Archive for the ‘Burt Reynolds’ Category

 

Burt-DayIMG_4674

 

This past week, Nitehawk Cinema hosted the latest Kevin Geeks Out show, focusing on Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces in movies. It was my great honor to be among the talented and hysterical presenters. I got the chance to talk about one of the greatest movie stars of the past century, as part of my mission to remind people of his greatness. The following is what I presented:

 

000 BURT REYNOLDS

 

It feels like high time to remember what makes Burt Reynolds so important. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s he was the number-one movie star in the country for five years straight. For that reason, Burt’s story is part of America’s story. He met everybody. His memoir is loaded with many of the most famous people of the past century. His book is like Forrest Gump, if Forrest Gump was Burt Reynolds.

 

001

 

Why am I bringing up Burt Reynolds in a show about Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces? There are at least two big reasons, and I’ll get to them both. I’d argue that hair is a central theme of Burt’s stardom, and it’s also part of the reason we lost track of him.

 

Burt Reynolds, with his dog Bertha. 1970.

 

002 SAM WHISKEY

 

For a good part of his career, Burt didn’t have his signature mustache. Here he is taking a bath in SAM WHISKEY from 1969. That same year, Burt grew a mustache for his role in 100 RIFLES opposite Jim Brown and Raquel Welch.

 

003 DELIVERANCE

 

But one of Burt’s signature roles had nothing to do with the mustache. Here he is in DELIVERANCE from 1972. It’s a strong movie and Burt is a big part of what makes it that way. In an alternate universe, we can imagine, Burt continued on this hairless path.

 

004 AS ROCKY RHODES IN 'THE TWILIGHT ZONE'.

 

Burt says he grew the mustache because he was tired of being compared to Marlon Brando. This is Burt from an episode of The Twilight Zone, early in his career, where he plays a sort of Brando type actor. In the book Burt tells a story about Brando cornering him at a party to accuse him of cashing in on the resemblance. Burt said, “I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look. But I promise not to get fat.”

 

005 MUSTACHE PARTY

 

So, the mustache. This is the popular image of Burt Reynolds in people’s mind. At one time in American pop culture, a mustache was a symbol of maleness, of virility. Maybe it was a Teddy Roosevelt thing. But as time went on, and especially nowadays, the mustache seems to promise comedy.

Ron Swanson.

Ned Flanders.

Chuck Norris.

 

006 PLAYGIRL

 

That’s the catch-22: It’s partly because of the very sign of his legendary machismo that people stopped taking Burt Reynolds seriously.

 

007 COSMO

 

And this is another reason. In 1972 Burt posed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine. He did it right before DELIVERANCE made him a huge star. Burt did it for a laugh, but it worked against him. People didn’t get it.

 

008 Fuzz (1972)

 

As you can see from this poster for FUZZ, that photoshoot haunted his image.

 

009

 

Most people see Burt as a playboy, as a goofball. They don’t remember how good an actor he was, and how great a movie star he was.

 

010 DANCING

 

This is Burt (on the far right) dancing at a party near Steve McQueen and his wife. It’s true that Burt Reynolds was always fun. It was part of his image.

 

011 DANCING

 

Another thing about Burt Reynolds that makes him awesome, but that also works against him, is his openness and honesty. He called his own movies crap when they were crap, and even when they weren’t. He was never afraid to be the butt of the joke, but maybe people stopped noticing he was in on it.

 

012 SHATNER

 

Here’s another thing: In America, you can’t ever admit you wear a hairpiece. William Shatner is an example of a guy who didn’t hide it, and so he’s generally treated as a punchline.

 

013

 

Here’s a guy who never admits it.

 

014

 

As long as you never admit it isn’t real, you’re invincible.

 

015

 

Even when there’s relatively apparent visual proof that you’ve had work done on your hairline…

 

016

 

As long as you don’t admit it, you’re golden. The second you admit it, you’re Samson post-Delilah.

 

017 Deliverance (1972)

 

Burt says, “I’ve always been frank about my hair, because if you deny it, you’re fooling yourself.  Everybody else will do jokes about it. It’s better if you do the jokes first.” And so he did. But I think it made people forget what an effective dramatic actor he was.

 

017a

 

Fun story about Burt and the hairpiece: “One night at a bar in New York some idiot came over and made a crack about a “pelt on my head and I said, “If you can get it off before I beat the shit out of you, you can have it.”

 

017b

 

Another admirable thing about Burt is his ability to make amazing friendships. He can be best pals with a guy who turned out to be as right-wing as Jon Voight…

 

017c

 

And he can be as close as he was to Ossie Davis, who told Burt, “You’re the only actor in the world liked by both African-Americans and the Ku Klux Klan.” For the record, Burt wasn’t interested in entertaining racists. If you watch his movies, his love for people shines through — regardless of their gender, race, or orientation. If it was a party, everybody was invited.

 

018 White Lightning (1973)

 

DELIVERANCE solidified Burt as a Southern-fried action star. He appeared – still without the mustache – in films like WHITE LIGHTNING

 

019 Gator (1976)

 

…and GATOR

 

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

 

…the latter of which also marked the start of his directing career.

 

021 The Longest Yard (1974)

 

One of Burt’s best and most famous movies, THE LONGEST YARD, shows what he can do without mustache power. It’s one of the greatest sports movies ever made.

 

022 Hustle (1975)

 

Coming from the same director a year later, HUSTLE was a very underrated crime film. Guaranteed Michael Mann saw this one somewhere along the line.

 

023 Lucky Lady (1975)

 

Here’s Burt co-starring with Gene Hackman, one of the key actors in the New Hollywood. In this era, guys like De Niro and Pacino, Hoffman and Hackman, began to redefine naturalistic acting on film.

 

024 Semi-Tough (1977)

 

And just as American movies were getting more serious, Burt went the other way.

 

025 Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 

This is SMOKEY & THE BANDIT, the movie that was a colossal hit for Burt and his friend, the director and legendary stunt man Hal Needham.

 

026 Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, Jerry Reed, and a bassett hound on the set of Smokey & the Bandit.

 

While most highbrow critics don’t give any kind of attention to Hal Needham’s work, I think it’s very important, not least because of how it showcases the severely under-appreciated art of movie stunts.

 

027 Hooper (1978)

 

HOOPER was maybe Hal Needham’s most personal movie, showing the life of a Hollywood stuntman. It’s great.

 

027a Hooper (1978) Japanese Poster

 

So is its Japanese poster.

 

028 The End (1978)

 

Even amidst the popularity of all the Hal Needham movies, Burt continued to direct, and this is also the era where he buddied up with Dom DeLuise.

 

Reynolds Roast 1977

 

Burt and Dom together are magic, they’re infectious, you can’t not love watching them,

 

029 The Cannonball Run (1981)

 

But they’re also clowns. Their movies together are live-action cartoons.

 

Dom DeLuise

 

If all you know is THE CANNONBALL RUN, it’s very easy to lose sight of Burt’s dramatic talents.

 

030 Paternity (1981)

 

When Burt makes a movie like this…

 

031 Sharky's Machine (1981)

 

…It’s easier for cinematic tastemakers to forget that, the same year, he also made a movie like this.

 

032

 

SHARKY’S MACHINE is really worth seeing. I wish Burt’s career had continued with him directing more of this kind of melancholy, sleazy crime movie.

 

033 Stick

 

Burt made an Elmore Leonard adaptation before it became the in-thing to do.

 

034 Heat

 

There’s a better film out there going by the same name, but HEAT is still pretty special, a perfect showcase for Burt as a tough guy whose glory was beginning to fade.

 

035 CITY HEAT

 

Teaming him up with his old buddy Clint Eastwood, 1984’s CITY HEAT should have been a hit. It wasn’t.

 

036 City Heat (1984)

 

I think the contrast between Clint and Burt at this stage of their careers is very telling. Both of them were stars who appealed to men as much as women. Both of them are better actors than most people recognize. Both of them directed. But only one of them became a mainstream Academy Award winning institution.

 

037

 

I love Clint, never get me wrong, but he would never let himself be the butt of the joke, the way Burt did so many times. Even in the movies he made with the orangutan, Clint was always the coolest guy in the room. In CITY HEAT, he calls Burt “Shorty.” The final line of the movie from Clint is, “You’ll always be Shorty to me.” And he gets the last word. [Clint is 6’4″, Burt is 5’11”.]

 

M8DCIHE EC004

 

Notice who’s wearing the nice suit and who’s wearing the silly costume.

 

039 Stroker Ace (1983)

 

This is also the era when Burt became more famous for tabloids than for movies. For one thing, a facial injury he sustained on the set of CITY HEAT led to a rumor Burt had AIDS. If you remember the ‘eighties, there was a lot of spite and prejudice in a rumor like that.

 

040

 

This is also around the time Burt met Loni Anderson.

 

041

 

It isn’t like Burt wasn’t famous for his offscreen relationships before, but this was where it started to overshadow his onscreen work.

 

042

 

In his book, Burt isn’t mean about it, but he indicates he got swept up in the relationship in a way he wishes he hadn’t.

 

043

 

Guess that’s hard to say no to, no matter what your type is.

 

044

 

Burt says this was one of the happiest times of his life…

 

045

 

…but then also the worst.

 

046

 

Again, headlines like these are the primary basis of his celebrity in the late 1980s. By contrast, Clint was really taking off as a serious filmmaker, going from BIRD to UNFORGIVEN.

 

047

 

People see Loni Anderson, a blonde bombshell, and they probably make assumptions about her, and about Burt for being into her. But the loves of Burt’s life were girl-next-door types.

 

047a

 

The chapter in the book on Burt’s regrets about it not working out with Sally Field is really affecting.

 

048 Cop and a Half (1993)

 

So real life got sadder, and then these were the kinds of movies Burt was getting. No offense to COP AND A HALF, but it’s no IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

TSDEVSH EC011

 

In the ‘nineties, Burt went back to TV for Evening Shade, a show that had one of the greatest ensemble casts ever, but it was on CBS at a time when it wasn’t cool at all to be on CBS, assuming that time ever existed.

 

050 Boogie Nights (1997)

 

Then, towards the end of the decade, this came along.

 

051

 

By the time Burt gives his phenomenal half-dramatic/half-comedic performance in BOOGIE NIGHTS, nobody seemed to remember that’s what he’d been doing all along.

 

052

 

I think movie fans of my generation revere this movie and we revere Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in general. BOOGIE NIGHTS is a great American movie. But it was well publicized that Burt was uncomfortable with it. He’s still never seen it all the way through. Anderson went on to make several more great films, and Burt didn’t. This kind of stuff leads people to take sides, and most go with the brilliant auteur over the so-called has-been. But it’s not that simple.

 

053

 

For one thing, Burt was 62 when he made Boogie Nights. Paul Anderson was 27. Keep in mind Burt started acting back in the 1950s. Imagine you’re Burt and some kid is asking you to do and say some pretty damn out-there things. BOOGIE NIGHTS isn’t porn, but it’s sure got porn dialogue. Burt was the son of a police chief. He was raised to be a gentleman. He had valid reasons to be concerned about his image at this point in time. I don’t think Burt Reynolds is an uptight guy, but I also think it’s okay if he wasn’t too comfortable calling Julianne Moore a “foxy bitch.”

 

054 The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

 

Burt was incredible in BOOGIE NIGHTS, but just about everything that came afterwards was underwhelming. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD was a movie based on an old TV show that was itself a rip-off of Smokey & the Bandit, and now Burt was getting novelty-cast in the Jackie Gleason role.

 

longest_yard_ver2

 

055 The Longest Yard (2005)

 

Don’t even get me started on what happened here.

 

056

 

So the full-on renaissance he deserved didn’t happen. Burt returned to Florida. He runs an acting school there now.

 

057 Burt Reynolds Institute & Museum in Jupiter, Florida.

 

Can you imagine getting acting lessons from Burt Reynolds? That’s a movie right there.

 

058

 

Burt turned 80 this month. If I had to bet on any human being lasting past a hundred, it’d be him, but still.

 

059

 

Too often the critical re-evaluations come too late. I don’t think it’s too radical for me to suggest that the work of one of the most popular movie stars in history is worth another look.

 

060 IN CONCLUSION

 

Let’s not let a legend go under-remembered in his own time. And one last thing about the book: It not only has chapters remembering Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, and Frank Sinatra, but there’s also one dedicated to the horse Burt rode in the movie NAVAJO JOE. What’s better than that?

 

Navajo Joe (1966)

 

 

— JON ABRAMS.

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Hard as it is to believe, Burt Reynolds turned 80 today. Decided this year I’m making it a personal mission to remind everyone how awesome Burt Reynolds is. Last year Burt released his autobiography, written with Jon Winokur (who runs the very valuable Advice To Writers.) I’ve joked around about Burt’s autobiography being the last book I’ll ever need, but there’s a trace of truth to that statement. For a while there, as one of the hugest movie stars on the planet, Burt knew well or at least encountered some of the biggest bold names of the previous century. His book has chapters on both Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, to name just two, and I’m not sure what else a person would need to know before rushing out to buy and read this thing.

 

The book also has a chapter reserved for Donald Trump. Now, let’s be clear: Burt is far more civil towards Trump than I could ever be. To my eyes, as a native New Yorker having watched this character operate for years, Trump is a bully and a liar — in ways that are as provable and demonstrable as physics — and his apparent lack of self-awareness and self-recrimination makes him despicable. Again, Burt is far friendlier. But even the most generous comments about Trump are pretty damning. And in a calendar year where Donald Trump is improbably, insanely, a legitimately possible candidate for the Republican Party, I think it’s pretty telling (and quietly courageous) that while putting together an autobiography, summarizing a life that surely could have spanned several volumes, Burt went out of his way to set the record straight on Trump.

 

Their paths crossed in the early 1980s, when Burt became a minority owner in the Tampa Bay Bandits, a team in the fledgling and now long-defunct United States Football League. The Bandits were co-owned by a businessman named John Bassett. Trump bought a rival team, the New Jersey Generals.

 

So here’s Burt on the time Trump sank the USFL…

 

“There are always guys who come out of the woodwork and take everything they can get. Donald Trump was one such offender.”

“John and Donald were both rich kids but that’s where the similarity ended. Donald was born on third and thought he hit a triple.”

“In my opinion, it was Donald’s fault that the USFL didn’t survive.”

“Now don’t get me wrong. I like Donald. I hold on to my wallet when we shake hands, but I like him.”

“He was interested in only two things: money and publicity. John summed it up when he said Donald’s ‘ego transcended his business sense.'”

“Every time Donald runs for president, I pray he never gets the chance to do to the USA what he did to the USFL.”

 

 

For his part, and if you’d like to see the difference between a gentleman and a lout, here for contrast is the kind of thing Trump has said about Burt Reynolds.

 

If you think Trump is funny, if you think he’s smart, if you think he’s worth listening to, you really need to check yourself, immediately. It’s time to renounce any and all support for this goon, now or else go get a T-shirt printed up that reads “I aim to be a bad person too.” Ignorance of Trump’s record of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and ineptitude — let alone admiration for those same traits — is at this moment in American history a severe moral failing. Let’s toss this guy out with the trash, where he’s belonged all along.

 

And that said, I’m going to watch SHARKY’S MACHINE again. Thanks for reading. Buy Burt’s book. Be kind. Be good.

 

 

On Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

Inspired by Twitter friend Alex Segura, I would like to list here all the books I’ve most enjoyed in 2015. I’m only listing the ones that were newly released this year, or we could be here a while.

 

sellout

 

BTW

 

TheClasp.indd

 

kji

 

gilliamesque

 

gutshot

 

shirley

 

sweetnothing

 

ParadiseSky

 

godloveshaiti

 

whites

 

burt

 

savage

 

Near+Enemy+Cover

 

Print

 

cartel

 

I’m not done yet, and this month is always the one where I race to catch up, so watch this space. It could grow!

 

When all else fails, find me here: @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On March 16th of this past year, I attended a screening at the 92Y Tribeca of BODY SLAM (1986), attended by its director, the literally legendary Hal Needham.  BODY SLAM was the last theatrical feature he directed, and probably not his best, although it was still a whole mess of fun, like pretty much everything else he’s ever done.  Now, Hal Needham is arguably best known to the mainstream as the director of THE CANNONBALL RUN, but that really is only a small part of what makes him a Hollywood legend.

Honestly, I sat in awe through most of the Q&A after the movie, since I know more than most people do about Hal Needham’s career, and still I knew only a little.  Hal Needham doesn’t have a household-auteur name like Spielberg or Scorsese, but rest assured that his is an essential career in American movies.  If you look over his list of credits, you will see that he worked on over a hundred films in the stunt department, whether as a coordinator, actor, or stunt performer, or some combination henceforth.  Here is a partial list of movies with his vital contributions (I’m sticking to the ones I personally have seen or else we’ll literally be here all day):

THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, DONOVAN’S REEF, 4 FOR TEXAS, MAJOR DUNDEE, OUR MAN FLINT, BANDOLERO!, 100 RIFLES, LITTLE BIG MAN, RIO LOBO, THE NIGHT STALKER, THE CULPEPPER CATTLE CO., WHITE LIGHTNING, BLAZING SADDLES, CHINATOWN, 3 THE HARD WAY, THE LONGEST YARD, and THE END.

Before getting into directing, Hal Needham was Hollywood’s number-one go-to stunt man. He made over 300 movies and broke over 50 bones.

Here are some other facts about Hal Needham, which I excitedly sent out on Twitter after meeting the man in person:

______________________________________

Hal Needham worked on THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, and was in the bar fight in DONOVAN’S REEF.  Both alongside John Wayne & Lee Marvin.

(Here’s a pair of Hal Needham bar-fight scenes:)

______________________________________

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Hal Needham jumped from one airplane to another, mid-flight.

Not Hal Needham. But it could be.

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Hal Needham drank with Billy Wilder.

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Hal Needham was best pals with Burt Reynolds and lived for fourteen years in his guest house, “rent-free.”  This was during the time when Burt Reynolds was the biggest box-office draw in the country.  Reportedly, it was exactly the party it sounds like.

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Hal Needham got paid $25,000 to drive a car straight into a concrete wall.  “It was easy,” he told us.

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Hal Needham escaped a Russian invasion and lost his hearing in an explosion in Czechoslavakia.

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When Hal Needham talks about the Rat Pack, he refers to Sinatra, Martin, and Davis as “Frank, Dean, and Sammy.”  BECAUSE HE KNEW THEM PERSONALLY.

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Hal Needham broke the sound barrier in a car.

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Remember the blonde who drives the car with Adrienne Barbeau in THE CANNONBALL RUN?

Hal Needham did that too.

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Hal Needham gave Jackie Chan and everybody else who does it the idea to run the blooper reel over the end credits.  I asked him if he ever saw ANCHORMAN, specifically the end credits, which hilariously just rerun the blooper reel of THE CANNONBALL RUN.  (Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, along with their protegee Danny McBride, are obviously familiar with the Needham catalogue.  EASTBOUND & DOWN is a reference to the theme song of SMOKEY & THE BANDIT.)  Hal Needham told me he hasn’t seen ANCHORMAN, but would check it out.

______________________________________

____________________________________

Many of the above stories are written about at length in Hal Needham’s autobiography, STUNT MAN!

That’s Hal Needham on the cover, by the way.  You’ll recognize him because he’s on fire.  (He said it didn’t hurt.)

______________________________________

When writing about Hal Needham’s accomplishments, it starts to feel like making up Chuck Norris Facts.  The difference?  Hal Needham is a badass for real.

______________________________________

At the screening and Q&A, Hal Needham was a great sport, and a great, great storyteller.   The crowd was cool and asked about almost everything I would have asked.  So most of my questions were about THE VILLAIN.  (Hal Needham started Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career!)  THE VILLAIN is a little-remembered comedy-Western which Needham treated as a live-action Tex Avery cartoon.  Arnold plays the well-intentioned but dopey hero, Handsome Stranger, Ann-Margret is at her all-time most luscious as Charming Jones, and Kirk Douglas plays the Wile E. Coyote styled black-hatted title character, Cactus Jack (which is sometimes the title of the movie in some markets).  Paul Lynde has a very funny cameo as Indian chief Nervous Elk, and Western-movie veteran Strother Martin plays the excellently-named Parody Jones.  Look guys, I’m not gonna argue that this is a great movie in the classical sense, but goddamn did it make me laugh.  And I really shouldn’t have glossed over just how attractive Ann-Margaret is in the movie.  It’s about as good as a lady can, possibly.

BODY SLAM is equally silly — like THE VILLAIN, probably second-tier Needham — but it has plenty of moments.  This was at the peak of pro-wrestling’s popularity in the 1980s, and it’s easy to see why a stuntman like Needham would feel an affinity for pro-wrestlers, who are also under-appreciated athletes.  Like John Carpenter, he also saw the star power of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who was famous in the wrestling as a ‘heel’ but in movies like BODY SLAM, THEY LIVE, and HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN* — *the greatest movie title of all time — made a thoroughly likable, blue-collar, and naturally funny (also very, very Canadian) protagonist.  Most of BODY SLAM is concerned with the antics of Dirk Benedict’s character, as the fast-talking, somewhat shady promoter who takes on Piper’s character as a client.  It’s also concerned with ogling Tanya Roberts, as the love interest prone to wearing very, very, very small bikinis.  I was way into all of that as a kid — Dirk Benedict was on The A-Team, of course, and I knew Tanya Roberts from Charlie’s Angels and SHEENA: QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE.  Throw in Billy Barty, Sydney Lassick, and Captain Lou Albano, and there you go, another [very strange and occasionally awkward] party.  The wrestling scenes are great, though.  I’m also a big fan of the Latin-freestyle theme song, though a saner person might not be.

Can’t find a trailer, but here are some clips from BODY SLAM:

_________________________________________

That’s Hal Needham, man.  He likes to make movies with pretty girls and silly gags, some amiable shit-talking and braggadocio, and a couple big crazy stunts.  If he wasn’t so busy jumping from planes and trains, he could have been a big hit as a staffer at MAD.  He’s not one who’s out to change the world with his art.  He just wants to brighten up your day.  Sometimes that’s a noble cause.  I know I’m someone who believes it to be.

In the end, there was little I could say to the man besides “It’s an honor. Your movies have given me and my friends a lot of happy times.”  I don’t tend to get overly excited about meeting famous people.  I had a fun run-in with Stan Lee once, and meeting Clint Eastwood was a highlight, but yeah I will admit this was a really cool experience.  For a Yankee born and bred, I’m a huge fan of the work of this man who is quite possibly the most successful Southern filmmaker of his era.

I’m finally posting this tribute officially because I read some good news for once:  It was announced today that Hal Needham is getting an honorary Academy Award for his decades of pioneering stunt work.  (Read about it here and here!)  It’s well-deserved, especially considering how the ‘major’ awards show so little appreciation of the value that stunt performers bring to action cinema.  We wouldn’t have most of our favorite movies without them.  They literally risk their necks for our entertainment.  (To be fair, they do usually pull the babes also.  It’s a trade-off!)

Hal Needham is one of the most prolific stuntmen ever to work in American movies, and as a director he created some endlessly enjoyable party movies.  Obviously I’m willing to praise his work all day, but it’s great to see that he’s finally getting his due from his peers, his industry, and other fancy people in tuxedos.

Me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

   

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE & THE SAD STATE OF THE CINEMATIC SHIT-KICKER.

So I was one of those strange people who watched Punisher: War Zone during its brief theatrical run.  If you’re a fan of left-field action flicks and intentional unintentional humor, I’ll tell you it’s definitely worth that late-night rental.  If you like to get drunk, get drunk.  If you like to get high, get high.  If you’re like me and you’re a screwy enough personality even without adding any chemical influence, you’ll absolutely get a chuckle out of the thing. 

It’s total junk, but you know what?  Maybe most times you like to eat healthy.  But sometimes you somehow end up at McDonald’s.  And on occasion, while you’re there, you might even feel dumb enough to try the Fillet O’ Fish. 

Punisher: War Zone is the McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish sandwich of action movies – if you’re brave enough to try it, it’s a very temporary very positive experience which you will probably regret doing and probably not admit to having done.

No one will ever persuade me that even a moment of the previous two Punisher movies (in 1989 and 2004) were remotely watchable, and I’ve never been much of a fan of the character.  But the Garth Ennis Punisher stories are some of the few comics I have kept up with regularly for the last several years.  I’m not talking about the first few stories he did with Preacher collaborator Steve Dillon – those were over-the-top black comedy that’s not to my tastes.  The previous Punisher movie, the Thomas Jane one, went to that well, and “well” is not how that approach turned out.  No, instead I’m recommending (highly) the bleak, black-hearted stories Ennis has written more recently, including The Slavers, Barracuda, and The Long Cold Dark, in which the cold-blooded vigilante is pitted against enemies even crueler than he is.  It’s the only approach that makes much sense.  You have to go with the vicarious impulse.

So I don’t actually agree with the notion that The Punisher is too one-note a character to hang a movie upon.  Film franchises such as Death Wish and Friday The 13th managed to do very well for themselves with a one-note, mono-maniacal mass-murderer as the protagonist.  And in War Zone, the story actually starts with at least two relatively interesting concepts which could make The Punisher an interesting feature-film prospect.  One, he accidentally kills one of the good guys; two, he’s put in conflict with a cop who has a more traditional right on his side.

The movie just happens to bury that promising story framework in a sloppy, overacted, underlined, frequently hilarious comedy.  War Zone is unstructured, aggressively miscast, and lit like a caricature of a 1985 Michael Mann film.  (Neon is everywhere – I especially liked the shot of a character sitting on a stool in front of a shelf of assorted liquor: cut to a wider shot featuring a lime-green neon sign proclaiming “BAR.”) 

Maybe Garth Ennis himself could have written up a dark, interesting Punisher movie, but that won’t ever happen.  At this point, another Punisher movie is probably out of the question entirely. 

Especially not after you see the performances of the movie’s lead villains, Dominic West as Jigsaw and Doug Hutchison as L.B.J.  These guys are starring in a campy, incestuous John Waters comedy, playing homicidal psychopathic brothers with insanely ridiculous accents.  Somebody went and mixed the Punisher into their weird-ass movie, instead of the other way around.

On the subject of that Punisher – the one place where Punisher: War Zone isn’t totally miscast is with Ray Stevenson.  I first noticed Ray Stevenson in King Arthur, which was not a great movie but it was stocked with great badasses such as Clive Owen and Ray Winstone.  If you know Ray Stevenson at all, you know him from Rome, the HBO series in which, among other things, he pulls out some dude’s tongue with his teeth

I don’t know if Ray Stevenson makes a great Punisher, exactly –  he probably projects too much depth for that – but he is quite skilled in the bad-ass arts.  He’s convincing as a shit-kicker in a way that very few actors are, especially these days.  I wish to hell somebody would give Ray Stevenson a different movie in which to practice shit-kicking, because he’s so very good at it. 

Which brings me to a deeper point…

While I was watching Punisher: War Zone, I started thinking about how rare that badass action movies about the great shit-kickers have become.  Shitkickers used to be so popular; not so much anymore.  Where are the big, ugly, mean mother fuckers? 

Where’s Charles Bronson, who was always so many more shades of tough than people give him credit from just the Death Wish films? 

 Where’s today’s equivalent of James Coburn?  Lanky, toothy, fierce, unfukwitable?

Would there be room today for a wonderfully unique, growly, and two-fisted actor like Warren Oates? 

Do we have anyone on the 2008 landscape who could play the kind of roles that men like William Holden, Jason Robards, Robert Ryan, Toshiro Mifune, or Steve McQueen routinely played? 

Could my beloved hero Clint Eastwood have his amazing, legendary career if he were to start out today?

It used to be that movies had a place for men, real men – men acting mean for the sake of good.  They were convincing as tough guys and they gave our dads and grandpas the metaphorical instruction manual as to how to behave.  Looks were secondary, tertiary, or lower still, as qualifications for cinematic supremacy – physical beauty had little or nothing to do with the careers of John Wayne, most likely the most popular and famous American movie star of all time, or of Humphrey Bogart, one of the best remembered.

So I gotta be a little concerned about the state of American masculinity when the most popular action-movie character of the last ten years is…

Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Johnny Depp is great, but while he’s admirably tried to fight it, he’s ultimately, unavoidably, a pretty-boy.  And in the Pirates movies, he’s an action hero with makeup

Dude’s got makeup on, and HE’S the ruler of all the pirates?  Tyrone Power was a pretty-boy too, but he went easier on the makeup at least.  But these are the pirate movies our generation gets.  Babyfaces for babies.  I actually like Orlando Bloom, but he’s in those movies to make Jack Sparrow look butch.  You see my point?

The next most popular lead in action movies?  Probably it’s Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man.  Now, I’m a big Tobey fan, despite and/or because of the universally agreed-upon fact that he resembles me pretty much exactly.  (On a good day, I also get the Jake Gyllenhaal comparison, but that works even more damningly towards my point.  Gyllenhaal is twice the romantic, sensitive poet type that Maguire is.)  While Sam Raimi is all the more a genius for casting my doppelganger as the greatest comic book hero who isn’t Batman, I still have an issue with this, weirdly enough.  I’m not sure that our action heroes should necessarily resemble me – at least, not as a rule, rather than the exception.  Our action heroes should look like they FLOSS with runts like me.

The guys who should be in that spot haven’t broke through to action in the way I’m describing. 

Clive Owen has not exactly been able to hit as an action star the way he should be. 

Russell Crowe was holding it down for a minute there, but he rushed off into serious-actor territory and never really returned. 

Bruce Willis was great at it, but he seems not to be doing it [in watchable movies] anymore. 

Sam Jackson is brilliant at it, but he works so often that it’s not special anymore. 

Keanu Reeves and Matt Damon were very solid in the Matrix and Bourne films, but remember, they were cast against type. 

Denzel can do it, but he’s got so many other vivid facets to work at, and all of them are squarely in leading man territory – he’s more a Robert Mitchum than an Ernest Borgnine. 

Daniel Day-Lewis can do it (Gangs of New York) but usually refuses to. 

I could see Mickey Rourke getting it done, but the proper system isn’t in place. 

Remember, I’m not maligning any of these actors – I don’t think I’ve mentioned a one that I don’t think is legitimately great.  I’m merely talking about a genre that seems to have disappeared off the big screen, a joyfully malevolent genre where pretty faces exist only to get pushed in.

In action, real down-and-dirty shit-kicking action flicks, generally the actors who we think of today strictly as character actors should actually be the kings.

Casting Daniel Craig as Bond was a great step, in my opinion.  He was kicked up from villainous supporting roles, in movies like Road To Perdition, to the big time.  I know the ladies find Daniel Craig dreamy, but I like him because he looks like he’s actually been in some fights; maybe there’s even a busted nose somewhere in his hazy past.  I’m not particularly a Bond fan, and those fancy spy extravanganzas aren’t the kind of movies I’m talking about, but I like that he’s out there in big movies.

But outside of all of the above – really, what else is out there? 

I like The Rock in movies, but he’s not the answer we need.  He’s a little too metro, and definitely too funny. 

I like Mark Wahlberg too, a whole lot, but as an actor way more than an action guy – I’ll never be able to forget “Good Vibrations” no matter how good the guy was in Boogie Nights and Three Kings

Jason Statham is decent at what he does, but there’s nothing quintessentially American about that guy – he’d ideally be the fourth down the line in a badass ensemble, not the headliner.  Besides, he used to be a male model. Dismissed.

Hayden Christensen keeps getting action roles, but come on now, seriously. 

Hugh Jackman has a little Clint in his look, but also a whole lot of musical theater. 

That kid in the Twilight movie is inevitably going to get his shot in an action flick now, but he looks like Kate Winslet to me.

  
We’re THIS close to a Justin Timberlake action movie.  That’s all I’m warning against. 

And if that happens, I guarantee Lee Marvin is going to be royally pissed.

You know, the world is upside down.  You’d have to vacate movies almost entirely and go all the way to television in order to see the character actor running rampant in his badassed primacy.  You’d have to watch The SopranosThe ShieldRescue MeThe WireOz.  The characters on Lost who used to star on Oz.  And of course, Rome.

All of which brings us back to Ray Stevenson.  He’s part of the solution.  But he can’t do it alone.

Consider all of the above to be an S.O.S.

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This essay was originally posted in December in 2008. Since then, the most dire prophecy contained within it has come to pass.  The situation has not much improved.  “It gets better,” my ass.

Doesn’t look happy.

 

http://twitter.com/jonnyabomb

 

 

Anthology Film Archives is hosting a fantastic film series this week, curated by Bill Lustig, a legend of the kind of movies I so often return to writing about on this site.  (Read my piece on his Robert Forster/Fred Williamson action flick Vigilante!)

Bill Lustig isn’t just a genre director, he’s also a filmmaker of excellent and rare taste.  The movies selected for this series include the rarely-screened Dennis Hopper/ Warren Oates/ Peter Boyle movie Kid Blue from The Muppet Movie director James Frawley, the rarely-screened Peter Falk/ Warren Oates/ Peter Boyle movie The Brink’s Job from The Exorcist director William Friedkin, and the super-rarely-screened The Super Cops from Shaft director Gordon Parks!

Besides all of that greatness, there will be two worthy selections from the filmography of  Sergio Corbucci, The Mercenary, starring Franco Nero and Jack Palance, and Navajo Joe, which is screening on Tuesday night at 9:15pm, and on July 25th at 7:00pm.  I recommend this one in particular, because it’s weird, badass, bizarre, and fun.

Navajo Joe (A Dollar A Head) (Savage Run) (1966)

Directed by: Sergio Corbucci

Navajo Joe is a thoroughly underrated Italian Western, even among cinephiliacs who know about ‘em.  It begins with a legitimately brutal opening scene, and continues through, at a slightly less violent pace, with some memorably cool cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti.  The pretty pictures are key because they help to spotlight one of the hottest ladies I’ve ever seen in a spaghetti Western (after Claudia Cardinale, of course, always) – her name is Nicoletta Machiavelli.  Really!

See?

Other things to keep an eye and ear out for in Navajo Joe:  Spaghetti Western regular Aldo Sambrell as a villain who looks very much like Jimmy Kimmel;  a comedy sidekick with one of the biggest noses in human history; a familiar Morricone score if you’ve seen Kill Bill or Election (Tarantino and Payne know their film history), and BURT REYNOLDS.

Yes, this is an early starring role for Clint’s old buddy Burt Reynolds, and one of Burt’s few straight-up Westerns.  Burt’s pretty serious here, which isn’t what he’s best known to be, but as an action lead, he’s pretty good.  As a Navajo Indian, no less!  (Burt has Native American heritage so it’s not as absurd as you may be thinking.)

Also, in Navajo Joe Burt gets to utter what has become one of my favorite movie quotes ever:  “Some jobs a man can’t do.  But the big blond can do it… maybe.”

It’s better than Cats & Dogs

But seriously folks, I loved the hell out of this movie.  Go see it ASAP.  Just read my review first (or immediately second, that’s acceptable too.)

 
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The Other Guys does so many things right that I don’t even know where to start.  I definitely don’t intend to go into much detail on this one, because to talk too much about the movie would be to ruin at least a couple of its best jokes, and only an asshole would do that to you.  Just make sure that you get out to see this movie right away, so that some other asshole doesn’t ruin all the insanely quotable jokes before you get around to it.  The Other Guys is ridiculously hilarious, and we’re talking about the work of a team who previously brought us Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers.  Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are now four for four.  That’s one hell of a batting average.
 
Anchorman is beyond a doubt one of the greatest comedies of the past decade, melding surreal absurdity with a high-concept period piece as it does.  Talladega Nights is an amazing example of slipping brilliant satire right past the people who are being lampooned.  Step Brothers is a bizarre family saga in minimum, comedy pared down to the essentials.  With The Other Guys, Ferrell and McKay do up the buddy-cop action-comedy, and they do it up right.  Somewhere in New Jersey, Kevin Smith weeps, because this is the glorious opposite of Cop OutThe Other Guys is immediately one of the all-time great buddy-cop action-comedies.  I’m the guy who’s seen Beverly Hills Cop more times than Justin Timberlake has seen Mermaids, so I have no problem making this pronouncement.  I loved The Other Guys the second that a car is driven right into the lobby of Trump Tower as a completely unnecessary and thrilling fuck-you explosion, and that happened around minute two.
 
In The Other Guys, Will Ferrell plays Allen Gamble and Mark Wahlberg plays Terry Hoitz.  These guys aren’t the badass super-cops who walk away from explosions in slow-motion.  Those guys are Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, who have a blast sending up cop-movie superheroics.  Ferrell and Wahlberg are just the guys who sit at a desk in the same precinct.  Ferrell’s character is a dull pencil-pusher (or appears to be) and Wahlberg’s character was once a promising up-and-comer before he did something that you must never do if you want to be loved in New York.  (Don’t let anyone ruin this joke for you either.) 
 
At the start of The Other Guys, Wahlberg hates Ferrell.  He wants to get out there and kick some ass, but Ferrell loves the desk work.  This means that you get a bunch of scenes of Mark Wahlberg screaming at a straight-faced Will Ferrell, which is already comic gold.  Throw in the much-missed Michael Keaton (experiencing a big-screen renaissance between this and Toy Story 3) as their beleaguered but affectionate captain, not to mention a clutch Bobby Cannavale as a brutish co-worker, and you have a great workplace comedy even before the cop plot kicks in.
 
Once it does, the movie really takes off.  The main crime of the movie is a little bit convoluted, involving as it does a somewhat subdued Steve Coogan and a thanklessly grim Ray Stevenson, but there is a real profound satirical point to be made here, as the can’t-miss end credits confirm.  It’s kind of amazing and impressive that McKay and Ferrell bother to fold a sneaky social comment inside a brilliant huge-budget comedy where almost no other modern filmmaker would be bold enough, but the less said about that beforehand, the better.  Besides, it’s hard to notice much else when Ferrell and Wahlberg are wreaking comedic havoc across Manhattan in their single-minded pursuit of crime and corruption.  
 
There’s something inspired about the pairing; Ferrell downplaying uncharacteristically, diverging from his usual assortment of bloviating big-egos to play a more mild-mannered guy (with a dark side), while Wahlberg shouts around him, doing his typical earnest tough guy thing but amped to a level where you can’t quite tell if he’s in on the joke or not (although I’m guessing he is).  It’s great. 
 
Special mention to my beloved Eva Mendes, as Ferrell’s improbably smoking-hot doctor/ex-Laker-girl wife, delivering big-time on the underrated comic promise that she showed early on in Stuck On You.  A great guy-centric comedy can only benefit from a solid, game female presence, as comedies such as Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and Anchorman have proved time and again, and that’s what Eva brings to the table.  She plays this unshakable, almost naïve positivity that flies in the face of her superhuman hotness, and it’s totally charming and completely hilarious.  (Wahlberg’s muttered incredulity at the marriage is all by itself worth the trip to the theater.)
 
Ferrell and McKay deserve a huge success with this movie.  These guys are now running entire cities, the way Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and co. did in their heyday.  The Other Guys is astoundingly funny – I laughed my ass off all the way through, and I’m talking deep, loud, uncontrolled laughs straight from the gut that should have made me embarrassed in a theater packed with people except I couldn’t stop myself and it wasn’t like the movie was going to stop being hilarious long enough to cut me a break.  I might even prefer this one to Anchorman, although I’ll have to go back a few times to see.  This genre is totally in my wheelhouse, more than most, and these guys totally nail it, in an instant-classic kind of way.  I knew I would like it, but I had no idea how much.  Again, I could talk about this movie all day, but what I’d really rather do is to see it again, right now if possible, and even more than that I’d love to encourage all of you reading this to go see it, right now if possible.  You will love this movie.  Doubt does not exist.
 
 
 
 
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