Archive for the ‘Cars’ 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.

IMG_5595

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:

For starters, if you have any problem looking at Tom Hardy’s face for an hour and a half, look elsewhere for your filmed entertainment. I don’t have that particular problem but there are several actors I’d prefer not to stare at for so long (I’ll not name them here) — point is, everybody’s got their something. For me, I’d happily argue that this is the movie where Tom Hardy establishes he’s the real deal, particularly if you haven’t yet seen his transformative work in BRONSON. There are more great screen performers than we like to think, but there are not so many performers who can hold down a screen on their own.

Writer-director Steven Knight, who wrote the must-sees DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES, has constructed an actor’s vehicle (sorry for the pun) of the rare sort where the audience is looking at little else besides the actor’s face for the entire running time. There are cutaways, in passing, to the road outside the car, but for the most part the camera is situated inside the car with its driver, a man named Ivan Locke.

Unlike most men who movies are about, Locke is an ordinary man, a person you could meet, not much of a fictionalization. He seems to be well-off, and is clearly highly competent, and until the events of this film, considered by everyone to be professionally dependable, and technically he does look like a movie star who is dressing down, but other than that, this is a recognizably human character. The story concerns Locke’s drive to be present at the birth of a child who is the product of an affair, a one-time slip in the life of an otherwise reliable family man — or so it may seem. Character will out.

Steven Knight cleverly chooses for Locke the profession of construction planner; as he drives across England at night he’s determinedly making calls to ensure the flawless coordination of a career-dependent concrete pour first thing in the morning. This is a terrific metaphor, foundations. Locke is a loving father to his two sons but now he’s having a third, and he refuses to be absent for this son the way his father was absent on him. So you could say Locke is skipping out on a building foundation in order to be present for the foundation for a life. Or you could more cynically interpret these events to be the unraveling of an orderly life — the highly respected and successful professional working father, in a race to ignore his own pained origins, ended up making a misstep which undid the entire social construction of ‘Ivan Locke’, from the foundation on up. In an otherwise flawless effort to avoid being like his father, a single mistake laid bare and undid the entire enterprise.

But the overall feeling of LOCKE the movie isn’t one of negativity;  in fact by the time Locke utters the instant-classic line  “Two words I learned tonight – Fuck Chicago” this audience member was punching the air in exhilaration. It’s interesting how that happens, since unlike the many reviewers whose pull-quotes are being used to sell LOCKE as a suspense thriller, I spent most of the film in a twilight state. The expertly delivered elements of the film — Knight’s suave high-wire of a script, Hardy’s largely-motionless, emotionally-moderate, sonorous, intentionally calming performance; the masterfully-timed, nearly-invisible editing by Justine Wright; the almost-undetectable-feeling score by Dickon Hinchliffe; the collusion of Knight’s direction and Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography and the somber sound design and even the essence of Locke’s car itself — all of these have a tangible effect, making the car a contained environment, just short of a hyperbaric chamber, putting the focus exclusively on the conversations Locke must have with his wife and his sons and his mistress and his assistant and his superior and his various business connections and so on.

Rarely has a film about a night drive felt this much like a night drive. So while the premise — Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen for the entire show! — is really an incredibly-stagy, conspicuously anti-cinematic visual risk of the sort Hitchcock liked to dare himself with (a la LIFEBOAT or ROPE), the overwhelming impression LOCKE leaves is one of verisimilitude and empathy. The film feels realer than just about any other I’ve seen anywhere in 2014. Like life itself, there’s nothing easy about that.

Locke (Blu-ray), temporary cover art

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The Spectacular Now (2013)

Stories about alcoholism, if they’re being honest, have no heroes and no villains.  There are protagonists, and occasionally antagonists, but the antagonists are peripheral, really.  Authentic stories about alcoholism must ultimately focus around the protagonists and their loved ones.  A protagonist of such a story can be a hero at heart, but he’s living with an addiction, so his actions are rarely heroic.  They’re tainted, polluted.  It’s the addiction that is the story’s villain, and it’s an inescapable enemy.  It’s always there, with no safe haven to be found.

Addiction turns a hero into his own worst villain.  An addiction narrative is a suspense thriller, where the lead character is in a life-or-death battle to prevent himself from destroying his own life, and the lives of his friends and family.  Any other dramatic conflict, and there will be many, still remains strictly secondary in comparison.  Every tale of addiction is different, but every one of them can have only two potential endings.  The protagonist manages to stop, and that is no easy thing; or the protagonist dies.  Period.  Well, there may be a third option, of sorts.  It’s possible the story ends with the protagonist still alive, and embracing his addiction, but understand that this is a kind of death.  It’s a death of the spirit.

In the most generalized spoiler ever, let’s say that THE SPECTACULAR NOW, in its final moments, rejects the death of the spirit.  This is a movie with life in it.

SUTTER

And please take no offense at the fact that the opening paragraphs emphasized the male conjugation — they were written that way because this particular addiction story happens to be about a “him.”  Miles Teller plays the main character, Sutter Keely, an extroverted young man whose profound problems sneak up on the movie.  By leading with talk of addiction, this review of THE SPECTACULAR NOW robs the film of some of its shock — the movie was sold as a lyrical, regional romance, which it is, but primarily it’s the story of an addict, which isn’t immediately apparent as things play at the outset.  Sutter is outgoing and likable, with a stunning girlfriend (the luminous Brie Larson), a successful older sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, endearing and deep), and a single mother who cares about him in her seemingly brusque way (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a rope-a-dope of a performance). Miles Teller has a kind of Cusack-meets-Belushi soulfulness and affability which keeps you on his side, even as Sutter’s screw-ups multiply as the story continues.  His philosophy, as captured in the movie’s love-it-or-sneer-at-it title, is to live in the “now” as opposed to so many people who fixate on the pain of the past and the worries of the future.  It’s an agreeable philosophy, but it’s flawed.  

SUTTER

Sutter is a high school senior.  He’s at that exact moment in life where people are most concerned with both their pasts and their futures at once.  High school seniors are at an emotional precipice — with yearbooks and parties, they celebrate and reflect upon the end of childhood, while on their computers sit college applications, resumes, and job applications, the entry tickets to the chaotic carnival of adulthood.  Sutter’s fixation on the “now” seems at first like a way of framing the present in a positive light, of appreciating the moment, but in fact it’s a dodge.  Sutter wants to prolong a moment that by nature must pass.

DRIVING

It starts with the soda cup.  The first clue to how substantial a problem Sutter has is the soda cup.  He’s never without it, in the car, at his job — practiced and committed drinkers know what’s in the cup.  He’s mixing booze in there, using the soda cup as a front to hide his crutch.  The acceleration is rapid.  After a whirlwind night of partying, Sutter wakes up one morning on a classmate’s lawn.  She’s Aimee Finecky, a sweetheart to whom Sutter never gave a second thought at school.  Next to Cassidy, his girlfriend, Aimee would be considered plain.  There’s a warmth and a decency to Aimee, though, as there is to Sutter, when he’s conscious.  Cassidy has been distancing herself (she sees the warning signs before he does) so Sutter starts spending more time with the attentive Aimee.  If this were the John Hughes movie one may have had reason to expect, the lawn incident would be played for broad comedy, a meet-cute.  Here it’s perfectly pitched, humorous but subtle, and the kids quickly move on from it.  Aimee, an introvert by nature, isn’t used to spending time with Sutter, an indefatigable extrovert.  She’s entranced.  She’s co-dependent.  She’s in trouble.  By the time she or the audience realize that, we’re all already in too deep with Sutter.

SUTTER + AIMEE

THE SPECTACULAR NOW has an impact you don’t see coming, even if you do know what’s in that cup right away.  Not to oversell such a delicate and genuine film, but it’s one of the best American movies to be released in 2013.   Credit is due all around.  Tim Tharp wrote the novel upon which the movie was based.  Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) DAYS OF SUMMER) wrote the adaptation for screen.  James Ponsoldt (SMASHED) directed the movie.  Jess Hall was the cinematographer.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as the two main characters, play their roles with uncommon maturity and sophistication.  They are surrounded by an extremely talented supporting cast, including the aforementioned Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the strong women in Sutter’s life.  Kyle Chandler appears later in the film, as a character who only existed as rumor beforehand, and he makes the maximum impact in a few scenes with a perfect, knowing performance.  Comedian Bob Odenkirk, in a relatively small role as Sutter’s boss who recognizes a problem employee and tries to hang onto him as long as possible, is positively heart-breaking.  This is a movie where Bob Odenkirk, a monster talent who’s only ever made me laugh, broke my heart.  Wow.  This is a special kind of movie.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Making a good movie is a collaborative effort, done by small armies of craftsmen who have varying degrees of personal investment in the art.  Whether all were deeply moved to make it or only some, THE SPECTACULAR NOW feels eminently personal.  It’s told with quiet, relaxed authority.  There is a keenly-observed realness going on, just as there was in James Ponsoldt’s previous film, 2012’s SMASHED, and in his debut feature, 2006’s OFF THE BLACK.  Those films, though, were about young adults and middle-aged people grappling with addiction.  As terrific an achievement as SMASHED in particular was, Ponsoldt has found more unique, tender material in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.  The novelty of this plot is that it’s been de-aged.  Movies about drunks are almost always cast with characters gone to seed, nearing the ends of their lives rather than finding them at the very start. There’s still plenty of hope for Sutter. He caught this thing early.  Millions have been less fortunate. THE SPECTACULAR NOW ends on a question mark. Where will Sutter end up? Nothing is certain. But there’s reason to hope. This movie gives you hope.

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MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976)

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

You may have noticed that I’ve talked about MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED a lot.  I wrote about it only once, for my friend’s spotlight on Underrated Comedies.  As I wrote then, this isn’t only an underrated comedy in my eyes.  In my opinion, this may just be the most underrated American film of all time.  Am I exaggerating?  Read on, amigos.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, DRAGNET, and three James Bond movies.  It was directed by Peter Yates, best known for classic tough-guy movies such as BULLITT and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.  One of the producers on MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED is Joseph Barbera — that’s right — one half of the insanely prolific Hanna-Barbera cartoon team.

All of the above credits may begin to hint at the unique atmosphere of MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED — I could call it “cartoonish realism” if I thought the term might ever take off.  The story concerns an independent ambulance company competing against rival services in addition to the proper channels. They’re barely-legal L.A. outlaws, riding into life or death situations. Most of them do it for the kicks.

The veteran driver is nicknamed “Mother” and that’s the only name he’s known by. He’s a man of simple pleasures: He likes getting massages from pretty ladies, keeping a fully-stocked cooler in the rig, and “buzzing” gaggles of nuns with his siren as they’re crossing the street.

That’s Bill Cosby.

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The new guy is Tony Malatesta, a former police detective nicknamed “Speed” due to the bogus drug allegations that recently got him shitcanned from the LAPD.

That’s Harvey Keitel.

And the knockout receptionist with larger ambitions is nicknamed “Jugs” (which she hates, by the way.)

That’s Raquel Welch.

Those are three very different stars, which means that the movie is a collection of very different tones. This movie brims with raucous comedy and sober tragedy, on a scene-to-scene basis.  Somehow it all hangs together cohesively – credit to the sure hand of Peter Yates.  But even with that said, it’s probably still not what you’re expecting.  Cosby’s got a potty-mouth, for one thing!  Your Cosby Show memories will be forever changed once you hear him say “Bambi’s mom had great tits.”  But even as he’s doing that, he’s rocking some real pathos too.  His performance here is way more HICKEY & BOGGS (see that too, please) than GHOST DAD or LEONARD PART SIX.  There’s a real depth to his acting that could be frankly shocking even to longtime fans of his comedy.

Meanwhile, Keitel was best known at the time  for his work with Scorsese – he appeared in TAXI DRIVER the same year – but even though he’s cast as the straight man here, he’s totally down to play. And Raquel Welch, a sexual revolution in human form, is easily their equal and frequently their better. It’s one of her best-ever roles.

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Add to that a supporting cast that includes L.Q. Jones, Bruce Davison, Dick Butkus, Larry Hagman in brilliantly gross & bastardy form, and the sorely-underappreciated character-actor great Allen Garfield (THE STUNT MAN) as the low-rent boss of the gang, and you have one of the most fun movies of the 1970s, and arguably one of the most unheralded.  Name another great movie from that year – ROCKY, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK – and then ask me if I’d rather watch MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED.  Apologies to Stallone, Hoffman, Redford, and Duvall, but I think you already know my answer.

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Ride with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

And check out this fun photo-article on the film’s shooting locations.

Days of Thunder (1990)

The sky always looks like it’s on fire in Tony Scott’s movies.  Everything looks like it’s taking place at magic hour, but it’s like the most intense magic hour ever captured and it lasts the entire movie.  In DAYS OF THUNDER, the action takes place on raceways which lends to the notion that all the gasoline on the concrete ignited from the sparks given off from the earthbound drama and is burning up the atmosphere.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Not everyone is a Tony Scott fan — too much style, they argue — but I definitely am.  [You can read a lot more about the reasons why here.]  Honestly though, my Tony Scott fandom doesn’t begin until a year after DAYS OF THUNDER, with 1991’s THE LAST BOY SCOUT.  I’m not so into 1983’s THE HUNGER (an anomaly, his only horror movie), 1986’s TOP GUN (not my kind of macho), or 1987’s  BEVERLY HILLS COP II (I know, I’m surprised about that too.)  There were two Tony Scott movies released in 1990; first the far-lesser-known REVENGE and then DAYS OF THUNDER in the summer.  Then he got hold of a Shane Black screenplay, and after that one by Quentin Tarantino, and the rest was action-movie history.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Stylistically, Tony Scott was doing what he did from the very start.  He arrived in features fully-formed in that respect.  But it could be argued that something resembling a worldview, or thematic preoccupations, didn’t start gelling until later on.  What I personally respond to in Tony Scott’s work is a healthy distrust/ disrepect/disregard for authority and bureaucracy and an affinity for outsiders and loners.  I suppose that is present in his earlier films, but there (in TOP GUN and DAYS OF THUNDER) it’s coupled with the Tom Cruise machine, which represents something different than Scott’s most frequent muse, Denzel Washington.

Days of Thunder (1990)

I like Tom Cruise as an actor and as a star, but he’s never been anything resembling a favorite.  My favorite Cruise performances are in MAGNOLIA and COLLATERAL, both rare instances where he submitted his usual star persona to the whims of a great director.  He’s worked with plenty of great directors, of course — Spielberg, Scorsese, DePalma, Stone, Levinson — but usually by coupling his engine to their formidable powers, by partnering with their vision rather than being a part of it.  That’s how DAYS OF THUNDER, like TOP GUN before it, works.  Tony Scott’s energetic style flatters Tom Cruise, in a way that Tom Cruise himself, as a movie star, is the story being told here.  Contrast that to any of the movies Scott made with Denzel, which, whether you enjoyed them as much as I did or not, were more like character pieces.  Tony Scott only ever worked with huge stars, but the mechanism is different when you’re talking about the ones he made with Tom Cruise.

DAYS OF THUNDER was written by Robert Towne, from a story by Towne and Cruise.  That is the highest possible caliber of screenwriter.  This is how Tom Cruise got to his rarified level.  He made a point, smartly, of working with the best.  You want a script that’ll showcase your starpower?  Hire the guy who wrote CHINATOWN!   In his review of DAYS OF THUNDER, Roger Ebert picked up on the early Cruise formula, which we now know was very much by design:  Cruise plays a super-talented hothead who eventually achieves his goals through the aid of an experienced mentor figure and the love of a beautiful woman.  Here he’s untrained but naturally talented racecar driver Cole Trickle (note the TC initials flipped), who links up with a semi-retired pro (Robert Duvall) to conquer the NASCAR circuit.  After an early accident, he meets a beautiful doctor (Nicole Kidman) who nurses him back to health.  There’s a ton here for armchair psychologists, but I’m not going to go there.

Days Of Thunder (1990)

I was never bored by DAYS OF THUNDER (credit there to Tony Scott) but I also didn’t care too much at any point, due to the fact that, as a true-blue Yankee, I don’t really get the appeal of stock car racing.  It’s a bunch of cars with advertisements stencilled all over them, driving around really fast in a circle.  How is that more fun than reading?  Maybe this movie plays better with fans of the sport.  Apparently the story is very loosely based on some actual racing professionals, including Dale Earnhardt, and the presence of real-life NASCAR luminaries as announcers and so on (not to mention producer Don Simpson in a creepy cameo) makes the whole thing feel gaudily believable.  It also helps that Cruise and Kidman are supported by a murderer’s row of character actors, including John C. Reilly (way before TALLADEGA NIGHTS), Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as a surprisingly nasty villain, a surprisingly serious Randy Quaid, and a pre-JUSTIFIED Nick Searcy and Margo Martindale.  One of my favorites, Michael Rooker, plays Tom Cruise’s main-rival-turned-BFF (Val Kilmer style) who engages him in a wheelchair race — obviously the single most enjoyable part of the film to a weirdo like me.

The entire thing is held together by Robert Duvall, a bedrock if the movies have ever had one.  His unflappability and steadiness provide a nice counterbalance to the typical borderline-scary Cruise self-determination and high-achieving.  It does make one wonder, since Cruise once benefitted so much from older co-stars such as Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Newman, why he doesn’t seem as inclined to do the same for younger stars, now that he’s hit fifty (!).  Cruise’s last three action films — MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, JACK REACHER, and OBLIVION — are moving him further away from his co-stars, and back towards lone-wolf stature.  Advancing age suits a guy like Robert Duvall.  It didn’t much hurt the appeal of Nicholson, Hoffman, or Newman either.  What will it do to Tom Cruise, whose stardom is founded on forward momentum?  What’s the guy going to do when he can’t run anymore, and on top of that, they want to restrict his driver’s license?

Days of Thunder (1990)

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Days of Thunder (1990)

The Gauntlet 1977

Let’s start off by agreeing that the poster above is probably the single best one of all time. That is a Frank Frazetta. This isn’t the kind of thing Frazetta usually painted, but as he described in the documentary PAINTING WITH FIRE, Clint came over to ask him personally to do it, so he did. It’s a fun part of the documentary because Frazetta was often told he resembled Clint.

Frazetta Self-Portrait

Frazetta Self-Portrait

frank_frazetta_thuviamaidofmars

frank_frazetta_space_attack

frank-frazetta-the-destroyer

Frazetta-Tigress

I’m starting off my thoughts on THE GAUNTLET with its poster and poster artist because rarely has there ever been such a perfect match of promotional artwork to finished film. Frazetta’s paintings were bombastic, ferocious, horned-up, and hyper-masculine. He painted incredibly beautiful women, but at the same time I’m not sure how impressed the feminists would be.

Likewise, THE GAUNTLET features this kind of dialogue:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to give her a 2, and that’s only because I’ve never seen a 1 before.” — Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood).

I mean, that’s a fun line to me, but I recognize it ain’t exactly courtly.

A large part of my writing about movies to date has featured a long-running battle between the brain and the crotchular vicinity, with the heart reffing the match. Intellectually I tend toward the feminism-friendly but instinctively I rage and I ogle as much as any man on the planet. Being thoughtful and being masculine often results in internal hormonal warfare. I love Clint’s movies for their violence and their brutishness as much as for their progressive thinking and genre-spanning restlessness. THE GAUNTLET is the Icarus of Clint’s movies, darting dangerously close to the burning sun that is the mass of critics who eternally underrate and undermine his work. I don’t think the wax exactly melts, but it’s a photo-finish. What helps is context.

THE GAUNTLET comes in a pivotal place in Clint’s career. It’s the first film he directed after his first masterpiece, 1976’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. In 1976 he also starred in THE ENFORCER, which is the Dirty Harry movie which straight-on tackles the issue of feminism by assigning Callahan a female partner. His next film as director after THE GAUNTLET was 1980’s BRONCO BILLY, hands-down one of his most personal films. It’s interesting to note that THE GAUNTLET was not originally derived as a vehicle for Clint — both Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make it with Kris Kristofferson, and according to Wikipedia, Steve McQueen had considered it at one point before dropping out over arguments with his female co-star, Barbra Streisand (!!!). The writers, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, later wrote 1985’s PALE RIDER, in which Clint starred, and also 1977’s supreme horror oddity THE CAR, apropos of nothing.

So THE GAUNTLET, while incredibly entertaining, is not particularly endemic of Clint’s work — it features very few of his thematic preoccupations, outside of systemic corruption and outsized masculinity. Clint plays an alcoholic detective — unlike Harry Callahan, not remotely an ace — who is charged with safeguarding a federal witness who turns out to have damning evidence about a major authority figure. It’s a set-up. He’s meant to be killed alongside her, and the movie becomes one long dash to the endzone, the titular gauntlet wherein Shockley commandeers a city bus to drive to the federal courthouse in Phoenix despite the fact that the entire police force is bearing down on him with a literal blizzard of bullets. That painting Frazetta did? Not much of an exaggeration.

The most obvious Clint-ism about THE GAUNTLET is that this movie happened during the Sondra Locke era, so she’s the actress who plays the witness. With respect, I’m not the biggest Sondra Locke fan. She seems kind of brittle to me. The combative banter between their two characters is usually entertaining as written, but comes off a little harsh, with the visual disparity between them. With any other female lead, the constant hectoring may have been more charming. There are other Eastwood stock players in the mix, including Pat Hingle (HANG ‘EM HIGH, SUDDEN IMPACT), William Prince (BRONCO BILLY), and the great Bill McKinney (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES), but the co-stars who leave the biggest impression remain Sondra Locke and that bus.

Really, the final gauntlet scene is what makes this essential viewing. The constant barrage of gunfire is so outlandish that it goes beyond comical to harrowing and then back again. It’s a predictor of the next three decades of American action movies, right up to the present. At the time, it could have been Clint’s way of sending up his own gun-happy image — it certainly works as satire, but so too does it work as a viscerally-pleasing massacre of public property. (The human body count is not particularly high in this film, compared to other Clint actioners.)

Whether there’s much going on beyond the surface of this particular film or not, there are few things as ingratiating and as enjoyably American as Clint in his 1970s primacy, and if THE GAUNTLET isn’t one of his most essential films by a long shot, it’s still pretty damn fun.

@jonnyabomb

The Gauntlet (1977)

Pacific Rim Elysium (2013) Anchorman 2

There are some potentially great movies coming out this year. Go anywhere else on the internet and you will read about movies like PACIFIC RIM and ANCHORMAN 2 and THE WORLD’S END and ELYSIUM. I’m excited about those too. There’s also all the obvious nerd bait like STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and HUNGER GAMES 2 and THOR THE DARK WORLD. Not really my thing, but it’s certainly understandable if those are the kind of titles that make your heart do a happy dance.

But step off the beaten path with me. Let’s take a moment to give some attention to the real weirdos out there. Let’s look at some of the movies of 2013 which no one in their right mind is looking forward to. I’m not talking about intentional cult items like MACHETE KILLS or ESCAPE PLAN. Those movies are that guy or girl at the party who’s trying too hard to be sexy and therefore failing big for exactly that reason. I’m talking about the ugly guys or girls who just don’t give a fuck what you think they look like. They just wandered in off the street because they got a whiff of the guacamole dip.

This isn’t about schadenfreude.  Well, not really. I mean, I’m no saint. There are a couple movies I wouldn’t mind watching crash and burn. In that category are ENDER’S GAME — written by a bigot, directed by the guy who made X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; sure, no way that pairing could go wrong — and a pair of Vince Vaughn movies, one where he hangs out at Google for an entire movie and another movie where he plays a sperm donor, because no one learned anything from THE SWITCH and holy Lord do I ever not want to see or ever be asked to think about Vince Vaughn donating sperm.

But generally, my natural good nature wins out and I am a sweetheart who only wishes the best for everyone. Still, there are some movies coming up in 2013 whose very existence perplexes me. And that in turn makes me curious. Call me a a jerk, a creep, a kook, a contrarian, a nihilist, an anarchist — I’ve been called all of those things before and that was only this morning at the nunnery — but I like really bizarre movies that make no rational sense, and I like it even better when those movies turn out to be entertaining.  So the following bunch is a group I’ve got my eye on in 2013 (some are getting real close now!):

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Assault on Wall Street (2013)

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

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Java Heat (2013)

JAVA HEAT (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s the caveman version of HEAT!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Mickey Rourke may actually be an Al Pacino, but Kellan Lutz is no Robert De Niro. I mean, maybe he is. I’ve only seen him in ARENA. He did not come off too brightly there. Also, his name is Kellan Lutz.

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Robosapien

CODY THE ROBOSAPIEN (May 28)


Why It Could Be Cool: “From the producer of SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and IRON MAN…”

Why It Probably Won’t Be: …And the director of SOUL SURFER!

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Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:

Pseudo-stop-motion-animated skeletons!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Skeletons aside, this looks impressively bad. Like ten dollars worth of stolen garbage. I bet you Sinbad doesn’t even do his MacDonald’s milkshake routine!

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After Earth (2013)

AFTER EARTH (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Will Smith! A clone of Will Smith! Space! Volcanoes! Monkeys!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: M. Night Shyamalan.

But that also means it could be as funny as THE HAPPENING. At this point, Shammy is probably done for as a serious director. But as a director of hilariously-solemn unintentional-comedies, he’s got a better shot than most.

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Axe Giant

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN (On DVD June 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Well, it’s a horror movie about the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan.  Ain’t a thing I can say I’ve ever seen before, and brother, I’ve seen plenty.  Also, while there are no signs from the trailer or the official site, there’s still a better-than-average chance of a cameo from Babe The Blue Ox.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Actually, I have no reason to expect it won’t be amazing.

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Hammer of the Gods (2013)

HAMMER OF THE GODS (July 5)

Why It Could Be Cool: It’s a movie about Vikings!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Vikings that say “Kiss my axe.”

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R.I.P.D. (2013)

R.I.P.D. (July 31)

Why It Could Be Cool: I’ll never not have hope for a movie that has Jeff Bridges and James Hong in it, and unlike most of the huge movies this summer, this one seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: It’s trying way, way hard to be both GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK at the same time. See if you can spot the big, gaping difference.

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The Frozen Ground (2013)

THE FROZEN GROUND (August)

(No trailer yet.)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Cage versus Cusack. Hate to paraphrase myself so quickly, but: It’s like HEAT for weirdos.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  This comes to us from 50 Cent’s production company, Cheetah Vision, and yes, 50 Cent co-stars in the film.  50 Cent’s movies are becoming an obsession of mine — not because they’re particularly awful, but because they aren’t particularly good, despite often tremendous casts.  Also, NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.  He’s so famous yet his movies are so under-the-radar.  But that’s a much longer conversation.  THE FROZEN GROUND is based on a true story.  John Cusack plays Robert Hansen, the notorious serial killer, and Nicolas Cage plays the Alaskan cop who hunts him down.  It’s no secret that Cage, once (and still) a tremendously gifted and unconventional actor, took a severe detour into mostly silly movies.  It’s less commented-upon that John Cusack has kind of done the same thing.  There’s an outside chance that a movie teaming the two of them could end up being great, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be colossally entertaining.

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Don Jon

DON JON (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the smartest actors around and this is the first movie he wrote and directed.  He seems to have brought his old accent from LOOPER along, and that was surely a fine movie.  Scarlett Johannsson, who is also great, is his co-star, and she looks particularly phenomenal in this trailer.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  Well it still could be.  There’s a ton of major talent involved. But I have to admit, and you probably should also, that if it were anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt making this movie, there’d be plenty of cause for agita.  It’s hard to escape the suspicion that JGL came up with this movie back when Jersey Shore was hot.  It’s tough not to notice that Scarlett is using one of her SNL accents.  It impossible not to consider that porn addiction is pretty difficult to make charming on film. And on top of all that, Tony Danza.

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The Butler (2013) The Butler (2013)

THE BUTLER (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool: There are a lot of good actors in this movie.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Watch the trailer. Listen to and look at all the shit those good actors are made to do, say, and wear. Listen to that music. Have you done all three? Great! Now your incontinence is cured!

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Gallowwalkers

GALLOWWALKER(S) (release date unknown, may actually have already been out for two years)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s exactly BLADE, but then also a Western!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

I mean let’s be reasonable with our expectations here.

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Bookmark this page because I will be updating it as I discover more beautiful treasures!

@jonnyabomb