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)


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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)


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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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Rest in Peace, Burt Reynolds


Earlier today, Burt Reynolds died of cardiac arrest at a Florida Hospital.  He was 82 years old.

How do you sum up a career as legendary as the career of Burt Reynolds?  It’s not easy.  Burt Reynolds always used to say that he couldn’t act but his fans knew better and the critics sometimes knew better too.  Burt Reynolds always said that most of his film were terrible but, for every Stick or Malone, there were movies like Sharky’s MachineThe Longest Yard, and White Lightning.  Burt always joked that he might never win an Oscar but he had plenty of People’s Choice Awards to make up for it.  Burt did deserve an Oscar nomination for Deliverance and he received one for Boogie Nights.  Reynolds lost to Robin Williams but it does no disservice to Williams’s performance in Good Will Hunting to say that the Oscar should have gone to Burt.

Despite having been born in Michigan, Burt Reynolds was often viewed as being the archetypical good ol’ boy.  He first found fame as a jock, playing football at Florida State University.  After injuries ended his college football career, Reynolds considered becoming a police officer but, at his father’s suggestion, instead transferred to Palm Beach Junior College.  That was where an English professor named Watson B. Duncan heard Reynolds reading Shakespeare in class and was so impressed that he pushed Reynolds into trying out for a play that he was producing.  Reynolds was cast in the lead role and soon had a new career.

As Reynolds would often recount, he didn’t become a star overnight.  He did a few plays in New York and he worked odd jobs.  He auditioned for a film called Sayonara and impressed director Joshua Logan.  Logan said he couldn’t cast him because he looked too much like the film’s star, Marlon Brando, but he still encouraged Reynolds to move out to Hollywood.  Still not feeling confident enough to attempt the transition into movies, Reynolds remained in New York and became a mainstay in TV westerns, including Gunsmoke, where he played Quint Asper.  He also appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone, playing a pompous method actor who was clearly modeled on Marlon Brando.

Like his good friend Clint Eastwood, Burt used his television fame to secure low-budget film work in Europe.  He even starred in a Spaghetti western, playing the lead role in Navajo Joe.  Reynolds appeared in several forgettable B-movies before his performance in the Oscar-nominated Deliverance made him a star.  His performance as Lewis Medlock dominated the film.  When Lewis suffered a compound fracture while trying to navigate a raging river, audiences knew that if the river could take down Burt Reynolds, it could take down anyone.  Around the same time, Burt would earn lasting fame (or perhaps infamy) by appearing as the centerfold in an issue of Cosmopolitan.  Reynolds would later describe that as being his biggest mistake, saying that it made him a star but it also prevented him from being nominated for an Oscar but it also kept people from taking him seriously as an actor.

But if Burt never got the awards or the acclaim that he deserved, audiences loved him.  Smoky and the Bandit was his biggest hit.  The critics may have hated it but audiences love it to this day and they know that only Burt Reynolds could have played the Bandit.  When the Bandit looked straight at the camera after escaping police pursuit, that was a move that only Burt Reynolds could have pulled off.  Burt made it look easy.

Burt started off the 80s with one of his best films, Sharky’s Machine.  Unfortunately, the rest of decade saw his career in decline.  No longer getting good scripts and starting to show signs if the ill health that would plague him for the rest of his life, Reynolds became better known for his sometimes messy personal life than his films.  Reynolds eventually returned to television, winning an Emmy, in 1992, for starring in the sitcom Evening Shade.

In the 90s, Reynolds struggled to transition into character parts.  A new generation, including myself, first discovered him when he co-starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.  Reynolds gave one of his best performances as porn director, Jack Horner.  Reynolds invested Horner with what can only be called a wounded dignity.  When Dirk Diggler abandoned him, the betrayal felt as real as Horner’s angery when he was eventually reduced to filming sleazy limo ride hook-ups on video tape instead of his beloved film.  Reynolds received his first and only Oscar nomination for the role of Jack Horner.

Sadly, Reynolds’s poor health kept him from capitalizing on his comeback and he was soon back to appearing in small roles in films that weren’t worthy of his talents.  Quentin Tarantino cast him as George Spahn in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood but Reynolds passed away before filming his scenes.  His final film appearance was as the lead character in the fittingly titled The Last Movie Star.

Burt Reynolds may be gone but his films live on.  Burt may have said he wasn’t a good actor but we all know better.  The outpouring of grief at the news of his death is proof that Burt Reynolds was more than just a movie star.  He was an American icon.

Burt Reynolds, R.I.P.

Just A Good Ol’ Boy: RIP Burt Reynolds


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I had just got back from a long afternoon walk on this gorgeous day when, after checking for incoming texts and calls, I checked my Facebook feed and discovered Burt Reynolds had passed away at age 82. Coincidentally, I have a post on Burt’s THE LONGEST YARD scheduled for Saturday, but rather than just move it up, I’ve decided to write this small tribute. Burt Reynolds has earned it. He was arguably the biggest box-office attraction of the 1970’s, number one from 1978-82, and his charismatic, wiseass persona made him a hit with audiences, if not with the critics. But what did they know… Burt Reynolds was The People’s Star.

Born in 1936, Burt’s family moved to Florida when he was ten, his father taking a job as Police Chief of Riviera Beach. Burt may not have been a straight-A student, but he excelled in sports, playing fullback for Palm…

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