Ha ha!

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

Monday, 29 December 2014

Burl reviews Earthworm Tractors! (1936)



Ha ha, vroom, it’s Burl, here to review a movie about earthworm tractors! And what’s the picture called, you may ask? Of course it’s called Earthworm Tractors, because that’s what it’s all about! Yes, they made a whole movie about earthworm tractors, and along with all the earthworm tractors, they managed to stuff a little comedy and romance in there too, ha ha!
Strike that, a lot of comedy, both successful and merely attempted! The star is everybody’s pal, Joe E. Brown, whom we all know best from, let’s face it, The Comedy of Terrors! (And also from Some Like It Hot, ha ha!) In one notice I read, Brown was described as having  “a mouth like a satchel,” and that image stayed with me through the whole of Earthworm Tractors, with me thinking that at any moment Joe was going to pry open his enormous piehole and pull out some Western Union correspondence!
The plot involves Joe E. Brown as Alexander Botts, who, as he proclaims about ten thousand times, considers himself “a natural-born salesman!” But he’s just selling doohickeys, which impresses neither his putative fiancée nor his would-be father-in-law-to-be (who is played by that old familiar face Olin Howland, famed from Them! and The Blob)! Ha ha, so Botts goes off to find something bigger to sell, and settles on earthworm tractors! But because he’s a thoroughgoing idiot, the captains of industry who run the earthworm tractor factory are dubious about hiring him on, and the more so when Botts takes as his target the most notoriously unlikely earthworm tractor customer in the whole Midwest, Mr. Johnson!
Mr. Johnson is played by Guy Kibbee, whom we all know from Captain Blood, and my, he and Joe E. Brown were a pair of daring actors! The escapades of this picture require both thespians to ride an earthworm tractor as it trundles up, down and over all manner of obstacles, and the likelihood of one or both of them being bucked off and churned up beneath the tractor’s metal treads seems dreadfully high!
But soon Botts is r*mincing Mr. Johnson’s daughter and pulling his house around with an earthworm tractor (a comic highlight!) and generally causing all manner of earthworm tractor-based mayhem, while incessantly flapping his pouch-like anterior orifice! Ha ha! The climax involves Botts and Johnson riding an earthworm tractor through a blasting quarry, with all kinds of explosions and hair-raising near-misses on offer!
The stunt work in this picture is pretty impressive, especially for a little low-budget comedy! Joe E. Ross appears to have been quite a competent earthworm tractor pilot, too, and really a very gifted physical comedian! Ha ha, his salesman mannerisms, as when he strokes his lapels, are priceless! And many of the earthworm tractor gags are funny too! It’s a disposable goofshow of course, but I quite enjoyed Earthworm Tractors, and I’m going to give it three sinking tuffets!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Burl reviews Black Christmas! (1974)



Agnes! It’s Burl! Bleaughaughauughrragagag, snort, snort, pretty pretty! Ha ha, no, I haven’t gone mad – I’m just imitating one of the shocking telephone calls in the classic proto-slasher Black Christmas!
I watch this one nearly every Christmastime, ha ha, and it never gets old! Well, some things about it are old, like the rotary dial telephones and the many minutes it takes to track the origin of a call! And the many marvelous innovations which were hoary clichés only a decade later are, I suppose, technically old, but the engaging way in which the picture plays out ensures a fresh and robust experience each time!
It is, at heart, a movie about a very crazy person killing off sorority girls one by one, but these young ladies are not the simple dingbats usually found in such stories! They’re highly individuated humans, and even the not-so-pleasant ones (the haughty scold, the angry souse) are real, and one feels sad when the screeching maniac puts a poking on them!
The sorority house is closing up for the holidays, and only Jess and Barb and Phyl and a couple of others are around! Jess is having b*yfriend problems – the young fellow with whom she cavorts, a stringhair played by the Paperback Hero himself, Keir Dullea, is an intense weirdo with issues of control! Ha ha, could he be the kill-crazy knife-o-path? Maybe, or maybe there will be a finale drenched in grim ambiguity!
It’s a spooky picture, and maybe one of the two best, scariest slasher pictures ever produced! The other of course is Halloween, but this one runs neck-and-neck for sheer goosebumpery! Bob “Porky’s” Clark made the movie, and I’d call it the best Christmas picture he ever made, even though A Christmas Story is a marvelous creation as well! His cinematographer, Reg Morris, did am A-1 job of giving some real Christmas-light-and-snowball atmosphere to it all!
The cast really is top flight too! John Saxon, who was a cop in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Blood Beach, here plays a cop, ha ha! Another cop is played by Doug McGrath from Back Down the Road! Then you’ve got the co-eds in peril, Olivia “Escape 3000” Hussey, Andrea “Club Paradise” Martin, Lynne “Strange Brew” Griffin and of course Margot “Sisters” Kidder, all of whom are terrific, especially Kidder!
If you’ve never seen Black Christmas, well, you should do so and quickly, and thence make it an annual tradition just as I have done! It’s got lots of laffs and plenty of old-tyme shivers, so I give Black Christmas four king cans of 50! Ha ha!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Burl reviews Down the Road Again! (2011)



Ha ha, eh, it’s Burl, here to review not a revered Canadian classic, but a sequel to same! I’m sure we’ve all seen the vaunted 1970 picture Goin’ Down the Road, about those two Cape Breton chuckleheads making their way to Toronto so they can drive up and down Yonge Street howling and whooping! Ha ha, and if we haven’t seen that, we’ve seen the SCTV version of it, with John Candy and Joe Flaherty arriving in Toronto seeking doctorin’ and lawyerin’ jobs!
Well, if it turns out you’ve seen today’s picture, Down the Road Again, the forty-years-later sequel that takes up the adventures of Pete and Joey once again, I’d be pretty surprised! I don’t think too many people saw this one when it came out! And to tell you the truth, I’m not quite certain why it was even made!
But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, ha ha! Now, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Goin’ Down the Road, but I recall that it ends with Pete and Joey trying to rob a Loblaws, failing, and then hightailing it West, with Joey leaving his new bride and their soon-to-be-born child behind! Ha ha, shame on you Joey! The new picture begins shortly after Joey’s death (the actor, Paul “American Nightmare” Bradley, died for real back in 2003 or so), and we see the news brought to Pete, who is, as ever, played by Doug McGrath from Porky’s, and is now a retired postie in Vancouver! Along with the news come Joey’s ashes and a series of letters asking Pete to perform a series of tasks! These include refurbishing the Chevy Impala which had originally ferried the duo from their Nova Scotia home to Toronto, then driving from Vancouver to Toronto so as he can tell Joey’s abandoned wife Betty that he’s sorry, and thence on to Cape Breton for the scattering of the ashes! Ha ha, it’s a lot to ask an old tired postie, and Pete shakes his head plenty and says “Oh Joey, you ol’ son-of-a-bee!”
Pete makes the drive to Toronto in jig time, drinking Timmy’s all the way, and then has a bit of a job making any rapprochement with Betty (played by Jayne Eastwood from My Pleasure Is My Business), or her friend Selina (Cayle Chenin from Love in a 4 Letter World), or her daughter Betty-Jo (Kathleen Robertson)! But pretty soon he’s on the road again, now with Betty-Jo in the car, en-route to Cape Breton; and Joey, who keeps very busy for a dead guy, ha ha, has got some profound and life-changing surprises in store for his old pal there! These are centered around an old lady called Annie (Tedde Moore from Rolling Vengeance) and her lawyer son Matt! I could reveal the nature of their relationships, but I’ll let you figure it out yourself! Ha ha, shouldn’t be hard!
Don Shebib, who brought us Rip-Off and the original Goin’Down the Road, directs again, and he’s made a kind of sleepy, good-natured old-guy movie that has the same appeal you might find in an episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross! It’s a mellow movie, and despite all the potentially melodramatic incident with which the back half is loaded, it remains an out-of-time laid-back hoser-cinema right to the end!
There’s a sort of point-form quality to the picture, and watching it, you feel you’re being told about its events from a two- or three-person remove, rather than seeing them yourself! Ha ha, it’s kind of weird, but not unpleasant, though it does keep one at an emotional remove from the story! Doug McGrath, once described by a critic as “an actor who practically reeks s*x,” is good as the gentle-natured, constantly bewildered Pete, and he’s probably the best reason to watch the picture! All the actors are fine, actually, but I do think they could have stepped a little closer to the water when finally scattering Joey’s ashes! Ha ha, in the end, when all is said and done, I guess I’ll give Down the Road Again two dingle-balls, eh!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Burl reviews Gremlins! (1984)



Doot-doot-doot-doo-doo-doo, it’s Burl here, humming Jerry Goldsmith’s marvelous theme from Gremlins! Yes, that’s the picture I’m reviewing for you now, because I just saw it very handsomely projected on 35mm film at a movie theater in Hollywood! And yes, in case you were wondering, Dick “Gunslinger” Miller was in attendance, ha ha!
Now, I hardly have to tell you the plot of this very famous 80s movie, do I! Well, for those who are not “hep,” here you are: an inventor finds a weird puppet creature in a Chinatown shop run by Keye “Dead Heat” Luke, and brings it home to his curly-haired manchild son Billy for a Christmas present! (Ha ha, yes, it’s an Xmas movie!) The creature, named Gizmo, is cute and sweet-natured enough, but spill some water on him (as Corey “Friday the 13th part 4”Feldman is quick to do), and mean versions of the little fellow pop out of his back! Then all you have to do is feed them after midnight and they turn into little dragon monsters: agent of chaos who turn the reasonably placid little backlot world of Kingston Falls into a nightmare puppetscape beyond comprehension! Now it’s up to Billy and his young l*dyfriend Kate to stop the menace any which way they can! Ha ha!
Now, after Piranha and The Howling and a short segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie, this was Joe Dante’s first adventure in big-ish budget Hollywood feature filmmaking, and he didn’t waste it! He was able to assemble one of his typically marvelous casts, sticking people like Harry Carey Jr. (from Exorcist III), Jackie  Joseph (from Get Crazy), Glynn Turman (from Out of Bounds), William Schallert (from The Man From Planet X) and Kenneth Tobey (from Strange Invaders) into the margins! Ha ha, Chuck Jones is in there too, as are many references to past Dante works! All of this helps give the picture a comfortably cinematic feeling, as opposed to anything approaching a realistic one; and this in turn helps Dante achieve that perfectly 80s humour/horror balance that led to the picture becoming so successful! (Ha ha, as we know an expensive and much-loved Gremlins 2 came along some years later!)
Other familiar faces include Judge “Beverly Hills Cop” Reinhold, Belinda “Matinee” Balaski, Jonathan “Armed and Dangerous” Banks and Robby the “Hollywood Boulevard” Robot! So the picture has that going for it, and that’s a lot! It’s an enjoyable romp, but clunkier than I remembered – the script, with its undercooked characterizations, seems patently from the hand of a first-timer, and it seems like it could have been scarier and more exciting than it actually is! But the kitchen scene with Billy’s mom, where she massacres the gremlins without pity or hesitation, is marvelous, and it still delights and mystifies me that the studio gatekeepers allowed Kate’s grisly, Gahan Wilson-inspired Christmas story to pass through unscathed!
It’s all very quaint now, but still nifty and enjoyable; and after all it gave Dante the career he’s enjoyed since, so we must grant it that! Plus: a substantial role for Dick Miller, which is a prize beyond value! I give Gremlins two and a half eerie Johnny Mathis Christmas carols!

Burl reviews Sabotage! (2014)



Hi, and a big ha ha to you today! You know, occasionally I think to myself “Hey! The old Schwarz is making movies again, ha ha! I should check them out!” This is the same impulse that led me to watch The Last Stand some time ago, and more recently I viewed another neo-Arnie picture, Sabotage!
Well, you’re certainly asking “Ha ha, Burl, does Arnie recapture his glory days in this picture, the crazy, hazy days of Commando and Total Recall?” Answer’s no! He’s trying here for extreme grit and bottle-green heartache, for pain and murderous obsession, and to get within the mind of a man whose family was kidnapped, tortured and killed by Mexican drugsmen! Perhaps if the movie wasn’t so fixated on its cast of meatheads and their terrible grooming habits, it might have worked as a tragic character study, or else a violent mystery, but it doesn’t! Really you just wait for these characters to meet their makers, moments which, in several cases, can’t come soon enough!
Arnie runs a team of hard case DEA police clods who, in the opening scene, geniuses that they are, bust in to a drugs-den and steal many dollars! This scene, like several others in the picture, involves the team making their way down hallways and around corners, shooting people and then shouting “Clear!” Ha ha, it gets a bit repetitive! But anyway, being a real gang of Einsteins they misplace the stolen money and are immediately suspected of the theft by their bosses!
They’re placed on administrative leave, and use the time to become even more ugly and unpleasant! Eventually they get their badges back, but almost immediately begin getting killed one by one! Is it the drugs gang taking their revenge, or is it a traitor within the ranks! Ha ha, in either case, whoever is behind the killings, you want to pin a medal on them!
A lady police cop played by the Olivia Williams from Maps to the Stars gets mixed up in things, and even puts a kissing on the Schwarz at one point! You can really see her screwing up her courage before she does! But we (and Olivia Williams) are spared the subsequent scene of l*vemaking!
The movie falls apart as it goes on, defying logic more every minute through the third act! That’s because it was meant to have a completely different ending, I later found out, and one supposes it made a lot more sense! Ha ha and dog cookies, it sure doesn’t now! It’s a pretty unpleasant movie besides – it seems to go out of its way to be grotesque and horrible! A typical scene, for example, has Arnie pouring a glass of scotch and rewatching the family torture tape sent to him by the reeba-reeba gangsters! Ha ha, yikes!
It’s got some moments, and Arnie’s not horrible in his role, but in the end the movie really does fall apart as spectacularly as the bodies of its many casualties! Ha ha, I’m going to give Sabotage just one of Arnie’s stinky cigars!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Burl reviews Heat! (1987)



Hello and hello, it’s Burl here! It’s December now, and that means it’s okay for Burl to knowingly watch a Christmas-set action movie! Ha ha, remember Cobra? That was a stealth Christmas picture, and so is this one too! “This one” is of course Burt Reynolds’s Heat, the third and last of Burt’s one-word-title series of 85-87! Stick and Malone are the others, naturally!
Heat comes with a curious pedigree: the script is by William Goldman, and the picture was supposed to be directed by none other than Robert Altman! Altman dropped out (though at least one Altman actor, Neill "O.C. & Stiggs" Barry, remained in the cast) and was replaced by the fellow who did Death Valley, Dick Richards! But Heat was a case of perpetual miseries for Dick, it seems – Burt put a punching on him for some reason, and then later he (Dick that is) fell off a camera crane! Ha ha, Mr. Richards, those things have seatbelts for a reason! Anyway, he never directed a picture again after that!
Heat was clearly a Troubled Production, and that troubledness shows up most clearly in the ramshackle plotting! Burt is an invincible warrior with one of those anti-gun action-man codes (I always appreciate that, ha ha!), and a line in poking people with “edged weapons;” but he’s also a problem gambler with a self-destructive streak and a simple dream to visit Venice! To say that these two aspects sit ill with one another is to gravely understate the case!
Burt, playing Nick Escalante, works out of a dingy Las Vegas office which he shares with Howard “Rubin & Ed” Hesseman, of all people! The nature of their partnership, if indeed they are partners, is obscure, but Burt’s specialty seems to be helping nerdy little guys gain self-confidence! Ha ha, it’s easy to imagine he has his own little comic book ad showing the tribulations of a wimp at the beach!
His latest little nerdy guy friend is played by an actor I’ve always liked, Peter MacNichol, who was good in Dragonslayer and the best thing about Ghostbusters II! His character, Cyrus, wishes to learn the secrets of bravery, and Burt tries to teach these to him as he also joins a vengeance-battle against a spoiled-rotten mafia son and his enormous bodyguards!
There’s not much action in the picture, outside of a violence fight or two; though the climax has some Novelty Henchman Deaths you’ll enjoy, ha ha! But there’s also some gambling here, and Diana Scarwid, much better here than she is in Strange Invaders, plays a sympathetic dealer who watches Burt win and then promptly lose a fortune! I usually hate such scenes, but this one isn’t too bad, mainly because of how pathetically Burt plays it! (I don’t mean his acting is pathetic, but the character, ha ha!)
I don’t want to rank Heat with the other Burt One-Worders, but if I did it would probably be at the bottom! It’s occasionally entertaining, and has a few bon mots, but mostly feels like the work of people aggressively on autopilot! Burt’s character is slippery and undercooked – he’s portrayed as a kind-hearted softie in one scene, and next thing you know he’s playing for only one team, that’s Team Escalante! But if you’ve seen Malone and Stick, and you’re a completest by nature, you’ll want to see Heat! I award it one and a half kneecap blowouts!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Burl reviews Dragnet! (1987)



Ha ha, hello ma’am, it’s Burl! I’ve just watched that movie version of Dragnet, and I’m here to tell you all about it, though be warned: along with the just the facts, a few opinions will be mixed in!
This was a (very) minor favourite among my pals and I back when it was a newer picture! None of us had seen the show, either in its early or late 60s variants, so all we really took away from this was the sheepskin dance and The V*rgin Connie Swail! Ha ha, we sure laughed at that Vi*gin Connie Swail business, and I remember it particularly tickled the funnybone of my friend D. Davey B.!
I’ll back up and give you some idea of the plot! First we have Dan Aykroyd, from Ghostbusters and The Great Outdoors, perfectly cast as the nephew of Jack Webb’s Joe Friday! This Friday, also named Joe, is a humourless, rulebook-brandishing scold, so naturally is teamed up 1980s style with a character meant to be his complete opposite, in this case a casual slackster called Pep Streebeck! Ha ha, Pep! Anyway, Pep is played by Tom Hanks, famous from his appearance in The Money Pit, and while you might be expecting the slobby Hanks from Bachelor Party, the better to contrast Friday and his brush cut, we actually get something more like the regular-guy Hanks from Turner & Hooch and He Knows You’re Alone!
It seems L*s Angeles is being plagued by a series of extralegal outrages committed by an organization called P.A.G.A.N., which leaves business cards at the scenes of its crimes! It quickly becomes clear that a nasty reverend and a corrupt lady police commissioner are behind it all, though to what actual end I never was sure! The reverend is played with lots of goony laughing by Christopher Plummer, every bit as evil here as he was in The Silent Partner and Dreamscape, and Elizabeth Ashley, older, wiser and less n*ked than she was in Paperback Hero, is the police comissioner!
Mixed in with this gang is a lisping Hugh H*fner clone super-hammed by Dabney Coleman from Rolling Thunder and Cloak & Dagger; a hulking henchman named Muzz; the grumpy police chief, played by Colonel Potter of course; a f*ul-tongued landlady played by Kathleen Freeman from The Malibu Bikini Shop; a granny played by Lenka Peterson, who was Homer’s mom in Homer; and of course The Virg*n Connie Swail, an ingénue role essayed by Alexandra Paul from Christine!
Of all these actors it is Aykroyd who stands head and shoulders above the rest, with his high-and-tight and clipped delivery! Ha ha, he’s genuinely funny, and though the act seems like it should get old quickly, Aykroyd keeps it fun all the way through! The rest of the picture, while amusing, can’t quite live up to the standard he sets!
The plot mistakes incomprehensibility for purposeful goofitry, and the visual style is so basic as to be drabber than the TV show it’s based on! Ha ha! It tries to be exciting at times, as with the climactic shootout, which plays like the end of Beverly Hills Cop if nobody actually got hit by any bullets; but there it fails! So, as a piece of cinema, I find Dragnet wanting!
But as a mindless 80s amusement it offers a comfortable, ephemeral enjoyment! And I do have to report that I had a good time watching it, so with that in mind, and also its flaws, I award Dragnet two flailing sheepskins!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Burl reviews Chopping Mall! (1985)



Bleep boop, it’s Burl, here to review a robot picture for you! Ha ha, it’s called Chopping Mall, and it’s a picture I’ve always remembered fondly, both because it stood out from the slasher movie pack by virtue of its mechanical antagonists, and because it features a nice little cameo from none other than the great Dick “Apache Woman” Miller!
Watching it again, I can see that, while Miller is as entrancing as ever, the picture is really not very good! Still, it has its pleasures, as we will see! Now, as the title implies, the movie is set in a mall, which places it in the Retail Horror microgenre with pictures like The Initiation and Hide and Go Shriek! The mall (the same one from Commando, ha ha) has security doors like the ones on the Death Star, and a trio of security robots which have somehow become homicidal because of lightning strikes!
And this is the very night that four couples – adults mind you, and not teens – decide to spend the night p*rtying in the department store! Why do they pick the department store to pa*ty in? Don’t they have homes in which they could par*y? It seems a very strange decision, ha ha! Nevertheless, among the ad-hoc impedimenta which make up what looks more like a jumble sale than a furniture store, three of the couples set to w*rk on the beds, while only a few feet away the fourth couple settles in to watch Attack of the Crab Monsters! Ha ha! Meanwhile, the robots have begun their marauding, taking out first the security staff (one of whom is played by Gerrit Graham, an actor we know from pictures like Class Reunion and The Annihilators), then angry janitor Walter Paisley, played by who else but Dick Miller, and working with the dirtiest mopwater ever seen on film!
Soon the younger actors become the targets of robo-rage! Thankfully the constant gum-chewing of John “Secret Admirer” Terlesky is put to a halt by a clanking claw! His false-bust*d ladyfr*end comes next, the victim of a not-bad headsplosion! Then it’s run, chase, zap and rat-tat-tat-tat! Lovely Barbara Crampton, familiar to us from Re-Animator and Fraternity Vacation, is forced by the terrible, derivative script to become irrational and hysterical, and for her trouble is burned to cinders! The hero of the piece is Kelly Maroney, who uses the knowledge of the mall’s layout she gained from appearing in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to outwit the last of the killbots and blast it to flinders! Ha ha, this is after an elevator and a golf cart piloted by Russell Todd from Friday the 13th part 2 help dispatch the others!
So there are robots and b*obs and youngsters running around getting their heads zapped off, but, too, there are cameos! Plenty of Roger Corman alumni make appearances here: Miller of course and Graham, but also Paul “Get Crazy” Bartel and Mary Woronov from Looney Tunes: Back In Action appear as their apparently beloved characters the Blands, which I appreciated even though I’ve never seen Eating Raoul! None other than Mel Welles from Smokey Bites the Dust is on hand as a hideously filthy cook, and Angus Scrimm from Phantasm II appears very briefly as Man Standing Up And Asking A Question!
All of these people and the elements earlier listed, along with a puffpastry of a running time (77 minutes), make a viewing of the picture worth it! But be warned: the script is pretty bad, and the movie happily, but a bit wearyingly, imitative of other things! It has a pretty nice 80s horror look, courtesy of cinematographer Tom “The Malibu Bikini Shop” Richmond, and the acting is mostly not too bad, and it’s generally efficient; but it’s never scary or suspenseful or impactful in any way! Sometimes it’s a little bit funny, but that’s about it! My fondness for it was tested in this most recent viewing!
With all of this said, I’m going to give Chopping Mall one and a half deadly pincings!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Burl reviews Son of Paleface! (1952)



Git along cowpokes, it’s Burl here! Ha ha, yes, I have another oater to declaim on for you today! Yes, it’s a comedy oater, featuring the old ski-slope nose himself, Bob Hope, whom we all know from his golfing cameo in Spies Like Us, ha ha! The picture is the sequel to The Paleface, which I’ve never seen, and it’s called Son of Paleface!
Now, I couldn’t tell you what went on in The Paleface, though there are clues salted throughout this sequel! Frankly it doesn’t seem to matter much, as this is a Frank Tashlin picture, so what it’s mainly concerned with is crazy absurdist cartoon humour! And of that, believe me, there is plenty!
Hope of course plays the titular offspring, Peter Potter Jr., a Harvard manchild who travels West in his flivver to pick up the fortune allegedly left to him by his blackguard of a father! But when the trunk supposed to contain the gold proves empty, Potter must pretend to be rich anyway, because otherwise the townsfolk of this Old West burg will tear him limb from limb, so eager are they to have all the debts left by Potter pére repaid! Ha ha!
In the meantime, the town is being plagued by robberies! Someone nicknamed “The Torch” is ransacking buggies and then retreating to a fabulous lair hidden beneath a covered bridge; and the culprit turns out to be the inexplicably-named “Mike,” a saloonkeeper and, ha ha, torch singer played by the incomparable Jane Russell! Hot on her trail are two faces familiar from such pictures as Susanna Pass, namely Roy Rogers and Trigger, the Smartest Horse in Movies!
All of this is a framework for songs, a little romance, some action and, more than anything else a rapid-fire selection of jokes and tomfoolery! Things frequently get strange, as when Potter drives his car through a desert, picks up a pair of buzzards who perch on the back, then drives through a so-called mirage of people ice-skating, then finds the buzzards on his car have transmorphed into penguins! And that’s just a taste of the oddballitry!
Trigger again proves worthy of his oats by performing some amazing tricks! At one point he and Hope share a bed, and the chilly horse repeatedly pulls the blankets up over himself! Ha ha, I hope he got a nice carrot or a sugar cube after that one! And I also want to mention the amusing cameos, like Bing Crosby appearing as a nameless “old character actor on the Paramount lot we try to keep working,” and the director of Madame Satan himself, Cecil B. DeMille, appearing as a photographer!
Ha ha, this movie made me say “ha ha” a number of times, and frankly I wasn’t expecting it to! So many of the gags are so outlandish that the movie approaches Hellzapoppin’ territory, and it’s all very colourful and bubbly and marvelous! Hope is funny, and Roy is very straight ahead, except that he prefers horses to ladies! Ha ha! I’m going to give Son of Paleface a rousing three donkey hats!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Burl reviews Exorcist III! (1990)



Ha ha, the power of Burl, limited as it might be, compels you to read this movie review! Yes, today I thought I’d talk about Exorcist III, a famously troubled production that, in its intended version, contained neither an exorcism nor an exorcist until some third-act tampering by its producers!
Now, I would have been just fine with that, and I’ve never understood why it was such a sticking point with these producers that they spent millions of dollars, incurred bad press, alienated their writer/director and, not incidentally, badly compromised their movie, in order to celebrate literal-mindedness by shoehorning these scenes in! They sit within the final product about as comfortably as the hospital scenes do within Bad Meat, ha ha!
But much of Exorcist III is gold! The movie takes place, as the dialogue often reminds us, fifteen years after two key events: the Georgetown exorcism of the original picture and subsequent stairway death of Father Karras; and the capture and execution of the notorious Gemini Killer! Now some very Gemini Killer murders have begun again, and grumpy, rumpled (grumpled?) cop Bill Kinderman, played by the great Lee J. Cobb in the original, and by the great George C. Scott here, finds his lack of faith sorely tested by the increasingly supernatural goings-on!
Ha ha, for me the very heart of the picture is the relationship between Kinderman and his pal, Father Dyer, played by the merry Ed “Salem’s Lot” Flanders! Their scenes together have an appealing, if synthetic, jocularity, and are also very weird and funny! Unfortunately, by the end of the first act Father Dyer has lived up to his name, and the movie suffers for his absence!
Like William Peter Blatty’s earlier directorial effort, The Ninth Configuration, this is an unquestionably oddball picture, and that’s something else I like about it! It’s alternately eccentric, beautiful, eerie and genuinely scary! (Brr, that famous hospital shock scene!) Ha ha, by the second half of the movie, with long scenes of dialogue between Kinderman and the serial killer played by Brad “Dune” Dourif, it becomes something altogether more run-of-the-mill, and fits in nicely with all those other resurrected-killer movies of the period, like The Horror Show, Shocker and The First Power!
The movie successfully weaves an atmosphere in which anything might happen! There’s a dream sequence in which Fabio, Patrick Ewing and Samuel L. “The Avengers” Jackson all appear as angels, and another scene in which the great Viveca Lindfors, known from Silent Madness and many other pictures, tries to cut off a teenage girl’s head with some giant head clippers! There are many gruesome details discussed in the dialogue, and if ever there was a “tell, don’t show” gore movie, this is it! (Until the exorcism scene that is, which gets fairly bloody after poor Father Morning, played by Nicol “Black Widow” Williamson, gets stuck to the ceiling for some reason!)
With its fascinating gallery of actors (all the aforementioned, plus Scott “Blue City” Wilson, Don “The Beast Within” Gordon, Grand L. “Die Hard” Bush, Zohra Lampert from Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Harry Carey Jr. from UFOria as another ill-fated priest) and marvelous cinematography from one of my favourites, Gerry Fisher (who shot Wolfen, Malpertuis and many others), this remains an appealing movie, if deeply flawed! I’m going to give Exorcist III two and a half bathtub carps!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Burl reviews Not Safe For Work! (2012)



Well hello everybody – it’s Burl here! You know, sometimes I like to review silly little nonsensical movies I happen to have watched at random, and here I am doing it again with a picture called Not Safe For Work! It’s a little programmer that feels very much part of a tradition of small-scale B-movie programmers of years gone by! That’s a point in its favour as far as ol’ Burl is concerned, ha ha!
It comes to us from Joe Johnston, who made Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer and, of course, Jurassic Park III! A little thriller like this seems somewhat outside his bailiwick, but defining the precise lineaments of Joe Johnston’s bailiwick is perhaps outside of mine! Ha ha! At any rate, it’s a little thriller about life in a law office, and if it does nothing else, the picture reinforces my strong desire to never work in a law office!
The movie opens with a pretty standard scene of workplace violence, which makes very little sense in the larger context, and retroactively seems to exist simply as a way to start the picture off with a few literal bangs! Then we move to the highrise law office and meet Tom, a paralegal, who is one of those characters meant to be at once smart and ambitious, but also a habitual scr*w-up! He’s on the boss’s radar anyway, which in this case is a bad thing, and the one-two combination of being late for work and attempting a b*llsy maneuver that seemed like a good idea but turned out to be a rookie mistake, gets him canned by the slab-faced senior partner in his firm! (This fellow is ably played by Christian Clemonson from Black Widow, but probably would have been played by J.T. Walsh were he still with us!)
But there are strange things afoot: the big case which has all the office aflutter has attracted a well-dressed killer with a robotic demeanor to the workplace, and suspicious Tom decides to follow him back into the maze of cubicles and hallways, just to see what’s up! Ha ha, for a few moments it seems like one of the robots from Halloween III has blundered into another movie, but regrettably that’s not the case! Anyway, from then on it’s a cat-and-mouse situation with a few scenes of mild suspense, some off-rack cleverness and one or two bon mots!
It’s all delivered with competence and solid craftsmanship, but if this were a train instead of a movie, it would be the Nothing Special! Ha ha! The acting’s fine and the inevitable silly plot points are generally kept within acceptable boundaries; but the story is far simpler than the copious background of the Big Case on offer would suggest! (The credits sequence, for example, is one of those “presenting information through headlines” things that, ha ha, seriously people, simply have to stop happening!) There are also a few dropped threads that, while ongoing, seem to hint at a picture with more on its mind than is actually the case!
Like Passion, this is an attempt at classic Hitchcockiana that embraces modern technology to an overweening and silly degree! Phones and computers are everywhere, but they all seem to work by slightly different rules than those we’re used to here in the real world! Oh well, that’s forgivable I suppose, but it does put the picture into a microgenre that it, and probably most such movies, would rather not be thought a part of!
It’s a fleecy of a movie that falls apart towards the end, and makes little to no impact while it’s on! The idea that large drug corporations are viciously unscrupulous is a solid point, if not exactly breaking news; everything else, from the title on down, is nonsense! I give Not Safe For Work one and a half f*cking iPhones!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Burl reviews Flick! (1970)



Ha ha, as you North Americans say, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here with a very peculiar movie to tell you about today, Flick! I’m not sure why it was ever called Flick – probably some attempt at pre-emptive self-effacement! As in “Ha ha, don’t be expecting Citizen Kane here; this is just a simple flick!” Anyway, the movie was quickly retitled Dr. Frankenstein on Campus, a name by which it’s probably better known and which suits it better in any event!
Because it’s about exactly that! We first meet young Viktor Frankenstein as he’s tossed out of his posh European university for dueling! Quickly he relocates to the University of Toronto, where he finds a grumpy, silver-tongued dean, a solicitous but strangely-acting professor, a n*bile young journalism student who can’t keep her bras*iere on, a tae-kwon-do expert who is for some reason Viktor’s friend, and a situation of campus unrest which seems to have been imported from movies made two or three years earlier!
Viktor suffers constant references to the famous character whose name he shares, and faces these jibes down with the same steely-eyed glare he has theretofore kept in reserve merely for pets, l*vers, d*pe-smoking radicals and any other living creatures which cross his path! He’s there working on a program of brain control, which happens to be exactly what his professor is working on too; Frankenstein, however, is convinced the process can be made wireless!
But there’s trouble! Viktor attends a crazy student rumbustification at which flower people don helmets and engage in headbutt parties; where motorized exercise contraptions are put to uses other than for which they were intended; and where mind dr*gs are smoked! Viktor is photographed while peering disdainfully at a foil-wrapped package; this snap and an accompanying article make the front page of the student paper, and Viktor is immediately expelled by Dean Wormer Cantwell on suspicion of being a d*ugs fiend!
Well, it’s vengeance time! Viktor inserts a mind controller in his tae-kwon-do pal Tony, and tony becomes a robotic chopmaniac, punching people to death left and right! The fellows who refused to stand up for Viktor, the photographer who took the picture, the reporter who wrote the story and finally the dean himself all fall victim to bops, bashes and biffs, and some pretty stiff neck-twists in the bargain! Then finally there’s a surprise ending involving a clumsy child, Professor Preston, some radio control boxes and a bunch of unraveling stitches!
Robin Ward, whom we know from Explosion and, later, game shows, plays the sulky, foppish Viktor with maximum haught! (But don't call him uptight - he is very down loose, ha ha!) His would-be mentor, Professor Preston, is essayed by Sean Sullivan, the old bank guard from The Silent Partner and Johnny’s dad in The Dead Zone! The relationship between these two brain scientists, and the dean too, and the campus science atmosphere in general, strongly recalls (or foreshadowed) the great Re-Animator, but almost nothing else does! Ha ha! I’ll tell you, it could sure use some good old Re-Animator gore, but of that it has none!
It’s a weird movie: plenty of setup and then a bizarrely rushed conclusion that makes just no d*rn sense! Ha ha, it’s got one of the baggiest, most amateurish scripts ever written in terms of structure and, well, just about everything else; the dialogue is all crazy gobbledygook and boring declamation; the characters are silly cartoons! It has virtually none of the ingredients commonly thought to make up a good movie!
And yet there’s also a strange innocence to the whole affair, and a great deal of odd detail, and a tiny soupçon of exuberant goofiness; and all of this makes it more palatable, and even enjoyable! If you’re a fan of the band Lighthouse you will surely have some itches scratched as well! (I’ve always found them too moustache-jazzy myself!) Plus it has n*de b*soms, which I wasn’t expecting, though given the generous helpings of same in contemporaneous Canadian films like Homer and Paperback Hero, maybe I should have been!
Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough! I can’t recommend this movie very highly, but at the same time I urge that you watch it! And if you can’t find it, then at least read the fine review of it at Canuxploitation, the excellent website from whence I poached the image seen above! I give Flick, aka Dr. Frankenstein on Campus, one and a half majestic housepet battles!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Burl reviews Passion! (2012)



Burl saying hello! Ha ha, there seem to be plenty of people who hate Brian De Palma and his movies, and I suppose there might be people who are kind of hem-haw about them; and then there are people who really have a thing for the beardsman’s go-for-baroque style, ha ha! I’m one of these latter nutcases! By garr, I can say without hesitation that De Palma movies have given me a lot of enjoyment over the years!
Fond memories include hearing my father wax rhapsodic about Phantom of the Paradise, and being excused from chores because it was coming on afternoon television! Another time mother spoke in hushed tones about Dressed To Kill, a film she’d just returned from seeing with her girlfriends! Thus was bated the De Palma hook before I even knew the man’s name, or what a movie director did! Later I had marvelous theatrical experiences with The Untouchables, Mission Impossible, Raising Cain, Carlito’s Way and The Black Dahlia, among others! I saw Blow Out in a big old wonderful rep house, and that was a real treat!
Ah, De Palma! Well, though it may seem so, I’m not avoiding talking about Passion, the movie ostensibly under review here! Ha ha, of course there was no opportunity to see it in a theatre, but I’ll bet it might have played pretty well in one, with the right audience at least! The picture features Rachel McAdams, from Midnight in Paris and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as Christine, a blonde executive at a Berlin ad agency! Ha ha, one day she’ll wear hamburger-sized crimson lipstick; on another she’ll dress like a diabolist! You just never know what stylecrime this wacky woman will pull next! Her underling is Isabelle, played by Noomi Rapace, from Prometheus and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows! A fellow who seems to have an er*tic connection to both is Dirk, played by Paul Anderson from, yes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows!
There’s workplace cutthroatery galore in the first half of the movie, and that sort of thing has never interested me much, so I was a little bored! But the movie, and the Pino Donaggio score, turn more recognizably De Palmian by the second hour, with some split screen, a murder, some dreams and a number of dumb plot turns! But recognizably DePalma doesn’t necessarily mean good DePalma, and I’m sad to say it’s not, really! There are moments, to be sure, but once you get to the very climax, with a suspense scene involving some pretty laughable cellphone technology and a police inspector clutching a bouquet of posy flowers, you have to say to yourself “Ha ha!”
After apparently casting his film simply by watching Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, De Palma demonstrates a general sort of laziness that pervades the whole picture! The climactic scene already mentioned feels as though DePalma thought to himself “Hmm, wonder what Hitch would have done if he’d lived in a world of portable data storage!” No one else has really wondered that, though of course modern technology (cell phones especially) have undercut so many traditional suspense devices that maybe it’s laudable for DePalma to have embraced it here!
All he’s really done is repurposed it though, and set it within a goofy plot involving ladies fighting ladies! But hey, it’s still the SubMaster at work, and there’s much to be said for that! I look forward to DePalma making more movies before he hangs it up for good, and I hope they’re wild and crazy thrillers like he’s always done! Meanwhile I should revisit some of his older works and review them for you here, and maybe finally catch up with Wise Guys, which, can you believe it, I’ve never even seen! Ha ha! Anyway, I give Passion one and a half ladykisses, which is only a fraction of the amount we get in the picture!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Burl reviews In A World...! (2013)



Ha ha, Burl here with a quick review of another of the quirky contemporary indie comedy-dramas I sometimes find myself watching! You know, like Jack Goes Boating or Our Idiot Brother! Usually some pleasures can be wrung from these pictures, though none of them ever become My New Favourite Movie or anything, ha ha! No, not even close!
I was interested in seeing this one, In A World…, because it appeared to take place within the tight universe of voiceover actors, and anytime a movie peers into some highly specialized society, ol’ Burl is interested! On that front In A World… does not disappoint! It instead provides all manner of anthropological detail about the inner workings of this community, of its rituals and its hierarchies and its desperate competitions!
 The lead character, Carol, is played by a pretty lady called Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed the picture! Carol’s dad, Sam, is a monstrous egotist who happens to be one of the premier voiceover fellows in the business! Ha ha! Carol works with her voice too, but is limited in what she can do since the voiceover world is about the most male-dominated bastion outside the priesthood – and much less ch*ste, ha ha!
The plot is pretty loose, but it involves a search for a new voiceover person to narrate the trailer of a big new youth action picture! Don LaFontaine, the master of using the words “In a world…” to open his trailers, is dead, yet the producers (led by Geena “Fletch” Davis in a cameo) want to use this opportunity to bring the phrase back! So it’s a big deal in the community, and both Sam and his protégé, the slimy Gustav, have reasonable expectations of snagging the job!
Meanwhile other things happen! There’s a subplot involving relationship troubles between Carol’s sister and her husband, who’s played by Rob Corddry from The Way Way Back! There’s a budding romance between Carol and a shellheaded comedian! And the picture spends a lot of (quite welcome) time documenting Carol’s eccentricities, and her habit of taping people with interesting voices! This habit proves useful in the later moments of the film!
It’s an interesting world, as I say, and there are appealing characters galore and plenty of funny moments; but like so many of these pictures, it ultimately comes off as just a slightly refined, mildly more hip version of a laugh-track sitcom from the 90s! I’m not sure what it is – I enjoy the films while they’re on, or at least I don’t mind watching them, but at the end I’m all “Hm! Ha ha!” They don’t linger in the memory the way many far worse movies often do!
Perhaps this is my problem and not the film’s, but, ha ha, this is my movie review, so it can go throw sticks! I hope that doesn’t sound mean! I want to be fair, and there was a lot I liked about the picture, after all! I think Lake Bell is talented and will probably make more movies, and in that she has my goodwill! Meanwhile, I give In A World… two tips, tips as in gratuities! Ha ha!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Burl reviews The Prowler! (1981)



Ha ha, Burl here to review another one of what some call the Classic-Era slasher movies! This one has a bit of a pedigree to it, or at least a retroactive pedigree if you follow me! It’s called The Prowler, and was directed by the same fellow who later made Friday the 13th part 4! It also features some gruesome trick effects by Tom “The Burning” Savini!
It’s a pretty typical slasher picture in many ways, though the inciting incident takes place a little farther back in history than most! World War II has just ended, and here we are at a college dance being attended by Rosemary Chatham and her new b*yfriend! Her former boyf*iend was a GI whom she broke up with by that time-tested method, the Dear John letter! Only this John isn’t so dear, and he uses a pitchfork on poor Rosemary and her toffeenosed beau!
Thirty-five years after this horrific incident it’s time to bring back the dance! Ha ha! Pam, a blond newshound, is our main character, and her b*yfriend, The Deputy, is meanwhile put in charge of public safety as the sheriff is goin’ fishin’! Ha ha! The crazy kids go ahead with their dance preparations with the same single-minded devotion as the kids in My Bloody Valentine, and pretty soon the prowler of the title, brandishing his trusty pitchfork and a sharp bayonet, goes on a one-by-one rampage of brutal pokings!
There’s meanwhile a gallery of middle-aged men available to suspect of being the killer, including but not limited to an irritable shopkeeper, a lumbering oaf, and old Major Chatham, played by Lawrence Tierney from Silver Bullet and The Horror Show! Ha ha, the Major is mute and wheelchairbound, but he keeps popping up in all sorts of places, no matter the terrain, just to show that he can get around when he needs to! Ha ha!
In so many and varied ways, this picture is a goofnugget! The pokings are particularly vicious, particularly a pitchfork poking that takes place in a sh*wer; but at the same time, potential victims like Thom Bray (the bicycle nerd from Prince of Darkness) and his ladyfr*end, appear to be in some sort of basement peril while on a search for a mak*out cavern, but then they just disappear! Ha ha, I suppose they were next on the list, but there was no time to shoot their death scenes!
And this has got to be the worst picture on record for dumb decisions made by the characters! What do a policeman and his intrepid lady sidekick do the moment they realize a madman killer is loose? Why, head over to visit old Major Chatham of course, and wander around in the dark! And of course The Deputy, evidently no brain wizard, immediately suggests they split up! On top of this, there’s a long sequence in which The Deputy, phoning the Sheriff's fishing lodge in an attempt to ask him what to do about the local madman, is foozled by a tubby desk clerk on the other end of the line, who only pretends to go look for the vacationing lawman! This twenty minute scene is pointless and unbearable!
Even with all of this, the picture has that cozy familiarity that early 80s slasher films can sometimes gin up! I like the blue cinematography that comes courtesy of Joao Fernandes (working under a pseudonym for some reason, just as he did on Children of the Corn); why, this must be the bluest slasher movie outside of Madman! And though the ringers – Tierney and Farley Granger, mainly – are wasted, one is glad to see them at all! It’s by far not the best of the so-called Classic Era slashers, but it’s far from the worst either! It sits right about in the middle, so I’m going to give it two turned-up eyeballs!