Smokey and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)


 

Smokey and the Bandit is a simple film. Burt Reynolds is the Bandit. He’s hired by two bored brothers to smuggle beer from Texas to Georgia. Working with the Snowman (Jerry Reed), Bandit is easily able to pick up the beer but it’s while driving back that the two of them run afoul Smokey, a.k.a. Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason, who reportedly improvised most of his profane lines). Bandit also picks up a hitchhiker and runaway bride (Sally Field) who he calls Frog.

There’s not much to Smokey and the Bandit. The Bandit has an incredibly cool car and he drives really fast. Snowman is funny and has a dog. Smokey has a dumb son and is constantly threatening to hit people.   It’s a dumb movie but it works.   The cars are fast, the crashes are spectacular, and the entire film is the perfect daydream for when you’re sitting in your office at work and wondering whether there’s something more rewarding you could be doing with your life.

Who hasn’t wanted to the Bandit at some point in their life?

Who hasn’t wanted to get behind the wheel of black trans am and just take off, driving down country roads while giving the slip to old Smoky and joking with Snowman on your CB radio and maybe picking up a young Sally Field while smuggling beer and winning a bet?

(There’s been a lot of terrible moments on The Family Guy but, for me, one of the absolute worst was when Brian Griffin went into the past and asked 70s Burt Reynolds, “So, you’re going to go get some of that hot Sally Field action, huh?” Anyone who has seen Smokey and the Bandit knows that Sally Field was smoking hot back in 1977!)

Smokey and the Bandit comes to us from a different time. No one worries about what speeding halfway across the country in a little over 24 hours is doing to the environment. No one apologizes for who they are or where they’re from. The Bandit lives by a simple rule: Treat him with respect and he’ll treat you with respect. Talk down to him or try to tell him what to do and the Bandit’s just going to jump in his car and leave you standing in a cloud of dust.

During the latter part of his career, Burt Reynolds would often lament that appearing in financially successful but critically lambasted films like Smokey and the Bandit made him a huge star but also kept him from getting the type of roles that he felt he deserved. Reynolds was right but there are worse things than being known as The Bandit.   For many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit because he was so perfectly cast for the role. Not many actors could pull off the scene where, after fooling a cop, the Bandit looks straight at the camera and grins. Burt Reynolds could. Playing the Bandit may have never won Burt Reynolds an Academy Award but it did make him an American icon.

If you’re feeling down, watch Smokey and the Bandit. If you need an escape, watch Smokey and the Bandit. It demands so little and gives so much.

Music Video of the Day: Try by Michael Penn (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


I was going to do one of the videos that Paul Thomas Anderson directed for Haim today but I changed my mind at the last minute.  That’s nothing against Haim or the video.  Haim’s great and their videos — particularly the ones directed by Anderson — are frequently brilliant.  It’s just, for whatever reason, I knew that today was not the day to write about their video for The Steps.  That day will come soon.

Instead, I wrote about the video for Michael Penn’s Try.

Try was the very first music video to be directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He directed it while he was editing Boogie Nights.  Michael Penn, of course, did the score for both Boogie Nights and Anderson’s earlier Hard Eight.  He can also be spotted in Boogie Nights, playing Nick in the recording studio and incredulously reacting to the efforts of Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothschild to record their own album.

When watching this video, pay attention to the blonde gentleman wearing the Planet of the Apes t-shirt.  He shows up twice and, at one point, holds the microphone into which Penn is singing.  If he looks familiar, that’s because he’s actor Philip Seymour Hoffman!  When I first saw the video, I honestly didn’t recognize him.  I just thought he was some random crew person who got the job because he could run fast enough to keep up with Penn.  Of course, once I learned that Hoffman was in the video and I rewatched it, I immediately spotted him.  I think it says something about what a good actor Hoffman was that, even in something like this, he could be so convincing that, despite being one of the most recognizable actors in the world, he still became somewhat anonymous.  He disappeared into the role.

Thomas Jane and Melora Waters (who played Todd and Jessie St. Vincent in Boogie Nights) are also in this video, standing at the end of a a long line of exhausted dancers.  (This was meant to be a reference to the film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)  There’s one other Boogie Nights reference, which is kind of interesting considering the fact that he and Anderson supposedly didn’t get along during filming.  Keep an eye out for door with a purple 9 on it.  That’s a reference to Burt Reynolds, who wore the number 9 when he played college football.

Enjoy!

Scenes That We Love: The Bandit Fools Smokey in Hal Needham’s Smokey and The Bandit


Today would have been Hal Needham’s 89th birthday and that means that it’s time to celebrate with Smokey and the Bandit.

Before he made a name for himself as a director, Hal Needham was a legendary stuntman.  In 1977, the same year that Smokey and the Bandit came out, Gabriel Toys even sold as a “Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set,” which came with a spring-launched Hal Needham action figure.  When Needham went into directing, he made unpretentious movies for people who wanted to have a good time at the theater.  The majority of his films featured fast cars, tough good old boys, and spectacular action.  They also often featured Burt Reynolds doing what he did best.  Needham made the type of movies that never won Academy Awards but which audiences loved.  In fact, audiences still love them.  When I watch Smokey and the Bandit, I always want to quit my job and just smuggle Coors east of the Mississippi for a living.  I know that Coors is legal now so there’s no need to smuggle it but that’s the power of a good Hal Needham film.

In the scene below, the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (Jerry Reed) manage to avoid getting caught by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.  Not only do we get to hear Eastbound and Down but this scene also features the moment that Hal Needham knew the film was going to be a hit.  He later said that, as soon as Burt Reynolds broke the fourth wall and stared straight at the camera with “that shit-eating grin on his face,” he knew that audiences were going to love the Bandit.

And he was right.

Hal Needham died in 2013 and Burt Reynolds followed him five years later.  However, their legacy lives on.  The characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood were based on Burt and Hal.  If anyone could have taken on and beat the Manson family single-handed, it would have been the great Hal Needham.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Burt Reynolds Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today would have been Burt Reynolds’s 84th birthday.  In honor of a legendary career that is only now starting to really be appreciated, here are 4 shots from 4 of Burt’s best films.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deliverance (1972, directed by John Boorman)

Smoky and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)

Sharky’s Machine (1981, directed by Burt Reynolds)

Boogie Nights (1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

You Have To Pay The Bills Somehow: The Maddening (1995, directed by Danny Huston)


Because her husband’s a dick who spends too much time working and not enough time taking the day off, Cassie (Mia Sara) grabs her five year-old daughter, Samantha (Kayla Buglewicz) and heads off for her sister’s house.  When Cassie stops at a gas station to fill up the car, she’s spotted by seedy Roy Scudder (Burt Reynolds!).  Roy puts down his cigar long enough to tamper with her car.  When it breaks down a few miles down the role, Roy drives up and offers Cassie and Samantha a ride back to his place, where he can fix her car or where she can at least call for hep.  Not realizing that she’s in a direct-to-video horror movie, Cassie accepts.

Big mistake!  Roy’s wife, Georgina (Angie Dickinson!), has not been the same since the mysterious death of her son and Georgina and Roy’s other child, Jill (Candace Huston, daughter of the film’s director and granddaughter of John Huston), needs a playmate.  Roy has decided that Samantha fits the bill.  Cassie is locked in a room while Samantha is turned into Jill’s slave and Roy deals with the angry ghost of his abusive father (William Hickey!).

You have to feel bad for Burt Reynolds.  He made this film at a time when his career was in decline.  His TV show was no longer on the air.  Boogie Nights was still two years away.  The man had bills to pay.  Can you blame Burt for accepting any role that came his way, especially if it meant a chance to co-star with Angie Dickinson and be directed by the son of John Huston?  Reynolds was famous for hating even his good films so you can only imagine what he must have thought about The Maddening.  Fortunately, since Burt was playing a total psycho in The Maddening, he could at least channel his feeling into the role.  Throughout ever minute of The Maddening, Burt is totally and thoroughly unhinged and angry in the way that only the former number one star in America could be upon having to settle for a role in a direct-to-video horror film.  He yells at his ghost father.  He slits throats.  He beats people into unconsciousness.  He does everything that a normal movie psycho does but, when he does it, it’s even more memorable because he’s Burt Reynolds.  Burt and Angie Dickinson playing the type of role that Bette Davis would have played for Robert Aldrich in the 60s are not just the main reasons to watch this movie.  They’re the only reasons.

This was Burt’s only horror film and it’s too bad that it couldn’t have been a better one.  But if it helped Burt keep the lights on during the lean years of the early 90s, good.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Deliverance (dir by John Boorman)


1973’s The Exorcist is often cited as the first horror film to ever be nominated for best picture and technically, I guess that’s correct.  It was definitely the first best picture nominee to ever deal with a battle between humans and a malevolent supernatural force and no one can deny that The Exorcist has influenced a countless number of horror films.

That said, I think you could make the argument that Deliverance, which was nominated for best picture the year before The Exorcist, was in its own way, a horror film.  Certainly, every crazed hick slasher film that has come out since 1972 owes a debt to Deliverance.  Deliverance‘s ending has been imitated by so many other horror films that it’s become a bit of cliche.  Though there might not be any supernatural creatures in Deliverance, the film still features its own set of horrifying monsters.  The toothless redneck rapists (played by character actor Bill McKinney and rodeo performer Herbert “Cowboy” Coward) seem as if they’ve jumped straight out of a nightmare and into the movie.  Of course, they aren’t the only monsters in this film.  There’s also the (fictional) Cahulawassee River, which is due to be dammed up and seems to be determined to take out its anger on anyone foolish enough to try to navigate it.

Much as with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which came out just two years after Deliverance), the main theme here seem to be that you should be careful about going off the main road.  Just as the unfortunate hippies and college students in Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved to be no match for a clan of backwoods cannibal, the four middle-aged men at the center of Deliverance discover that they’re no match for either nature or its inhabitants.  At the start of the film, we watch as three of the men deal with the locals in a condescending and rather smirky manner.  Only one of them actually tries to be nice to the locals, engaging in a banjo duel with a young boy who clearly loves his banjo but who still refuses to smile or shake hands.  The boy knows what the men are getting themselves into them.  The boy knows what awaits them.

If you grew up in the South, as I did, you’ll recognize all four of the men.  It’s not just that they’re played by recognizable actors.  It’s that each one of them is a common archetype of the type of men you find down here.

For instance, there’s Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the self-styled alpha male with his leather vest and his bow-and-arrow and his constant talk about how society is eventually going to collapse and only the strong are going to survive.  You know that Lewis is full of it from the minute you see him but he’s so charismatic that you can also understand why the other three men have fallen under his control.

And then there’s Bobby (Ned Beatty).  Bobby is quick to laugh and quick to talk and quick to make a bad joke.  When he says that he’s a salesman, you’re not surprised.  From the start of the film, Lewis complains that Bobby isn’t strong enough or serious enough and, when the mountain men attack, Bobby is the one they target.  And yet, towards the end of the film, Bobby is the one who sells the hastily concocted story about what happened on the river.

Drew (Ronny Cox) is the nicest of the men.  With his glasses and his guitar and his rather touching belief that everything will be okay if everyone just tells the truth, Drew’s the prototype of the Southern liberal.  One can imagine him teaching in a community college and vainly trying to convince his relatives that segregation and nostalgia for the Confederacy is holding the South back.

And finally, there’s Ed (Jon Voight).  Ed smokes a pipe and it’s obvious that he’s someone who has a very secure life.  Ed is the one who is everyone’s friend.  He’s the one who sticks up for Bobby.  He’s the one who reminds Drew to wear his life jacket.  He’s the only one who can get away with (gently) mocking Lewis.  Ed seems like a nice guy but, at the start of the film, there’s a strange emptiness to Ed.  You get the feeling that the reason Ed is friends with everyone is because he doesn’t have any firm beliefs.  Instead, he just adapts to each situation and says whatever everyone wants to hear.  You can’t help but wonder what Ed believes.  By the end of the movie, of course, both Ed and the viewer have learned what Ed is capable of doing.

Cox, Voight, and especially poor Ned Beatty are all perfectly cast in their roles.  Burt Reynolds reportedly felt that this film was his best performance and he was probably right.  Director John Boorman captures both the beauty and the menace of nature, leaving you both in awe of the the river and fearful of what it can do those foolish enough to try to conquer it.  Interestingly enough, while Boorman was directing Deliverance, he was offered The Exorcist.  He turned it down, feeling that the script was too exploitive of the possessed child.  Boorman would, however, direct The Exorcist II: The Heretic (co-starring Deliverance‘s Ned Beatty).

(At the same time, Jon Voight was offered the role of Father Karras in The Exorcist but, like Boorman, turned the film down so he could work on Deliverance.)

While the film is best known for its sequences on the river, one should not overlook the haunting scenes of the survivors once they make their way back to civilization.  After having spent the previous 80 minutes or so presenting everyone in the backwoods as a threat, the final third of Deliverance actually emphasizes the decency of the townspeople.  When one of the men breaks down and starts to cry in the middle of dinner, everyone is quietly respectful of his emotions.  Towards the end of the film, as the survivors are driven out of town, they find themselves stuck behind the old country church, which is being moved upriver.  “Just got to wait for the church to get out of the way,” their driver says while the church’s bell mournfully rings for both the death of the town and the death of innocence.

(Of course, even with all the kind townspeople around, there’s still a somewhat menacing sheriff.  It’s just not a Southern film without a scary sheriff, is it?  “Don’t you boys ever do nothing like this again,” he says at one point.  The sheriff is played by James Dickey, the author of both the novel and the screenplay on which the film is based.)

Deliverance was nominated for three academy awards.  In the directing and the editing categories, it lost to Cabaret.  For best picture, it lost to The Godfather.  Deliverance, The Godfather, and Cabaret, all competing against each other?  1972 was a very good year.

Book Review: BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME by Burt Reynolds and Jon Winokur (Putnam 2015)


cracked rear viewer

While doing my usual browsing around Barnes & Noble recently, I came across a real bargain – Burt Reynolds‘ 2015 memoir BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, for the low, low price of just $6.98! Naturally, being a long time Reynolds fan, I eagerly snapped it up and bought it (and no, Mr. Salesperson, for the umpteenth time, I do not want to join your book club!). Cowritten with Jon Winokur, who also coauthored a 2011 memoir with James Garner, the book is unlike your typical star ‘autobiography’, as Burt looks back on his life and, most importantly, the people who influenced him most, for better or worse.

Florida State running back “Buddy” Reynolds, 1954

Burt (who died last September at age 82) was Hollywood’s #1 box office draw from 1978-82, and ranked in the top ten for 12 years, but the man certainly paid his dues to get there. A…

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6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s


Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!

Catching Up With The Films of 2018: The Last Movie Star (dir by Adam Rifkin)


Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) was once the biggest movie star in the world.

At times, that’s hard to believe.  Vic may have started out as a stunt man before moving on to star in westerns and action movies but Vic is now 80 and he moves slowly and with a permanent slouch.  At times, he appears to be so frail that you wonder how he even manages to get out of bed in the morning.  Though he still possesses the acerbic wit for which was once famous, the words now come out a lot slower and his voice is tinged with pain that is both physical and emotional.  It’s been a while since Vic appeared on a movie set.  After years of being a self-described asshole, Vic now spends most of his time alone.  His only friend appears to be his aging agent, Sonny (Chevy Chase).

When Vic receives an invitation to attend a film festival in Nashville and accept a career achievement award, Vic goes in hopes of not only getting his ego stroked but also visiting some of the places where he grew up.  It’s only once Vic has arrived that he discovers that the film festival is basically a group of wannabe hipsters hanging out in the back of a bar.  Under the direction of Doug (Clark Duke), the film festival has previously given lifetime achievement awards to everyone from Al Pacino to Robert De Niro.  Vic’s the first recipient to actually show up.

After a night of watching a younger version of himself and answering inane questions about his career and his turbulent personal life, Vic comforts himself by getting drunk and yelling at Doug and his friends.  The next day, while the film festival continues, Vic get Doug’s sister, Lil (Ariel Winter), to drive him around Tennessee.  Vic wants to visit the places of his youth.  As for Lil, she just wants to get rid of her cranky passenger so that she can deal with her emotionally abusive boyfriend.

As you probably already guessed, in The Last Movie Star, Burt Reynolds may have been cast as a character named Vic Edwards but he was basically playing himself.  (Director Adam Rifkin has said that he would have abandoned the film if Reynolds had turned down the role)  When Vic watches himself onscreen, the clips are from Burt Reynolds’s old movies.  When Vic falls asleep and has a dream in which he confronts his younger self, the film uses footage from Deliverance and Smoky and the Bandit.  (“Slow down!” Vic yells as the cocky, younger version of him speeds down a country road.)  When Vic considers his own mortality, it’s obvious that the aging and frail Reynolds was doing the same thing.

At the start of the film, both Vic and Reynolds seem so infirm that you wonder how he’ll ever make it through the weekend.  But, as the film progresses, an interesting thing happens.  Before our eyes, both Vic and the actor playing him become stronger.  His confidence returns and, as Vic confronts the past, we finally start to see some hints of the old charisma that once made him the world’s biggest film star.  As we watch the film, we realize that his body may be weak but his mind is still sharp.  We come to realize that Vic now understands that he will die someday but he’s still not going to give up.  He may accept his own mortality but he’s not going to surrender to it.

That Burt Reynolds passed away just a few month after The Last Movie Star was released adds an extra poignance to his performance in the film.  The Last Movie Star has its flaws.  The pacing is inconsistent and, when it comes to Vic relationship with Lil, the film too often falls back on anti-millennial clichés.  In the end, the film works best as a tribute to its star.  The film argues, quite convincingly, that if anyone deserved to be known as the last movie star, it was him.

Smashmouth Football: Burt Reynolds in THE LONGEST YARD (Paramount 1974)


cracked rear viewer

Dedicated to the memory of Burt Reynolds (2/11/1936-9/6/2018)

If it was producer Albert Ruddy’s idea to team macho actor Burt Reynolds with macho director Robert Aldrich for THE LONGEST YARD, then the man’s a bloody genius (Ruddy was no stranger to machismo himself, having previously produced THE GODFATHER)! This testosterone-fueled tale of an ex-NFL star turned convict, forced to assemble a football team of hardened criminals to take on the sports-mad warden’s goon squad of guards, is one of Burt’s best vehicles, and a comeback of sorts for Aldrich, who hadn’t scored a hit since 1967’s THE DIRTY DOZEN . Both men hit the end zone with this sports-themed film, and led the way for an onslaught of football films to come.

Former star quarterback Paul Crewe (Reynolds), who was thrown out of the NFL in a points shaving scandal, finds himself under arrest after fighting with his girlfriend, stealing…

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