Hail to the Bandit, Baby

So there I was, tooling around, stacking up my reviews in advance of Hubrisween… and then Burt Reynolds up and died.

Whenever a famous person goes to their reward, I don’t usually do the “Well, I guess I know what I’m watching tonight” thing. The one exception I can think of was watching Head the night Davy Jones passed away, but then I don’t need much of an excuse to watch Head again. For some reason the passing of Reynolds was different. Maybe it was because I was approaching horror movie overload:

Remember, most recently watched is at the left. This is the obstacle I hit.

I wasn’t a big Reynolds fan. I didn’t dislike him, it’s just that, by and large, he decided to make movies that didn’t much appeal to me. When I did watch one, I was okay with the time spent. He was immensely likable and smooth in delivery. He was very good at what he did. But I watched him more in Dan August than I did on the big screen. Nonetheless, that was a legend passing, and I did have this $5 DVD of Smokey and the Bandit sitting around in its original shrinkwrap against just such an emergency.

And no, I had never seen it before. I have this snob reaction to popular movies, and man, saying Smokey and the Bandit was popular in 1977 is like saying Star Wars might have been popular around the same time (Smokey was #2 at the box office that year. guess what was first).  Oddly, I had no problems watching Star Wars multiple times…

Anyway, now I can say I’ve seen it. It was, as I expected, largely harmless redneck fun.

  • In case you passed over watching it as much as I did, Burt is the Bandit of the title, a trucking legend who, along with his partner Snowman (Jerry Reed) agrees to a challenge made by rich douchebags Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams), to run 400 cases of Coors Beer from Texarkana to Georgia in 48 hours for their big party.
  • It was impossible to get Coors east of the Mississippi at this time, as it wasn’t pasteurized and had to refrigerated constantly. Therefore, this was considered bootlegging.
  • As a lifelong Texan, I am amazed at this mythic quality attributed to Coors. It was available in Texas by the time I hit drinking age -18 in 1976 – and it was worshiped like a heathen idol. Eh.
  • Anyway, the plan is for Snowman to drive the truck with the beer way over the speed limit, and Bandit in a Trans-Am to run interference.
  • It is safe to say that Pontiac had a very good year thanks to this movie. My friend Scott points out that my opinion of the ubiquitous Trans-Ams on campus was “I want to either own them or blow them up.” I replied that was my attitude on a lot of things.
  • For the record, it still is.
  • On the way, Bandit picks up a literal runaway bride (Sally Fields), who will be his love interest for the rest of the movie and its sequel (and several years in reality).
  • I’d like to say that this viewing made me fall in love with Sally Fields all over again, but that would be a lie. I never fell out of love with her. She is just so goshdang adorable.

  • This pickup will also put him in direct conflict with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), whose idiot son (Mike Henry) was the groom in the wedding Sally is running away from. Yes, this is the Smokey of the title.
  • They have adventures. There are many car crashes.
  • Besides Pontiac, makers of Citizen’s Band radios probably had a very good year.
  • God, remember CB radios? Never mind, you’re all children.
  • I wish Jackie Gleason had actually been given something funny to do. Richard Boone was up for the role, but Reynolds wanted someone who could actually be funny, and not quite such a drunk.
  • I have bad news for him about that. Gleason was a comedy genius, but whenever he asked his assistant to bring him a “hamburger”, he meant a glass of vodka.
  • This is director Hal Needham’s first movie – before this he had been a well-respected stunt guy (and this shows in his movies). This one of the least episodic of his flicks, but it’s still… pretty episodic.

Generally speaking, as mentioned above, I didn’t begrudge Smokey and the Bandit the time I spent on it. I probably resent the flood of truckers-as-modern-cowboys movies that followed more, like High-Ballin’ and Convoy. And The Villain. I will never stop resenting The Villain. Thank God Needham returned to car crash movies for most of his directing career (*cough* Megaforce *cough cough*).

Recovering from a Burt hangover

I’m more interested in how this derailed my planned movie watching for a while. As you can see below, I tried to jumpstart the Hubrisween train with Eaten Alive, which is a good documentary about Italian cannibal movies (Umberto Lenzi’s claiming to invent the genre is almost as entertaining as his claims in the similar documentary Yellow Fever that his giallo flicks are the best of all time), but obviously that didn’t take. Hence, Bikini Drive-in, which my Crapfest compatriots hardly suspect will be dropped on them at our next gathering (don’t tell them). That seemed to satisfy whatever beast had been awakened by the rural drive-in charms of Smokey, and I’ve got back into my questionable groove.

I hope whatever way you chose to give tribute to Reynolds’ career was as painless and somewhat nostalgic as mine.

Hubrisween is coming, so gird whatever version of loins you may possess.

The Catch-Up: Somewhere in There Was a Crapfest

I guess the title says it all, eh? I unfortunately had a Saturday off, so a Crapfest was thrown together. Due to its thrown-together nature, a couple of the regulars couldn’t make it: Erik and Paul, leaving David, Alan, Rick, my son Max (having arrived that same day for Spring Break), and myself. Erik usually handles the meal for the evening with great aplomb, and Alan stepped in to fill the void with an exceptional chili with several different meats: beef, steak, venison, narwhal, sasquatch, and I believe I detected the slight tang of unicorn.

Yes, obviously a Jackie Chan movie.

Alan made up for that largesse by bringing Cannonball Run, claiming that it was due to the fact that Max had likely never seen it (he hadn’t) and so it began.

(There was an odd dynamic about this Crapfest – David, Alan and Rick have known each other since high school, so this event was largely a chance for them to catch up and shoot the breeze. Not much movie watching was accomplished by that side of the room.)

Now Cannonball Run – if, like Max, you were not alive during that period of HBO/Cinemax showing it 24 hours a day – is a supposedly comedic retelling of a high-stakes and illegal transcontinental race that actually existed. The first half of the movie shows the gathering of the contestants and star Burt Reynolds’ and Dom DeLuise’s quest to find the vehicle that will score him the million dollar prize. He finally settles on a souped-up ambulance (director Hal Needham had actually run the race in just such a vehicle), but he needs a doctor and a patient to make the ruse work (so did Needham), Enter the movie’s MVP, Jack Elam, who so effortlessly upstages everybody that I wanted him to get a standalone sequel. The patient role is supplied by Farrah Fawcett and her nipples (the bar where Reynolds first spots her must have been very cold). The fact that Fawcett is essentially kidnapped and transported across state lines by Reynolds and crew is only one of the problematic aspects of the movie.

Our last chance against Thanos.

Among the other participants: Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as racers who use their spandex outfits to get out of any traffic stops (until they run into a female cop); Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as gamblers disguised as priests; Jamie Farr as a sheikh who just sort of vanishes; Jackie Chan as a Japanese driver with an experimental high-tech car (being cast as Japanese reportedly pissed Jackie off); and Roger Moore as a guy who thinks he’s Roger Moore and has a different girlfriend in every scene (who, when they are allowed to talk, are all voiced by June Foray).

He, too, would like to hit Dom Deluise.

This section of the movie concerns the dirty tricks played by the racers on each other and the various subterfuges to avoid the law. The whole thing has no significant plot to speak of, just an excuse for comic vignettes (and, to be fair, some pretty damn good stunts). I’d only seen this movie piecemeal over the years, and my experience of it this time remains just as piecemeal. I was wondering if Needham’s comic chops had improved since The Villain, and…

Well, most of our amusement that was not Jack Elam-based was shouting at the screen for Reynolds to hit Dom DeLuise again.

This pissed off David enough (really, anything pisses off Dave enough to justify his choices) that he sprang Incubus on us. Not the Cassavetes horror movie, the Shatner Esperanto one. (Paul later admitted that a contributing factor to his non-attendance was the possibility of Shatner, so there is a Crapfest insider trading scandal brewing)

Kia (Allyson Ames) is a succubus who lures men to their doom at Big Sur (although the ambience is 16-17th century European). They’re all wicked men, though, so she finds the work boring, and wants to test her mettle against a good man – Marco (Shatner). The results are disastrous – Kia passes out from the exertion and the innocent Marco carries her into a church to recover. The succubus world regards this as an act of rape and they summon the Incubus (Milos Milos) to deal with him. Kia turns to the light side of the force to protect Marco (Polo) and is attacked by Black Phillip (a cameo which I must admit surprised me). The end.

Talky films are death at a Crapfest, and talky films in a foreign language, well… This is where the kaffee klatsch nature of the other side of the room truly kicked in. Most of the time was spent in using Google Translate to find out what “Shatner is a dickbag” is in Esperanto (Shatner estas pikilo, if you were wondering) and other such wonders while occasionally asking Max to explain what was going on in the movie.

Incubus is actually fairly intriguing, and I’m still not sure why Esperanto was used, except that it was 1966 and stuff was starting to get weird. Shatner was reportedly an enthusiastic supporter of the man-made language, but everybody in the flick learned their lines phonetically, and the more serious Esperanto community is very critical of their skills. Shatner, being Canadian, is habitually defaulting to the French pronunciation for several words, for example. It remains a curiosity at best, but it is far better than its reputation, its inclusion in Crapfest, and the trailer below would have you believe.

And everybody who complains about Woody Allen’s earlier mature films being overly imitative of Ingmar Bergman really needs to see Incubus. Or ĉiuj, kiuj plendas pri la antaŭaj maturaj filmoj de Woody Allen, kiuj tro multe imitas de Ingmar Bergman vere bezonas vidi Incubus, if you will.

It was my turn, and I admit that I phoned it in. If you look at the chronological listing of Crapfests, you will note that its origins lie in the realm of R-rated drive-in movies, or to use the (appropriately) vulgar, T&A. If I was into the introspection thing, I might wonder if I took the lazy route because I knew there would be fewer people to hurt with my choice. In any case, I brought Orloff and the Invisible Man, a movie which I hate, but it has to be admitted, has lots of T&A. There is one lengthy sequence where a servant girl undresses for bed to convince her loutish boyfriend to go grave-robbing, and when he agrees, undresses again to don her grave-robbing clothes. It also has the most luxuriant thatch of pubic hair seen this side of actual vintage porn. All ignored, probably because they were still translating stuff like “luxuriant thatch of pubic hair” (luksa tegmento de publikaj haroj) into Esperanto on their phones.

Hell, even the big pay-off, that the Invisible Man is actually a guy in a cheap gorilla suit, went unnoticed.

Bah.

The Original

Dave wrapped things up with the definite high point of the evening, and I wasn’t even displeased about having to watch Revenge of the Sith againIt’s a bit of internet lore about a (bootleg?) version of the movie with subtitles translated into Chinese, then translated back into English via Google Translate (there it is again), with hilarious results. This is the origin of the “Do Not Want” meme.

That’s good enough, but someone went to the trouble to actually re-dub the movie using these mammocked subtitles. The result is astoundingly disorienting at first, because it’s really well done – the guy they found to dub Christopher Lee is spectacularly on-target. Yoda may have somehow become an old woman, but that’s part of the fun. The other part of the fun was figuring out what certain repeated phrases meant – “Sector Ratio” for “General Kenobi” and the Jedi Council’s transformation into “the Presbyterian Church”.

The rest of the fun was listening to the other side of the room bitch about how many years they had looked forward to the final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan and the many ways in which they were dissatisfied with what they got. “Do not want!” indeed.

We will be having another Crapfest this coming Sunday, with hopefully better attendance and a better choice from me (no promises). Max will be bringing his first selection, and new vistas of hurt will open for everybody, I am sure.

 

 

The ABCs of March, Part Six

Finally finishing out Letterboxd.com’s March Movie Madness challenge. It got to be a little wearing there, toward the end.

The Villain (1979)

villainDear sweet mercy, is there anything worse than an unfunny comedy? This is stuntman extraordinaire Hal Needham’s third movie, after Smoky and the Bandit and Hooper. It is a Western parody, and if you are expecting Blazing Saddles, you are probably in the same shoes as everyone who paid to see this in theaters, sucked in by an ad campaign and a trailer with far better pacing and editing than the movie itself. Cactus Jack Slade, a down-on-his-luck professional bad guy (Kirk Douglas, of all people) is hired by crooked banker Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to waylay the somewhat less-than-virginal Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) on the way back to her pa’s silver mine and steal the money she’s transporting so Simpson can foreclose on the mine. Trouble is, she is being protected by a clueless lunkhead literally named Handsome Stranger (Arnold freaking Schwarzenegger). The other problem is that Cactus Jack is an idiot. cactus jackNo, the real problem is that the decision was made to make this a live action Roadrunner movie, with Kirk Douglas in the Wile E. Coyote role. They even do the painting-a-tunnel-on-the-side-of-the-mountain bit, for God’s sake. The problem is, neither Hal Needham nor his editor are Chuck Jones, and all the bits fall flat, flat flat. Kirk Douglas has good comic timing, and is game as hell, but the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and full frontal nudity could not have saved this movie. I haven’t even gotten into Paul Lynde and Robert Tessier as Indians. Nor will I.

White Vengeance (2011)

white-vengeance-poster-previewThis is the second Chinese historical epic I’ve seen in the last couple of years that had the original title The Feast, that has been changed to something more commercial for Western audiences. the first, an Asian “Hamlet”, was re-titled Legend of the Black Scorpion, which is a bit odd for a movie bereft of scorpions of any color. The re-titling of this one makes more sense, at least. White Vengeance tells the tale of Liu Bang (Leon Lai) and Xiang Yu (Feng Shaofeng), two warlords seeking to overthrow the crumbling Qin dynasty and become Emperor themselves; seeking to drive a wedge between the two men, King Huai proclaims that whoever takes over a certain town will become its Lord, a stepping stone to the Imperial Throne. It works, and Liu Bang manages the feat without shedding a single drop of blood; thus begins an internecine war between the two men, fought with armies, yes, but mostly through the machinations of each man’s counselor. Anthony-Wong-in-White-Vengeance-2011-Movie-ImageThe battle of wits seems to come to a head at the Feast of Hong Gate, where Xiang Yu’s elderly, blind mentor Fan Zeng (Anthony Wong) and Liu Bang’s right hand man Zhang Liang (Zhang Hanyu) play five games of chess simultaneously. Well, not chess, but Go, a Chinese version that has subtleties of its own. Though it seems to end with Xiang triumphant, the chess moves continue for months, even beyond Fan’s eventual death. That’s the White Vengeance of the title: the white pieces on the Go board, vying for advantage even when there are no hands to move them. White Vengeance does have massive armies charging at each other, and those scenes are well done; but I do admit I love movies that value strategizing and the movement behind the lines. There’s also a love story almost buried within the cut and thrust of the main storyline, and it seems superfluous – though it does add a bit of sweet and forlorn spice to the otherwise Machiavellian mix.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: First ClassWhy did it take me so long to see this movie? Well, I guess I knew that some day I would need a movie starting with X that I hadn’t seen before. This is the oddest Franchise reboot in a while; most reboots update the characters, not backdate them. This one places the X-Men at the Cuban Missile Crisis, which wasn’t the fault of the Soviets, but that nasty old Kevin Bacon, here playing Sebastian Shaw, a character that didn’t actually crop up until the late 70s. First Class  gets pretty cavalier about which characters it wants to play with, and schizophrenically taking pains to explain why Mystique is so young-looking in the 21st century X-Men movies, while blithely ignoring any other number of continuity problems. X-Men-First-Class-MAgnetoIn all, this is a pretty necessary move if you want to maintain the backstory of Magneto as a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. The graying of their mainstay characters is the problem Marvel and DC have been having for years with characters like Nick Fury – most notably not with the Howling Commandos in the Captain America movie. Sgt. Rock was still kicking around the civilian world in the 70s – that’s realistic enough – but DC would like us to forget that Bruce Wayne ran into Rock back during WWII, behind enemy lines. And I guess since they recently slash-and-burned their entire heritage, they can now legitimately say that never happened. Bitter, me? Nah. I have the trade paperbacks. Anyway, fun movie. Not going to be in my top ten, but a good superhero movie.

yellowbrickroad (2010)

yellowbrickroad-movie-posterI wonder if I would have ever settled down to watch this were it not for March Movie Madness? Possibly not. I found it on Netflix while looking for a movie beginning with Y, and here we are. The setup is this: in 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire, headed down a mountain trail. Some were found frozen to death. Some had been savagely slaughtered. But most were simply never seen again. One of the few survivors could only keep asking, “Can’t you hear it?” A husband and wife team, hoping to write a book on the subject, have spent years trying to get the official documents so they can retrace the town’s journey. Finally succeeding, they embark with a psychiatrist, a wilderness expert, a husband-and-wife cartography team, an intern, and a girl from present-day Friar, who has to show them where the path begins: a stone marker with the words “yellowbrickroad”. Well, before you can say Blair Witch Project (though this isn’t a found footage movie, I should add), our party is subjected to whirling compasses, a GPS that says they’re in every country in the world except where they are, and music constantly playing in the distance. When even shooting the stars with a sextant proves useless, all they can do is follow the music, while their sanity slowly unravels, and it’s not too long before the first murder happens. yellowbrickroad1The padding’s at a minimum (though still unfortunately there), and you have to admit we know these people before they meet their various ends. The slow burn material makes me think of Ty West. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we like or identify with them, which may be the movie’s greatest weakness. The other weakness is the ending. A lot of people hate the ending, but I’m not necessarily one of them. It turns out this is a problem I have with a lot of modern horror fiction; there’s a superb amount of dread built up, and there isn’t a satisfactory conclusion, so you go obscure, you go strange, and leave it at that. Though the ending of yellowbrickroad is disappointing as to the reveal of the end of the trail, the imagery it ends with is horrific enough that I was satisfied. Your mileage may vary.

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac (2007)Been meaning to watch this forever. I was stymied when the used DVD I bought was a full-screen edition (“What is this? Medieval times?“), which I finally replaced, and I needed the Z flick anyway, and I had already watched Z. Zodiac is about the Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer whose identity and exact body count is still a cause for conjecture (though the movie, and the book it’s based on, settles on a fairly good suspect). The actual murders take up a rather small portion of the runtime; most of it is given over to the investigation by police inspectors (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards) and newspapermen (Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal). Oh, and I nearly forgot Brian Cox as Melvin Belli. Hope you like procedurals, because there’s a lot of it in the 157 minutes. kinopoisk.ruThat’s a damned fine cast, though, and David Fincher and his crew do a spectacular job of re-creating 60s through late 70s San Francisco. The character count does start getting unwieldy as more and more police departments are brought into the investigation, but that really does help the viewer understand the complicated nature of police work, and how frustrated the detectives working the case become, not to mention a public on the verge of hysteria. No wonder Dirty Harry became a hit using the thinly-disguised Scorpio as the villain. I was wondering how they were going to fill out that running time when there is no climactic chase or cathartic capture; the movie instead zeros in on how the pursuit of Zodiac comes close to destroying the lives of these men. There was, at least a cathartic moment for me toward the end, when a rack of paperbacks at a airport revealed that yes, the book that was being written during the movie was the one I read in 1986. Also, if you’re a Donovan fan, be aware that this movie will spoil “Hurdy Gurdy Man” for you forever.

Conclusion

Well, that was fun, but as I mentioned earlier, getting to be a grind toward the end. In the week before the Challenge ended, The Hobbit and Zero Dark Thirty both hit the stores. I would have loved to watch The Hobbit again, but no, I had the end of the alphabet to contend with. Still, I stuck it out, but now I have a bit of a problem getting excited about watching a movie again – this was too much of a good thing. I need to get over this because there’s a Crapfest tomorrow, and maybe that’s just what I need – too much of a bad thing.