Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hustle (1975)

Although we have only just obtained a copy of 1969's "Impasse" we are growing weary of's ongoing Burt Reynold's project, in which we attempt to try to figure out when the famous Playgirl model (December, 1974) lost his mind, and are beginning to wonder if perhaps the project could cause us to lose ours.

Although we remain committed to seeing 1977s "Semi-Tough" since the disc is rented and sitting around the house. Also, the rare nature of "Impasse" appeals to our warped, natural attraction toward anything not popular enough to be in print. This same backward logic applies to 1975's "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings."

None of these films are likely to beat "Hustle," which includes all of the wooden-headed elements of the contemporary cop/crime/action genre practically founded by Reynolds by dumbing down a formula introduced by Clint Eastwood with "Dirty Harry" in 1971.

I don't remember anyone mentioning a hustle in "Hustle," though I do recall Christ being referred to by his full name twice, and by full name I mean with his middle initial, H., which made me finally decide what his middle name was. I have often wondered what the H. stands for (Henry? Horatio? Horace?) and have decided it may stand for Hustle. Or at least that might be what this film is suggesting. I can't quite tell.

If you think that's ridiculous, see this movie because that's nothing. A girl who eventually dies (I'm not ruining anything) strips at a club called -- I'm not making this up -- the Scanty Clad Club. Then, in an actual scene Burt Reynolds' character, this Lieutenant Phil Gaines, he yells at Catherine Deneuve's character, "Bitch, you goddamn bitch," as he slaps her around the room. Then he forces himself on her. She tries to get away, but his passion and sheer L.A. cop-fullness is way too much for her. Instead her passion blooms and she tears her blouse open for him, totally aroused. I'm gonna try that sweet-talk myself and see how it goes ("Relax baby, I saw this in a movie once...".

Meanwhile, the father of the murdered dancer at the Scanty Clad Club seems sort of frustrated that nobody is interested in looking into who may have killed her. The reason? He's a nobody. Well let me tell you something, that's not the kind of local government Lieutenant Phil Gaines is part of! He took an oath to protect and to serve and damn it, he's going to bring that killer to justice.

Basically you got a movie here about a cop considered a hero because he does what he's supposed to do even though he's stressed out because his girlfriend's a hooker.

By the way, you know a guy has gone insane in a movie when the sound cuts out while they're showing him. I think it's to show that he's disconnected from everyone and reality. It's one of those movie universals, like when a swing is shown swinging without a child it means a kid has been abducted, or when a lit match or cigarette drops in slow motion it's about to explode something flammable, like a gas leak.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Directed by Hal Needham. I have this theory that certain things have simple names so that the dumber people who like them can find them more easily. For example, this is why NASCAR has "car" right in the name and super-size K-Marts are just called Big K-Mart. "Smokey and the Bandit" is about a guy named Bandit and a police office nicknamed "Smokey" and I highly suspect an earlier draft of the script was called "Cars Going Fast." It also boasts a dual-purpose soundtrack that provides full narration in addition to the background music. The lyrics to its songs periodically recap everything you have seen, hint at what's to come, and just in case you've forgotten, remind you that that movie is about a guy named Bandit.

Ah, the Bandit. The Bandit has his own theme shoehorned into the middle of this cinematic masterwork, less like the other country and western pop song in this film than a romantic honky-tonk ballad crafted to accompany dubiously necessary visual of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field quietly humping in the breakdown lane of a Texas freeway. And it goes a little something like this:

"Well, they call you the Bandit,
You drive a car like a Bandit,
Wear a big hat like a Bandit,
Bandit, Bandit, Bandit
Can't stop sayin' Bandit"

I'd say it's the best song ever, except that it's not even close and in fact is much closer to worst song ever. This is not the song most people talk about when discussing this film. Most people talk about the incredibly catchy recurring "Eastbound and Down," which was a monster hit for Jerry Reed, who co-starred in the film with Reynolds and Field.

I'll say this, Reed always seemed to me to be a better actor than musician, which I suppose is less a compliment to his acting than a comment on his music, which is an abomination. If you haven't heard his biggest single, "When You're Hot, You're Hot," you must, simply as an example of just how close to NOT MUSIC music can get while still having rhythm, melody, etc. It features his trademark talking while a room full of studio musicians and singers else do the heavy lifting.

So anyway. This "Smokey and the Bandit" was made during a simpler time, when even bullshit car crash movies like this one incorporated some subtext, even if it shows up like a beer bottle broken over your head during a bar fight in a roadside soul food diner, which by the way also happens in this movie. They're subtle about the fact that she's Jewish, the Bandit is not, and Smokey is very likely insensitive to minorities in the off-camera world. So the point of this movie is:

If we all had the cool-headed confidence and philosophical clarity of the Bandit then even amid the rat race of life we'd be able to see how well we can get along with others no matter how little we have in common with them, as long as they are as good looking as a 30 year-old, 100-pound Sally Field in tight pants and not a 60 year-old, 250 pound Jackie Gleason.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flash of Genius (2008)

Directed by Marc Abraham. There's something very ominous about sitting down to watch a whole biopic about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Talk about trusting the filmmaker. Truth is, my son Max, who is eight, has said that he would like to be an inventor. I'm not sure what has inspired him to say that.

I thought about what books I could read him or appropriate films I could show him that would give him an idea what that could be like and I thought of almost nothing. I thought of "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," the magnificently under-rated 1988 Coppola biopic about Preston Tucker, the post WWII industrialist who designed a car that, arguably would be the strongest and most durable automobile ever built and was subsequently crushed out of the industry for raising its standards too high. Similarly, I thought of "Who Killed the Electric Car," the 2006 story of GM hiding the success of their EV1 experiment from the public. I also thought of the episode of the Simpsons in which Homer decides to become an inventor because he idolizes Thomas Edison, but his only good idea is actually one of Edison's discards.

I'm not sure why I wanted to show Max something that would provide any positive message about inventing.

Seeing "Flash of Genius," in which Greg Kinnear plays Detroit engineer Robert Kearns, it becomes very clear that inventing is art. It's not a choice but a calling. The flick wraps that point up in a broader point about integrity, and a little bit in the flag, but I wasn't as interested in that as I was in a more modest point about creativity.

Recapping briefly, Robert Kearns had his idea stolen by the major automakers, sued, and they tried to settle out of court. He refused millions and millions of dollars in a settlement because it would mean that the automakers would not have to admit that the intermittent windshield wiper was his idea and design. He was willing to take no settlement in exchange for them to acknowledge that he was the inventor. You could look up on Wikipedia how the case worked out, but it would be more fun for you to rent this movie, because I can tell you that the movie is relatively accurate in its representation of the facts of the case and in Kearns' handling of himself in the courtroom, and its extremely entertaining. If you like a courtroom drama, you will love the third act of this flick.

It's not a movie to show an eight year-old, but I did tell Max about it, in part because I liked it a lot, which surprised the hell out of me, but also because I though it had a decent message for a kid.

But it had another more subtle one that I liked more. An artist is truly blessed if they can both create something that speaks to people and then get it in front of people so that it can have that voice. Yet any true artist creates in response to an inner voice that doesn't necessarily demand the validation of others. What kind of guitarist plays only when there's people around to applaud?

Similarly, an inventor is blessed when their idea and design solves a problem for millions or billions of people. This population may not appreciate the design as art, they may take it for granted, and like the musician, there may or may not have been a significant payday for the inventor.

And if you think about movies that show unappreciated inventors, their inventions typically have one thing in common: they don't solve much of a problem. There's a robotic arm that pours your coffee for you, another spreads jam on your toast, and then a bowling ball rolls down a chute and drop onto a scale that pops an egg into the air, letting it crack and sizzle in a pan. The inventor is supposedly a genius, but he's not much of a problem solver and he's certainly not an artist.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Directed by Robert Stevenson. Normally I have a rule against reviewing a movie that I fall asleep during, on the grounds that I couldn't give it a fair shake. Recently I have fallen asleep during Disney's "Rascal" (1969), Disney's "Swiss Family Robinson" (1960) and this. I'm not sure if I tend to fall asleep during Disney films or if I have a subconscious tendency to select Disney films when I plan to fall asleep. Either way, I'm going to write about "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" even though I fell asleep during it for two reasons. First, there's no way I will attempt to see it again. Second, I'm pretty sure anyone would fall asleep during this. It's abominable.

Only from the Disney camp could come a half-animated, half-live action musical for children about witches teasing Nazis. I don't mean that metaphorically. The business model seems to have been to capitalize on the family audience for "Mary Poppins" and the post-war interest in flicks like "The Sound of Music." This was obviously lost on me when this was first released and I saw it at a drive-in with my mother. I didn't remember much about it and wanted to see it again. It's one of those Disney films that everybody seems to be aware of by title, but nobody really sees. Well, it's for good reason. Avoid this. It's slow and it's a musical, which is a good enough reason right there to run away.

Musicals are always bad but the way they are bad has changed. Now they are bad because Elton John writes really drippy songs and Mariah Carey yells them at you through your extremely sophisticated sound system. This movie is the old kind of musical: bouncy, bouncy! Lots of people wagging a finger at each other while they sing! And crossing the room! And folding their arms!

Anyway, I made it about 40 minutes into this monstrosity before falling fast asleep. One last complaint about this DVD release; how about giving me a choice of all the crazy various cuts of this film that have been released? Because get this, the disc featured only a "fully-restored" version that runs an insane 139 minutes -- that's two hours and 19 minutes. The original U.S. release was 117 minutes, which is bad enough. When it was re-released in 1980, they had the good sense to cut it down to 99 minutes, though I strongly suspect they didn't cut out stupid songs, but cut out scenes of Nazis that they decided would make Disney look like interesting filmmakers. If you had your choice of cuts, you might want to see the original, indubitably efficient Germany release, which ran 89 minutes.

Though my own personal recommendation is to just take a nap.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gator (1976)

Directed by Burt Reynolds. I've explained the Burt Reynolds Project of MoreLostTime. The basic rundown is this. Clearly, Burt Reynolds went insane sometime in the late '70s or so or "Stroker Ace" (1983), "Smokey and the Bandit 3" (1983), "Cannonball Run 2" (1984) and any number of other incidents wouldn't have occurred. As a scholar not so much of film as Burt Reynolds per se, I'm curious to sort through some earlier works to see if any gradual descent into madness is evident.

You can see some transition taking effect during the first few minutes of the "White Lightning" sequel, 1976's "Gator," in which Reynolds is supposed to be hiding out in a tar-paper shack down on the bayou but is wearing blue jeans that have clearly just been pressed.

Moments later Reynolds gets into a boat chase with a bunch of feds, though whenever he roars by, the stuntman driving the boat couldn't look less like Reynolds. The guy being used might as well be Joan Rivers or Shaquille O'Neal. You're thinking, how does sloppy directing indicate the star of the picture losing his mind? Because the star of the picture insisted on directing the damn thing.

This is the problem. I remember my close friend and even closer friend of famous country singer Dierks Bentley, Mary McLaughlin, who also happens to be a postal-based acquaintance of Sir Paul McCartney, once explained to me one reason certain people shouldn't be allowed to make movies. This was in the context of discussing all of the reasons why McCartney's movie "Screw You, Broadstreet" is a piece of shit, so naturally, this was a very long conversation. But Mary explained how Paul McCartney had told her that he's so out of touch that the movie was doomed to fail because he'd surrounded himself with people without the guts or authority to tell him it sucked. And so Sir McCartney went merrily along his way, making a stinking pile of dung.

"Gator" is in no way a stinking pile of dung. It's got some good dialog and tense scenes, and it's the first place we see the undeniable chemistry between Reynolds and Jerry Reed that is so instrumental to the success of "Smokey and the Bandit." But "Gator" is about 25 minutes too long, opens with an unnecessary 10-minute action sequence, includes wasted, broad over-acting from one of the period's great character actors, Jack Weston, and is full of little moments you just wish somebody had spoken up about and warned Burt Reynolds would make him look like a tool.

If it is not the official beginning of the end for Burt Reynolds, we've narrowed it down.

White Lightning (1973)

Directed by Joseph Sargent. I've been seeing Burt Reynolds movies lately to observe his gradual descent into madness. My theory is that the Grecian Formula leaked into his scalp and attacked essential regions of cerebral cortex sometime after "White Lightning" but long before "Sharky's Machine" (1981), very likely starting some time during the second hour of "W.W. and Dixie Dance Kings" (1975).

But during "White Lightning" he fired on all cylinders. He done looked good, he done talked good and he done ran the best shine south of the Mason-Dixon line. He also done flirts with Jennifer Billingsley who done -- O.K., enough of that...This is a movie with a genuine human conflict. Reynolds as Gator McKlusky goes undercover for the government into a moonshine network he grew up in, now collecting evidence against old friends, simply to gain access to one man against whom he seeks revenge. And because this is a Burt Reynolds movie from 1973, naturally that man is played by Ned Beatty.

So there are car chases.

But in between there's actually some decent acting and scriptwriting and Reynolds best acting this side of "Boogie Nights."

Though I'll say this -- you might be better off to watch this for free on Hulu or IMDB, which stream the widescreen version. DVDs you rent or buy will be a full-screen TV version. For some reason Diane Ladd is credited as Diane Lad, and one of the grimy little kids running around in her yard in the movie is her real life grimy little kid, future grimy big kid Laura Dern.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Directed by Abel Ferrara. This movie got a lot of attention when it came out and then became a cult film of sorts for a while after that, but it doesn't seem like you hear much about it any more. Now I guess Werner Herzog just re-made the thing with Nicholas Cage, which some people seem to think is like trying to re-paint the Mona Lisa. I'm not going to go that far. I'll say it's like re-making "Bad Lieutenant." You could, but why bother?

Though you are probably well aware, "Bad Lieutenant" is a couple of hours of Harvey Keitel's character having a drug-fueled, emotional and spiritual breakdown. Sure, it's interesting to watch, but there's no question that part of its appeal lies outside its intent, as an example of an over-indulgent art film -- and the cracks show even more fifteen years after its release.

Don't get me wrong, it holds together and it holds up. It's exhausting; I don't have the energy to re-cap it here. The themes are all solid, it's not some haphazard mash. This is a real story about lost faith and redemption. But it's so deliberate and earnest in its challenge to the viewer that at a certain point, any reasonable film goer is well within their right to make a few jokes at the expense of the characters on-screen. Yes, we feel his pain -- but sometimes the pain is a little bit funny, like an old record by the Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen.

Which means that when this Nicholas Cage version comes out, all bets are off and the jokes can start before the house lights even go down.

Flipper (1963)

Directed by James B. Clark. Damn, this is one slow movie. If you tried to show this to a room full of children these days, within the first half-hour they'd rebel and throw you in the ocean. Or their parents would sue you for exposing them to trauma, because in the first half-hour there is a hurricane and a fire and people die, which sounds kind of exciting, but somehow isn't.

Yet "Flipper" is not a boring movie. It's a very sweet, quiet film about a boy who learns unconditional love from a creature of the sea because his father is too big a grouch to to do it. His father also looks very peculiar with his shirt off yet refuses to put one on almost ever. The father is played by Chuck Connors (TV's "Rifleman") though his performance seems to have been coached extensively by Brian Keith who was apparently shut out from the role because at the time he probably looked even more peculiar without a shirt on.

But the real star of this movie is Flipper, right? Wrong. Well, sort of. First of all, I learned by carefully reading the gigantic credits at the end of this movie that Flipper is actually a chick dolphin named Mitzie. Second, Mitzie doesn't get nearly as much screen time as Luke Halpin, who plays Sandy Ricks, the boy who adopts Flipper.

Two things were conspicuously missing from the gigantic credits. One: a separate credit for Luke Halpin's amazing hair. Two: an assurance that no animals were harmed in the making of the film. This would likely not be possible, since it seems pretty plain that in order to make the film a dolphin got shot with a spear gun and some sharks got clubbed until they bled.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Benji (1974)

Directed by Joe Camp. You might also call this "Baby's First Exploitation Movie." If you think about it, it fits the bill. Low budget, no big stars, and goes for real cheap thrills. A long list of cheap thrills. Cute dogs, mean kidnappers, a lot of slow motion and quick cuts to show deep feelings and eerie flashbacks. It's all there.

But it would never play today. They kick a dog for crying out loud. And Benji's penis is, like, flapping all over the screen for half the movie. That would completely wig out most studio executives.

It's like I was saying before, about "The Legend of Lobo." Back when it didn't matter how animals were treated when a movie was being made, movies about animals seemed more likely to include parts were they got knocked around a lot. I just don't know if they don't include parts like that anymore because they're too hard to fake, or because one of the reasons it's illegal to treat animals poorly on a movie set is because people just don't like the idea of animals being mistreated and don't aren't particularly interested in stories where that happens.

So it came as no surprise to me that it was with this movie's famous dog-kicking scene that my son Max decided he was not much of a fan of "Benji." I, on the other hand, relying on an assumption that the scene is faked, found myself sort of unexpectedly thrilled with it all. Which is what made me realize that "Benji" is basically a child's first exploitation film.

I Love You, Man (2009)

Directed by John Hamburg. I'm a married man but I resent portrayals of unmarried people as social defects who can't pull themselves together. Maybe this is true if the person wishes they were married, which Jason Segel's character in this movie definitely does not.

Another thing, he did Paul Rudd's character a significant favor by suggesting that Rudd's character question his plans to marry. For this he's treated like a home wrecker? Couldn't a lot of unhappy marriages and divorces be prevented simply by encouraging engaged couples to ask themselves and each other why they're going ahead with this plan?

Guys like Jason Segel and Paul Rudd are in a lot of movies these days and they seem to be movies for two kinds of people: people who love movies a lot and are interested and looking below the story into the whole making of the thing, and for people who couldn't care less about that sort of thing. People who couldn't care less about movies as movies just want to forget their life for 90 minutes, and are bound to like these sorts of flicks because they are damned entertaining. Otherwise, these movies involve a talented community of actors, writers, producers and directors who have also found a connection with a certain segment of today's film buffs want.

But film fans in the middle might have a rough go with a movie such as this or "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." These aren't the caliber of "40-Year Old Virgin" or "Knocked Up." The blight of these weaker efforts is that, while they start out special by dealing with real problems and feelings, they cheapen themselves by relying on e plot elements of movies it's trying to improve on.

"I Love You, Man" improves on most movies about a couple getting married by allowing them to go through with the plan and not making one of them so hateful that it's not possible they would have connected in the first place.

On the other hand, there's something contrived here that makes it hard to buy these two main characters. Paul Rudd's Peter Klaven vacillates a little unpredictably between well adjusted and completely dorky. Segel's Sidney is so not believable as a street smart confirmed bachelor we spend the first two acts of the picture waiting for a big reveal that never comes; is he really a woman? Is he boffing the fiancee? No, he's just not particularly convincing. Maybe if one more scene had been included of him with his other friends we keep being told he has, then I wouldn't have been so convinced he was up to something.

The last weak link in this chain is the final five minutes, in which all lessons learned are explained out loud, in case we weren't listening, a sure way to drive me up the wall when I watch any movie. You'd think I'd hated this, but I didn't. I laughed some and everyone in it is genuinely likable. What do you want, "Citizen Kane" everytime you open the damn disc case?