Hooper (1978, directed by Hal Needham)


Reuniting the Smokey and the Bandit team of director Hal Needham and stars Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, Hooper is a film that pays tribute to stuntmen.

Hooper (Burt Reynolds) is a respected but aging stunt coordinator who is currently working on an overblown action film called The Spy Who Laughed At Danger.  (The spy is played by Adam West, who appears as himself.)  Hooper knows that he’s getting too old to keep putting his life at risk but he’s addicted to thrill of doing what he calls “gags.”  Every morning, Hooper wakes up, pops pills, has a beer, and then falls off a building or crashes a car.  When he’s not doing movies, he’s getting into bar brawls.  As demonstrated during a visit to Dodge City, Hooper and his friends are modern day cowboys  but time is catching up to them.  Hooper’s girlfriend, Gwen (Sally Field), wants Hooper to settle down and retire from the business before he ends up a physical wreck like her father (Brian Keith).  Hooper feels that he has to do one last, record-setting stunt before he passes the torch over to younger stuntmen like Ski Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent).

Hooper is a classic Burt Reynolds film, with everything that you expect from late 70s Burt.  As always, Burt is deceptively laid back.  Sally Field is cute as a button.  Old hands like Brian Keith and James Best provide strong support while Robert Klein plays the type of pompous Hollywood director who is just begging to get slugged at the end of the movie.  (He does.)  The plot of Hooper is even simpler than the plot of Smokey and the Bandit but Hooper is a more heartfelt film.  Hal Needham was a stuntman before he became a director and this film was his tribute to the underappreciated people who risked their physical well-being to make movie magic.  Needham knew men like Hooper and his friends.  They were his people.  Needham’s love for the stunt players comes through in every scene.

As for the stunts, they’re real and they’re spectacular.

 

Hal Needham, of course, will always be associated with Burt Reynolds.  Before moving into directing, Needham frequently served as Reynolds’s stunt double and the two were such close friends that Needham spent 12 years living in Reynolds’s guest house.  Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was partially inspired by the friendship of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, with Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt playing characters who were based on the two men.  (Reynolds was even originally cast in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as George Spahn but he died before he could shoot his scenes. The role was taken over by Bruce Dern.)  Needham was responsible for directing some of Burt’s best films (Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit and this one) and some of his worst (Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II).  Needham also directed Megaforce, which didn’t feature Burt but which is still, in its own way, unforgettable.

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The critics may not have loved the movies that Hal and Burt made together but audiences did.  Needham’s best films are just as entertaining today as they were when they were originally released.  They don’t demand much but they deliver everything you could possibly want.  Whenever the real world is getting to be overwhelming, I’m thankful that I can turn on a Hal Needham film and return to a world where the only thing that matters is driving fast, loving hard, and having a good laugh while you’re doing it.  Today, more than ever, the legacy of Hal Needham is just what we need.

Oedipus Mess: Rivals (1972, directed by Krishna Shah)


Christine (Joan Hackett) is a young single mother and widow who lives in New York City.  She has a son, Jamie (Scott Colomby, playing a ten year-old even though he’s obviously a teenager).  Jamie is an aspiring director who make a film of his classmates running around the playground while wearing Richard Nixon masks.  Jamie, who is described as having a genius IQ, is also unhealthily obsessed with his mother, which the film, via flashback, links to her taking a shower in front of him while he was still potty training.

Jamie is not happy when Christine meets Peter (Robert Klein), a loudmouth who gives tours of the city to New York residents only.  If you’re from out-of-town, don’t even try to get in Peter’s microbus.  Peter and Christine start to date and then, eventually, they get married.  Despite the fact that his older babysitter wants to have an affair with him, Jamie remains obsessed with his mother and refuses to accept Peter as his stepfather.  Peter knows that Jamie doesn’t like him and eventually gives up on trying to win him over.  What Peter doesn’t know is that Jamie has come up with an elaborate scheme to murder him.

Rivals is the type of strange and messy film that could only have been made in 1972.  I guess it would be considered to be a mix of a horror movie and a psychological thriller but the tone of Rivals is all over the place so it’s hard to know what the film is trying to say about Jamie or his mother.  Throughout the film, there are sudden montages that seem to have little to do with the plot.  For instance, the film comes to a halt so we can spend several minutes watching as Peter attempts to harangue people into getting in his bus.  Peter is supposed to be likable but he comes across as being so obnoxious that it is easy to see why Jamie would not want him for a stepfather.  As for Jamie, he’s supposed to be ten but looks like he should be starting middle school so his obsession with sex is never as shocking as it should be.  The ludicrous subplot about his babysitter goes nowhere and just seems to disappear.  The one bright spot in the film is Joan Hackett as Christine.  Hackett does the best she can with her inconsistent role and she’s the one person in Rivals who you will actually care about.

Rivals is a mess, perhaps worth seeing only for the location footage of New York in the early 70s.  Otherwise, this is a forgotten film that does not need to be remembered.

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 3!


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(This review contains spoilers because it’s impossible for me to imagine that you somehow have not already seen Sharknado 3.)

Last night, I watched and live tweeted Sharknado 3 and I’m still recovering.  After the first hundred, I lost track of how many tweets I devoted to Sharknado 3.  Of course, I wasn’t alone in that.  Last night, it seemed like the entire nation was tweeting about Sharknado 3 and it was a wonderful thing.  At its best, twitter can be the great equalizer, giving everyone an equal voice and last night was one of those moments.

In fact, I was tempted to just devote this review to posting the best Sharknado 3 tweets from last night.  However, if I did that, 90% of those tweets would be from me.  Out of the millions of Sharknado 3 related tweets last night, mine were definitely the best.

Over the past three years, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film has almost become an unofficial national holiday, a summer version of the Super Bowl.  On twitter, Sharknado 3 was trending for days before the film even premiered.  And, once Sharknado 3 did start, it seemed as if everyone in the country was watching and taking bets on which celebrity guest star would be the next to die.  (I’m very proud to say that I correctly predicted the bloody and prolonged death of Frankie Muniz.) Even the majority of the commercials were specifically meant to tie in with the Sharknado franchise.

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Fans of the first Sharknado will be happy to know that Nova returns!

But what’s amazing and admirable is that, even though the franchise has now become an international phenomena, Sharknado 3 stayed true to its SyFy roots.  Ignore all the hype and you’ll see that Sharknado 3 tells  a story that will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched any SyFy original movie.  The world is threatened by a flamboyant threat, in this case a bunch of tornadoes that happens to be full of sharks.  Only one man (Ian Ziering as Finn) can save the world but first, he has to deal with skeptical military jackasses.  As always seems to happen in these films, he’s separated from his wife (Tara Reid playing the role of April and sporting a truly badass robotic hand).  Meanwhile, their teenage daughter (Ryan Newman as Claudia) has gone off on her own and finds herself right in the center of the disaster.  It’s a plot that has been used in thousands of SyFy and Asylum films but director Anthony C. Ferrante directs with a lot of energy and writer Thunder Levin provides so many clever one liners that it doesn’t matter if the storyline is familiar.  Ignore all the hype and you’ll discover that Sharknado 3 is still a wonderfully fun film that features everything that we love about SyFy movies.

Of course, one thing that distinguishes Sharknado 3 from other Asylum film is that it is full of celebrity cameos.  Usually, I am weary of excessive celebrity cameos because they’re distracting and the celebs often turn out to be terrible actors.  But the celebs in Sharknado 3 all do a wonderful job.  (Add to that, the majority of them get eaten, as well.)  Then again, the same could be said for the entire cast.  Regardless of what they’re asked to do or say, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid both full commit to their performances.  Casting director Gerald Webb is indeed one of the unsung heroes of the entire Sharknado phenomena.

The film opens with a shark attack on Washington D.C. and it’s during this time that we meet President Mark Cuban and Vice President Ann Coulter.  And, oh my God, how certain heads on twitter exploded when Ann Coulter showed up.  But you know what?  After seeing Sharknado 3, I would totally vote for a Cuban/Coulter ticket.  I don’t care what their platform is, they know how to fight sharks and they seemed far more believable than anyone who is currently running for President.  At first, I assumed that Mark Cuban was supposed to be playing himself and I thought that Sharknado 3 had somehow managed to predict the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.  However, I then checked with the imdb and I discovered that Cuban was playing President Marcus Robbins.

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The same people on twitter who were bitching about Ann Coulter weren’t much happier when Michele Bachman showed up, playing herself.  (For a few minutes, I was hoping that the movie would be full of cameos from former Presidential candidates.)  However, the political cameos in Sharknado 3 are bipartisan.  When the action moves down to Orlando, noted Democrat Jerry Springer shows up as a tourist and promptly gets eaten.  And then Carlos Danger himself, Anthony Weiner, shows up as a heroic NASA guy.  Eventually, for those of us who lean towards the libertarian side of the political spectrum, Penn Jilette and Teller eventually show up.  Personally, I suspect that Teller knew how to stop the sharks but, of course, he wasn’t going to say anything.

As for the cameos from various media personalities, Sharknado 3 never manages to top the moment from Sharknado 2 where Kelly Ripa stomped a shark with her high heels.  But no matter — it’s still fun to watch Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda get drunk while sharks fall around them.  And then Matt Lauer gets eaten by a shark so yay for that!

(Incidentally, whether intentional or not, the film was full of former contestants from The Celebrity Apprentice, with Ian, Penn, and Lou Ferrigno all showing up.  Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing Piers Morgan get eaten by a shark.)

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However, of all the celebrity cameos in Sharknado 3, nobody could top the Hoff.  When David Hasselhoff first showed up as Finn’s father, it felt like a funny but obvious joke.  Of course, Finn’s father would be David Hasselhoff.  But you know what?  Give credit where credit is due.  The Hoff actually gave a pretty good performance and, during the film’s interstellar climax, he managed to do a pretty good impersonation of George Clooney as he looked out into space and said, “It’s a beautiful view.”

And yes, Sharknado 3 does go into space.  How could it not?  The film may have started out as an homage to the classic weather disaster films but, by the end of the movie, it turned into a delirious combination of JawsGravity and Interstellar.  By the time Finn was exploring the stomach of a shark while it floated through the starry sky, Sharknado 3 had achieved a definite state of grace.

Incidentally, the film ended with a cliffhanger and we were asked to vote whether or not April would live.  At first, I voted to kill April because, quite frankly, I thought it would be fun to see a vengeance-obsessed Finn.  But then Tara Reid tweeted the following and made me feel totally guilty:

So, I’m changing my vote!  APRIL LIVES!

Of course, all this means that there will be Sharknado 4 and I can hardly wait!

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Shattered Politics #63: Primary Colors (dir by Mike Nichols)


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Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is the charismatic governor of an unnamed Southern state.  After spending his entire life in politics, Jack is finally ready to run for President.  Even more ready is his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson).  Jack proves himself to be a strong candidate, a good speaker who understands the voters and who has the ability to project empathy for almost anyone’s situation. He’s managed to recruit a talented and dedicated campaign staff, including the flamboyant Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and journalist Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).  Henry is the son of a civil rights leader and, as soon as they meet, Jack talks about the first time that he ever heard Henry’s father speak.  Within minutes of first meeting him, Henry believes in Jack.

The problem, however, is that there are constant hints that Jack may not be worthy of his admiration.  There’s the fact that he’s a compulsive womanizer who is given to displays of temper and immaturity.  When one of Jack’s old friends reveals that Jack may have impregnated his daughter, Jack and Susan respond with a pragmatic ruthlessness that takes Henry by surprise.

When one of Jack’s mistresses threatens to go public, Henry is partnered up with Libby (Kathy Bates) and sent to dig up dirt on her and her sponsors.  When the former governor of Florida, Freddie Picker (Larry Hagman), emerges as a threat to derail Jack’s quest for the nomination, Henry and Libby are again assigned to research Picker’s background.  Libby is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.  Recovering from a mental breakdown, Libby has no trouble threatening to shoot one political opponent but she’s still vulnerable and idealistic enough that it truly hurts her when Jack and Susan repeatedly fail to live up to her ideals.  As an out lesbian, Libby is perhaps the only character who has no trouble revealing her true self and, because of her honesty, she is the one who suffers the most.

First released in 1998 and based on a novel by Joe Klein, Primary Colors is an entertaining and ultimately rather bittersweet dramedy about the American way of politics.  John Travolta and Emma Thompson may be playing Jack and Susan Stanton but it’s obvious from the start that they’re meant to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to Travolta’s attempt to sound Southern, this is ultimately one of his best performances.  As played by Travolta, Jack Stanton is charming, compassionate, self-centered, and ultimately, incredibly frustrating.  One reason why Primary Colors works is because we, as an audience, come to believe in Jack just as much as Henry does and then we come to be just as disillusioned as Libby.  Emma Thompson’s performance is a little less obviously based on Hillary.  Unlike Travolta, she doesn’t attempt to imitate Hillary’s voice or mannerisms.  But she perfectly captures the steely determination.

Primary Colors captures both the thrill of believing and the inevitability of disillusionment.  It’s definitely a film that I will rewatch in the days leading up to 2016.