Steve is some sort of music producer and takes songbird Janis to a studio he knows, where a reptilian impresario named Von Vitale promises to put her in his singing contest!
As all this is going on, Dit, a Colorado girl and horse lover, is out seeking riding lessons! She comes upon a ranch owned by the young Cos, and managed by his assistant, a Corvette-driving, cigar-chomping midget in a serape! Costner hides the fact that he’s the owner (and owns a number of other ranches besides) so that Dit may come to love him for himself, not for his dogies and lariat and rancher’s millions!
The three stories intertwine lazily as the movie progresses, much in the manner of one of Roger Corman’s nurse or schooteacher pictures, and the near-imperceptible nod in the direction of a plot comes when Von the slimeball impresario’s contest turns out to be fixed! Coincidentally, the lascivi*us midget is friends with Von, and he tips Cos off to the fix! To remind us of Von’s epic sleaziness, we are treated to a fantastic party scene at which Janis is given some p*t to smoke, which in turn gives the director an excuse to mount the single worst st*ned-POV scene ever shot! No flashy optical effects or coloured lights, just good, old-fashioned slowed-down voices, tromboning focus and the rinky-dinkiest prism filter of all time, ha ha!
Costner and the midget take care of the fixed contest by stealing the clothing of the people who’d been earmarked by Von to be the winners! Naturally Janis wows the room with her laid-back folky style and wins the contest handily! And that’s the end! 

As a released-before-they-were stars embarrassment-fest, Malibu Hot Summer fills a minor and pointless niche in the pop culture cubbyshelf! More importantly, it delivers on the Malibu scenery, the nuggets of Hollywood eccentricity, the frequent shots of wave crashing on a beach! And best of all, it's a lean and mean delivery system for 70s nostalgia, well able to make you weep for your old days of beachside living whether or not they ever actually happened! On that level it's a masterpiece: what Gone With The Wind must be to people who unaccountably wish they'd been born during the Civil War! Ha ha, I give it two malfunctioning doorknobs!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Burl reviews When Time Ran Out...! (1980)



Boom, crash, aieeee, it’s Burl! Yes, those are the sound effects typically heard in a disaster picture, and today I’m going to review the biggest disaster of them all, Irwin Allen’s gigantic megaproduction When Time Ran Out…!
Like the previous Allen triumph The Towering Inferno, this one features Paul Newman wearing a hardhat! (He also wears the hat from Hud, ha ha!) But it must be said right off the top that this picture represents neither Irwin Allen’s nor Paul Newman’s finest moments! You could watch The Silver Chalice a thousand times and it still wouldn’t be as bad as When Time Ran Out…!
Ol’ Burl does enjoy a disaster picture, ha ha, so I was pretty sure I’d be able to overlook the inevitable dramatic, performative, pictorial and structural flaws in this one and milk some good-time enjoyment from it! But the movie is so absurdly top-loaded with soap opera that the real disaster is not the flying fireballs, tsunamis or lava flows, but the slow crushing weight of stilted melodrama! My gosh, there are probably more soap suds in this picture than in all the Airport movies combined!
The set-up is as follows: Newman is an oil man supervising a drill site on a remote Pacific island that is definitely not part of the Hawaiian archipelago! The island is owned by Newman’s oil partner Bob Spangler, a hotelier played by the poor man’s Charleton Heston, namely James Franciscus, who is married to Veronica Hamel, the daughter of his other business partner, William Holden! Ha ha, with me so far? Franciscus is having n af*air with an island lady played by Barbara Carrera, and she in turn is engaged to Edward Albert, the manager of the hotel who is secretly the half brother of Bob Spangler! In the meantime, Burgess “Grumpy Old Men” Meredith and his wife, retired high-wire walkers, are on the island for one last fling before her heart gives out; and Red Buttons, a white-collar criminal, has been pursued there by New York City cop Ernest Borgnine!
Ha ha, all of this takes a while to set up, and on top of it you have the science lab at the opening of the local volcano crater and the endless arguments about whether the volcano is going to bl*w! Bob Spangler is the bad guy here, out-Hamiltoning both Murray Hamilton from Jaws and Linda Hamilton from Dante’s Peak in his energetic disavowals of any possible disaster! But that’s okay, because in one of the movie’s best parts, Bob Spangler, his hotel, his absurdly loyal wife, his thick-headed girlfriend and all the silly guests who were dumb enough to stay at the hotel rather than seek higher ground with Newman and most of the other stars, are wiped out instantly by a giant lava bomb! Ha ha!
The thing with this picture is that, while there are a few good bits here and there (the lava bomb, the tsunami that gets both Alex Karras and his fighting cock, Pat Morita tumbling into lava, and a bit with a precarious volcano elevator), even the disaster movie parts are so slowly-paced as to be nearly as tedious as the romance-drama! The climax involves a lot of slow creeping across a disintegrating bridge, and this seems to take forever! And dramatically the movie is all askew: if you ask me, the real hero of the picture is Burgess Meredith, not Paul Newman (who was by his own admission only around to pick up a paycheque anyway), and the most touching relationship is between Buttons and Borgnine! It’s got to be one of the very worst disaster pictures ever made, ha ha, and it’s my privilege to give When Time Ran Out… a grand total of one unlucky bearded scientist!

Burl reviews Black Widow! (1987)


Hi, it’s certainly Burl here once again! Here’s a review of Black Widow, a 1980s movie that was Bob Rafelson’s grand return to filmmaking after a six-year absence! Ha ha, that’s not actually all that long an absence, especially when you consider that Rafelson had other six-year absences in his career, and in fact is working on about a ten-year one right now! It was also the great cinematographer Conrad Hall’s return after a decade doing who knows what (teaching would be my guess, or maybe he was lucratively shooting commercials!), and you can bet that Black Widow looks pretty good – no cobwebs on Hall’s eyes, ha ha!
But how’s the rest of it? I didn’t ever bother seeing the movie until now because of the lukewarm reviews it got at the time, particularly from the stalwart Mr. Roger Ebert! I’m not one who takes Ebert’s reviews as gospel – ha ha, certainly not since that review of Blue Velvet! – but he made a convincing case when it comes to Black Widow! And it turns out he was bang on!
The story has a Black Widow – figurative, not literal; this is no Curse of the Black Widow, ha ha – marrying a series of rich men, including such luminaries as Dennis “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” Hopper and Nicol “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” Williamson, and then poisoning them from afar by injecting toxins into their favourite boozes! Theresa “Track 29” Russell plays the Black Widow, and chasing after her is a federal investigator of some sort played by Debra Winger, an actress perhaps best known for her role in Slumber Party ’57! Ebert complained that her job was presented so vaguely that he thought at first she was a newspaper reporter, and I must admit to the same confusion!
Russell, who pitches small hissy fits whenever she becomes aware that someone is on to her little game, ends up in Hawaii in pursuit of millionaire hotel developer Sami “Bande à Part” Frey! Winger is right there with her, and they become scuba diving buddies! I thought they might become a little more than buddies, in fact, as neither woman is presented as caring much for the am*rous favours of men! It seemed quite natural that a romance might bloom between them, which would then dramatically complicate matters in an interesting way! But no, it pretty much remains a good-gal/bad-gal story all the way through to an unsurprising surprise ending!

This is a fine example of the sort of picture they did so well in the 1980s particularly: a movie in which all the major elements are competently handled, and there might even be a dash of s*x and n*dity, as indeed there is in Black Widow, or violence perhaps, but the picture still ends up seeming sort of bland and TV movie-ish! The decade was full of these things: Suspect, No Way Out, Someone To Watch Over Me, Jagged Edge, Rent-A-Cop, and so many more! It’s nice to look at, has a good cast – Terry “The Stepfather” O’Quinn and James “Big Trouble in Little China” Hong make appearances – and Rafelson pulls some pleasing tricks, but it’s ultimately a forgettable, boilerplate 80s thriller! I give Black Widow one and a half hilariously complicated prop toys!