Burt Reynolds (1936-2018): More Gator than Gable

09/06/2018

Though he appeared in a handful of action classics, including “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard,” Reynolds will be remembered by fans for his crass crash comedies. He turned down leads in “Star Wars” and “Die Hard” and admitted to being a “lousy” judge of his own talent.

by Glenn Lovell

Burt “Buddy” Reynolds — the good ol’ boy hero in a slew of demo-derby epics, including the roisterous “Smokey and the Bandit” — gave arguably three great performances in a wildly uneven film and TV career that spanned six decades. Make that four performances if you count his popular guest-hosting stints for the vacationing Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” I do.

Reynolds died Thursday (9/6/18) in Jupiter, FL, of what’s being reported as cardiac arrest. He was 82 and for years had looked alarmingly gaunt.

As Entertainment Editor at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, I crossed paths with the sometimes defensive and prickly leading man several times, starting with the Atlanta premiere of “Smokey and the Bandit” and including the New Orleans press sendoff for “Semi-Tough” and the gala opening of the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter. (Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Martin Sheen and others taught at the theater’s drama school, where student actors earned Equity cards.)

Reynolds grew up nearby, in Riviera Beach and attended Palm Beach High School. An All-State fullback, he earned an athletic scholarship to Florida State, where his dreams of a pro career were soon dashed by a knee injury. He changed his major to drama and, after paying dues in summer stock, made his Broadway debut in 1961. A revival of “Mister Roberts” starring Charlton Heston led to TV offers and recurring roles on “Riverboat” and “Gunsmoke.” Often compared to Brando (not favorably), the swarthy Reynolds did a dead-on caricature of the mumbling Method icon on “The Twilight Zone.”

Universal signed him to a six-year contract but cut him after a year. “They fired Clint Eastwood, David Janssen and me at the same time,” he recalled in Atlanta. “They said Clint’s Adam’s Apple was to big and he had to have it operated on. They said Janssen’s ears were too big and he sounded too much like another Gable. And they told me I was incorrigible, which was their way of saying I was untalented.”

After a handful of low-budget actioners, including Sam Fuller’s “Shark,” Reynolds got his big break in “Deliverance,” based on the James Dickey bestseller about four Atlanta friends on a weekend canoeing trip that turns deadly. Reynolds was paid $50,000 for the plum part of Lewis, the poseur survivalist. Next came the coveted title role in “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” a big-budget adaptation that costarred Sarah Miles and drew attention in the tabloids for the stars’ steamy behind-the-scenes romance and the suicide of Miles’ personal assistant.

Along with “Deliverance,” Reynolds best performances came in Robert Aldrich’s “The Longest Yard” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” For the former he didn’t have to reach far to play a fallen gridiron star who lands in prison where he’s forced to don helmet and pads for a high-stakes scrimmage. In “Boogie Nights” (1997), he appeared as a San Fernando Valley porn director who’s surrogate father to cast and crew. He was ballyhooed as a shoo-in for Oscar nominations for “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard.” Almost a quarter century later, he received one for “Boogie Nights,” an adult “family movie” he didn’t pretend to like or understand.

Peter Bogdanovich saw Reynolds as the modern-day incarnation of the ah-shucks hayseed often played by Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea. He cast him first as a hammy matinee idol in “Nickelodeon,” his Valentine to the early days of picture-making, and then as a tux-and-tails sophisticate in “At Long Last Love,” a tone-deaf musical costarring Cybill Shepherd. The stars sang and danced to Cole Porter. Badly.

Reynolds also costarred with Gene Hackman in “Lucky Lady” and Clint Eastwood in “City Heat.” Both period buddy pictures tanked.

When the mainstream studio films didn’t pan out, Reynolds returned to his southern rural base, which couldn’t get enough of the unapologetically crass interplay between Jackie Gleason’s sputtering sheriff and Reynolds’ legendary bad boy in the first two “Smokey and the Bandit” movies. Much in the same vein were “White Lightning,” “Gator,” “Hooper,” “Stroker Ace” and “The Cannonball Run,” a mostly improvised cross-country race for which the star was paid a then-record $5 million. The even less organized “Cannonball Run 2,” likened at the time to “a Texas barbecue with a hundred of your closest friends,” co-starred Reynolds’ pals Dom DeLuise, Marilu Henner and Mel Tillis. Aging Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Silva and Shirley MacLaine dropped by for cameos.

Reynolds knew the slapstick comedies hurt his reputation, but they paid the rent. When we sat down, he was in a been-there-done-that mood and more than ready to segue into something more challenging. His next films: the underrated “Semi-Tough,” based on the Dan Jenkins’ outrageous novel about the NFL, and “The End,” a leaden attempt at a Woody Allen dark comedy. Reynolds, prone to dizziness and anxiety attacks, identified with the latter’s hapless hypochondriac.

” ‘Smokey’ will probably be the last of the chase films,” said Reynolds, who ruled the box office with “Smokey II” and its ilk from 1978 to 1982. “I don’t think anybody will be able to top it. I think we said it all.”

On five feature films and a ton of TV episodes Reynolds called the shots behind the camera. While hardly a great director, he was a decent one, especially on “Sharky’s Machine” (1981), a grim, surprisingly cynical cop thriller.

Reynolds, who lived a stone’s throw from the National Enquirer, was perfect tabloid fodder. His always seemed in the midst of relationship and money woes. Though he played the womanizer in Blake Edwards “The Man Who Loved Women” and other films, he was in fact an old-fashioned romantic who tended to carry a torch for his true loves — singer-TV host Dinah Shore, 20 years his senior, and Sally Field, who rode shotgun in “Smokey and the Bandit I & II.” (Reynolds admitted jealousy over her Oscar win for “Norma Rae” led to their breakup.)

“I’d be lying if I said (the tabloid gossip) didn’t bother me,
he said in the spring of 1977. “If I were married and running around, I would deserve to be called a womanizer. But I’m a bachelor and that means I should be able to go out with whomever I choose — a different lady every night if I want.

“But all the press puts a lot of pressure on my relationships; it scares the ladies off. Where can we go so we won’t get that kind of pressure? The public library?”

Reynolds again became tabloid fodder during his acrimonious split from second wife Loni Anderson. He wrote about the divorce and protracted custody battle in his 1994 memoir, “My Life.” On the book tour Reynolds sat with KGO radio’s Ronn Owens for an interview that quickly went from uncomfortable to hostile when a caller asked the star, “What species of wig do you have on? Chipmunk?”

The top box office draw for five consecutive years always seemed one residual check from bankruptcy. In recent years he sold movie memorabilia to settle debts. Which explains why he worked right up until the end. He’s in two upcoming releases, including Quentin Tarantino’s Charles Manson movie, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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Who Benefits from New Oscar Category? You or Disney?

09/05/2018

AMPAS announced Thursday (9/7/18) that because of negative response to last month’s announcement of changes to the Academy Awards, it would huddle longer and might not implement the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category after all.

by Glenn Lovell

If the Academy Awards were telecast tomorrow instead of March 4, the five “nominees” for the newly minted Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film would be, in descending order: “Black Panther” (Disney), “Avengers: Infinity War” (Disney), “Incredibles 2” (Disney), “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (Universal), and “Deadpool 2” (Fox). (Of course one or two of these titles could be muscled out of contention with “Creed II” and DC’s “Aquaman” around the corner.)

So much for suspense. So much for variety. So much for a healthy mix of studio and indie releases. So much for avoiding perceived conflicts of interest.

The hydra-like Disney Company owns ABC, which as the network that televises the Academy Awards recommended the change, which will most benefit … you got it, Disney!

By adding this new category, Oscar has inched closer to the dumbest of dumb awards shows, the People’s Choice Awards, where besPanthert is synonymous with most popular. Past Favorite Movie winners: “Pretty Woman,” “Rocky II,” “Top Gun,” “Liar Liar,” “Twilight.”

Two questions about the new category loom:

Can a movie like “Black Panther” be nominated in both Best Picture and Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film? The Academy says yes. Doesn’t this, as others have opined, dilute or cheapen a best picture nomination?

Also, what happens when one of the years most popular films also happens to be really bad or politically embarrassing, like, say, Mike Todd’s moribund “Around the World in 80 Days” or John Wayne’s rightwing “The Green Berets” or Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic “The Passion of the Christ,” which at least one critic (myself) likened to “a religious snuff film”?

ABC suggested the new category because, in the network’s opinion, Oscar was in danger of becoming irrelevant. Top grossers like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” coincidentally all Disney releases, were being all but overlooked when it came time to divvy up the gold-plated hardware. (“Last Jedi” was nominated for f/x, music, and the two sound awards – losing in all four categories. “Guardians” was nominated for f/x, makeup and hairstyling.)

The argument went something like: Year in and year out, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences favor offbeat, relatively low-budget film like “There Will be Blood,” “American Hustle,” “Birdman,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “I, Tanya,” and so on.

Unquestionably audacious, these films are usually dark, depressing … unpopular. Mainstream audiences prefer upbeat, exhilarating, action-packed, i.e. the latest Marvel or DC superhero mashup.

And because their type of film isn’t rewarded come Oscar time, Hollywood’s target audience (male and somewhere between 14 and 35 year olds) could care less about who wins. Hence, the precipitous drop in viewership. According to the folks at Nielsen, the 90th Oscars attracted 26.5 million viewers worldwide, a drop of almost 20 percent from 2017 and, according to the trades, the worse turnout in the show’s history.

As a journalist who over the years deadlined backstage at either the Music Center or Shrine Auditorium, the Oscars, which could take almost four hours, seemed like a feat of stamina. So I applaud the Academy’s decision to hold the show to a strict three-hour format during which some of the less popular technical awards will be presented during commercial breaks and announced later. I’ve never cared much about the documentary short or sound mixing categories.

In 2020, the Oscar telecast will move to early February, further closing the gap between the Academy Awards and the Foreign Press’s more raucous and freewheeling Golden Globes (Jan. 6) and avoiding the dreaded awards-season burnout.

Bradbury torched (well, kinda) early draft of HBO’s dystopian “F-451”

05/17/2018

by Glenn Lovell

CinemaDope scored one of the last interviews with Ray Bradbury. We talked to the author about HBO’s proposed adaptation of his never-more-prescient “Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, when the stench of Nazi book burnings was still in the air.

In the telefilm, scheduled for this weekend, Michael B. JordRayan (“Creed”) plays protagonist Montag, a fallen-away fireman in a near future society that has outlawed the printed word as seditious. Near future? Sounds more like the here-and-now.

If the scripts Bradbury sampled were any indication, the new version would be less successful than Francois Truffaut’s sadly neglected 1966 adaptation, starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie (as both member of the book underground and Montag’s horny wife), and one of Bernard Herrmann’s most evocative scores.

A bookseller friend in Atlanta had somehow come into possession of draft No. 6 of the script, commissioned by Mel Gibson’s Icon Films. He sent it to Bradbury, who — curmudgeonly under the best of circumstances — let out a loud Yeeech!

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Dfahrenoes a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

He then, fittingly, fed it to his backyard barbecue. (Not really, but he thought about it.)

Bradbury remained dumbfounded that Hollywood kept screwing up his dystopian classic. “It’s stupid,” he said, all they have to do is shoot the pages.”

Back then, Tom Hanks and Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) were connected to the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.”  Bradbury thought Darabont a good choice. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Darabont and Hanks eventually left the project.

When ‘No’ Meant ‘Maybe’

11/13/2017

What Movies Taught Us About Sexual Misconduct

By Glenn Lovell

As new allegations of sexual misconduct arrive daily — from the high-tech sector, academia, state and national politics — it’s time to circle back and ask: What role have the movies played in conditioning a generation of men to believe, no matter the resistance, that they are entitled to sexual favors from interns, colleagues and fans.

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, a variation on their show tune about prejudice keeps playing in my head:

Men have to be taught from year to year /

That sexual harassment is nothing to cheer /

They’ve got to be carefully taught.

Examples of men physically abusing women in the movies abound. We can trace them to D.W. Griffith’s silent “Broken Blossoms” and, later, “Public Enemy” (Cagney using Mae Clarke’s face as a grapefruit juicer) and “The Philadelphia Story” (Cary Grant shoving Katherine Hepburn backward through her front door).

Since many of the alleged abusers now in the news — from fallen studio exec Harvey Weinstein to TV host Charlie Rose to actors Kevin Spacey and Richard Dreyfuss — are roughly Boomer age, they most likely were reared on movies from the 1950s and ’60s, when limits were less well-defined and “no” sometimes meant “maybe.”

This, of course, can  never be taken as justification for sexual harassment or assault. Hollywood has always been a lousy source of advice on how to conduct yourself in real-world relationships, where “no” means just that.
 Graduate2
The movies of Weinstein’s and Spacey’s youths trafficked in a troubling double-standard: When an alpha male demanded affection screen, it was exhilarating and romantic, perfectly normal. When an aggressive female demanding attention, alarm bells  sounded. “Alert! Alert! Aberrant personality!”

In “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s Ben Braddock follows Elaine Robinson to UC Berkeley. In 1966, we applauded his determination. He was a die-hard romantic who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When Jessica Walter pursues Clint Eastwood’s Carmel disc jockey with a bit more fervor in “Play Misty for Me,” she’s an out-and-out loony, every red-blooded male’s worst nightmare.

When Charles Grodin in “The Heartbreak Kid” abandons his new wife on their Miami Beach honeymoon to pursue a spoiled sun goddess (Cybill Shepherd), he’s an incorrigible cad, yes, but one who’s living the American Dream.

And so it goes …

I saw Hitchcock’s “Marnie” when it opened in 1964. I was 15. Sean Connery, working the sang froid that had served him as agent 007, hires a private eye to find Tippi Hedren’s troubled title character, anConneryd when he runs her to ground, he sounds much like a big game hunter who has bagged a trophy antelope: “I’ve tracked you and caught you and, by God, I’m going to keep you!”

I can still remember the rush I got from Connery’s snarled pronouncement. It reinforced the sense of entitlement that we Boomer males learned from the movies, where persistence that at times amounted to societal-sanctioned rape was rewarded. Indeed, later in the same film, Connery, claiming his matrimonial prerogative, rapes Marnie on their cruise-ship honeymoon.

A decade earlier, in “On the Waterfront,” Eva Marie Saint’s Edie attempts to fend off Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy. He breaks down her door and pins her to the wall; her pounding fists and cries of “Stay away from me!” soon give way to an embrace. This forced compliance was considered so exciting at the time the scene made it into the trailer.

It’s no coincidence that Toback, Dreyfuss, Steven Segal and others who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault are in the late 60s or early 7s. Producer Harvey Weinstein, in a statement following the New York Times’s publication of allegations by Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, used this as his defense. “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” he wrote. “That was the culture then.”

Dustin Hoffman was recently accused of inappropriate sexual overtures toward a 17-year-old production assistant during the filming of a 1985 TV adaptation of “Death of a Salesman.” Ironic, no? His Braddock character in “The Graduate” was once embraced as a counterculture icon for turning his back on his parents’ materialism and hypocrisy. Now, as we wince through Ben’s public shaming of Elaine (at a strip club, no less) and his dogged pursuit of her in Berkeley, the character seems more alienating than alienated. Once condoned as funny and irreverent his behavior today would qualify as stalking and warrant a restraining order or jail time.

Glenn Lovell has written about film for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Variety. He teaches film studies at De Anza College.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle (11-20-17)

Mickey Malice — The Trump Years

11/08/2017

Emboldened by Trump’s “Fake News” Campaign, Disney Blacklists L.A. Times. Media Fight Back with United Front. It Wasn’t Always Thus. A Backstory.

By Glenn Lovell

Hollywood’s most vengeful and manipulative studio?

Fanfare, please. Dun-daah-DUNN! Winner and still champion: Disney. Tweak the Mouse’s nose with negative reviews and/or news stories and you’ll likely regret it.

That’s what I found when I conducted a national film critics survey. Everyone from TKael2ime magazine’s Richard Schickel to Chicago Sun-Times’s Roger Ebert to The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael and Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern participated. A questionnaire went out from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism, where I was on sabbatical from my job as film critic for the San Jose Mercury News.

The results — published in an arts journal in 1996 as “Caught in the Machinery: How Hollywood Subverts the Media” – caused what then passed for a media storm. CNN, Ebert and Columbia Journalism Review reported on the findings. Matt Drudge predicted the author “would not only never eat lunch in (Hollywood) again … if he’s not careful, he may find himself turning into the main course for some very hungry Dalmatians.”

More than 50 critics, entertainment editors and film writers weighed in. And when the numbers were crunched Disney outranked the competition as, in the eyes of critics and editors, the “most manipulative” studio, followed closely by Warner Bros., Miramax (then a subsidiary of Disney), and Universal. MGM and 20th Century Fox were adjudged the least manipulative.

The survey grew out of my personal experience. I was blacklisted by Disney in the spring of 1993, cut from screenings, junkets and interviews. Why? The studio had found the “tone” oSiskelf my coverage (reviews, columns, features) not to its liking. Asked for something more concrete, like factual errors or a star who had been misquoted, nothing was forthcoming. My boss, Robin Doussard, told Disney’s front office, “Lovell’s our critic. Want coverage? Deal with him.” (Note: When this happened, the Merc was a paper to be reckoned with, one of the 10 best papers in the country, according to Time magazine.)

In less than two weeks, Disney reversed itself. All’s forgiven, if not forgotten, I was told through an intermediary. Let’s move on.

Why this unpleasant amble down memory lane?  Because Disney recently went after the L.A. Times for what it called a “biased and inaccurate” investigative piece on the studio’s one-sided business dealings with the city of Anaheim, home to Disneyland. The ban from screenings and interviews lasted four days.

The big difference between what I and others (like Jami Bernard of the Daily News had experienced at the hands of Disney? Back then, when the Internet was in its infancy and print was still paramount, individual papers and their critics were left to turn in the wind. Colleagues were just pleased it wasn’t them. If a studio came down on a critic, there was probably good reason. “Lovell’s notoriously ‘difficult,’ always demanding the sun and moon. He probably got what he deserved, etc., etc.” (Then, as now, I wore the “Scarlet D” with pride.)

Twenty years later, the L.A. Times’s East Coast competition jumped to, lined up behind one of their number under fire. Deny our brethren access to “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi” screenings, the New York Film Critics Circle and the other critics groups threatened, we’ll hit you where it hurts; we’ll stamp your films “ineligible” for year-end honors.

Little wonder Fantasyland hoisted a white flag.

Can we chalk up this once-unheard-of show of solidarity to Trump and the current administration’s war on the First Amendment? Has Disney, controlling under the best of circumstances, been emboldened to follow the president’s lead and dismiss coverage it dislikes as “fake news.” Sounds reasonable.

And has the media, likewise, been emboldened to join arms and present a united front? Those writing about entertainment certainly feel a new sense of urgency. Under assault politically, we are, across the board, more sensitive to outside manipulation. And whether the bully sports orange comb-over or mouse ears, he must be faced down. What was once tolerated as all part of the game, collateral damage, if you will, is now seen as intolerable.

Critic-author Glenn Lovell teaches film studies at De Anza College and other Bay Area schools.

Are Media Outlets Inflating Toback’s Credentials to Advance Harassment Story?

10/26/2017

By Glenn Lovell

The New York Times incorrectly ID’d him as “an executive.” The San Francisco Chronicle referred to him as “the latest powerful man in Hollywood” to be accused of sexual harassment. And the L.A. Times, which broke the Weinstein-Lite exposé, inflated his credentials, overselling the all-but-forgotten screenwriter-director as a Hollywood insider, a player.

If that weren’t enough both the Washington Post and SF Chron erroneousjames2ly reported that James Toback won an Oscar for the Warren Beatty vehicle “Bugsy.” (He was nominated, but, appropriately, lost out to Callie Khouri for “Thelma & Louise.”)

What’s behind such careless entertainment coverage? Circulation numbers and ratings, of course, fueled by a newsroom directive to keep “our readers” hanging on every sordid disclosure. After the New York Times embarrassed the L.A. Times by breaking the Harvey Weinstein story, a story the hometown Hollywood paper should have been all over, the L.A. Times has been playing catch-up. Which must have played into the decision to oversell Toback, pass off a small-fry as a trophy catch.

Last I looked screenwriter-director Toback, 72, was a struggling fringe-dweller, a talented but marginal indie filmmaker who, throughout his career, has complained of barely having two nickels to rub together.

You wouldn’t know this from media fallout following the L.A. Times’ Sunday story headlined “38 Women have come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexual harassment.” (This number has, in a few days, swelled to almost two hundred, including Oscar-winner Julianne Moore.)

Little wonder the NBC and CBS News anchors who over the weekend reported on the “scoop” couldn’t help looking off-camera for clarification: James who? He directed what?

The best the L.A. Times could come up with to help readers ID Toback wepickupre decades-old credits starring the pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. – “The Pick-Up Artist” (1987) and “Two Girls and a Guy” (1997). More recently Toback was involved in a sympathetic documentary on heavyweight champ-convicted rapist Mike Tyson. (The Times reporter coyly lumped the original 1974 “The Gambler,’’ starring James Caan, with Toback’s directing credits. That film was directed by England’s Karel Reisz; Toback did the original screenplay.)

We’re not disputing that reporting on Hollywood’s endemic mistreatment of women, countenanced by men as an OT perk, is an important story, and that the longer this story remains front and center the more women will feel emboldened and come forward with their stories.

But in the rush to one-up the competition, guys, let’s not oversell what we have, fudge on the facts and reporting. (Where in last Sunday’s story were the comments from longtime Toback friend Downey? Even a “no comment” from the actor’s agent would have helped.) Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the independent film scene knows Toback resides half-a-rung up from Russ “Supervixens” Meyer, a sad, sleazy throwback to the days of the casting-couch audition. He has openly bragged about same.

But in terms of play and importance this bottom feeder doesn’t belong on Page 1 with producer-studio chief Weinstein, only too happy to share the spotlight, I’m guessing. Toback, who denies he forced himself on anyone — and supports these protestations with a doctor’s note (diebetic, he is incapable of maintaining an erection) — is symptomatic of a misogynistic culture that has festered for far too long; Weinstein, a hydra-like producer-exec, hires and fires the likes of Toback. He is illustrative of something deeper, more pervasive and dangerous.

Comments? glovell@aol.com

 

 

Trick ‘r Retreat? ‘JC3’ Gets Peek-a-Boo Premiere

09/26/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Good news/bad news for the incredibly patient fans of the “Jeepers Creepers” franchise, launched in 2001 and, based on the original’s drawing power, continued two years later with the even more popular “JC2.”

No. 3 in the series – pitting a ravenous winged Lucifer, aka The Creeper, against mostly unsuspecting (read dumb) teenagers — reaches screens today after 14 years of teased start dates. Two years ago, Variety announced it was “in the works.” Once green-lighted, the low-budget fright film, eventually shot outside New Orleans, faced an uncertain on-again, off-again production schedule.

Creeper4The bad news? The horror sequel, again written and directed by Victor Salva (“Powder”) and co-produced by Francis Coppola’s American Zoetrope, opens and closes today — will run, according to a poster and trailer, “One Night Only!”

You heard right. AMC and other exhibitors have scheduled the much-anticipated return of the Creeper for a single 7 p.m. Tuesday showing (locally at AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara, AMC Eastridge Mall 15 in San Jose and 11 other Bay Area venues). Depending on how well the grisly supernatural chiller performs, more dates may be added. (Certainly a promising sign for fans: AMC Showplace Manteca 16 sold out tonight’s 7 p.m., so quickly added a 9:30 showing.)

With Netflix redefining what constitutes a movie “opening” – its “Beasts of No Nation” was simultaneously shown in theaters and made available to stream in 2015 — the exhibition side of the biz is being redefined as we speak. But limiting a commercial-sounding horror entry to an “exclusive” single night sounds, well, counter-intuitive. (To date, the first two installments have earned $120 million worldwide.)

If this blog is any indication, there is a sizable built-in audience for “JC3.” Our lengthy Salva interview (“Can Victor Salva Move On?”), which detailed the director’s criminal past and his struggle to continue making movies, has received a lot of traffic in recent days.

So, again, why the lousy theatrical release? You’d think with the box office being in the toilet this year theater chains would be clamoring for a chiller with cult appeal.

Three possible answers:

√ The low-budget, no-star “JC3,” which like its predecessors was not screened for critics, is bad beyond words. Unlikely. Think what you will of Salva, he is an undeniably talented filmmaker. Indeed, his “Nature of the Beast,” “Powder” and first “Jeepers Creepers” (especially the long-way-home buildup) represent the work of a nascent auteur with an edgy, hard-to-shake style and dark worldview (the result of being a persecuted gay in high school, he acknowledges).

√ The 59-year-old Salva in the years since his arrest has become an even more divisive figure in Hollywood, and exhibitors (contractually obliged to show the film?) fear a repeat of the October 1995 opening of “Powder,” picketed by Salva’s male victim and pilloried in the press with such headlines as “Disney Movie’s Director a Convicted Child Molester” (L.A. Times).

The answer to our headline “Can Victor Salva Move On?”: No. Establishment Hollywood has neither forgotten nor forgiven what Salva did. His career was virtually over when his victim’s aunt started emailing members of the press upon the imminent release of “Powder.”  AP broke the story; Daily Variety, the industry Bible, followed

The absurd Tuesday berth — Friday 10 p.m. or even a midnight showing make more sense — may be AMC’s way of discouraging the threatened protests and limiting blowback.

Or . . .

√ None of the above. The “One Night Only” thing is a Halloween trick, a William Castle-inspired gag to build awareness. It certainly got my attention.

(As of this writing “JC3” has not received a rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is not being advertised as an imminent video-on-demand option.)

Check back here for more on this developing story.

 

 

 

Choosing Sides: Would Bloody Sam Have Mounted Up with Trump Bunch?

09/13/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Here’s a sobering thought for those of us who came of age as members of the Movie Generation: Had Sam Peckinpah lived a less destructive lifestyle and not succumbed to booze, coke and hectoring studio bosses in 1984, at age 59, he and Donald Trump might have linked arms in the march to steamroll politics as usual.

At least that’s what Trump adviser Steve Bannon – who channeled “Bloody Sam” in a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday — would have us think.Peck3

A registered Dem who hated fences and romanticized resourceful fringe-dwellers, Peckinpah spent a good chunk of his career disparaging the establishment. We on the left both sided with the maverick director (for his stance on Vietnam) and vilified him (for his depiction of women as whores and back-shooters).  He clearly espoused the cathartic benefits of a good ritualistic blooding and the importance of closing ranks in the face of adversity.  Consult “Straw Dogs” for a violent tutorial on standing your ground, blowing the crud out of anyone who invades your space. See “The Wild Bunch” and “The Getaway” for stark reminders of the honor-among-thieves dictum.

Asked by Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes” if he had “lost confidence in anyone” before the election, Bannon said yes and illustrated with Chris Christie’s reaction to the “Access Hollywood” tape. Christie had turned on Trump and, in Bannon’s eyes, that was a “litmus test” of his loyalty.

“It’s a line I remember from the movie ‘The Wild Bunch,’ ” Bannon said, referring to the 1969 death-of-the-West epic seen by many (myself included) as Peckinpah’s masterpiece. “William Holden uses it right before that huge gunfight at the end. ‘When you side with a man, you side with him.’ OK? The good and the bad. You can criticize him (from) behind, but when you side with him you haPeck4ve to side with him.”

Obviously no film historian, Trump’s former Chief Strategist got both the quote and placement of the quote wrong. Holden’s Pike Bishop, aging leader of an outlaw band riding to its last score, tells a confederate (38 minutes into a 145-minute film), “When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can’t do that you’re like some animal. You’re finished! We’re finished! All of us! … Mount up.”

Of course there is much about Trump that Peckinpah would have disdained — the draft dodging (Peckinpah was a WW 2 veteran), the alt-right alliances (the villains in “The Wild Bunch” are corrupt federales allied with the Kaiser’s Germany), the border wall and treatment of undocumented Mexican-Americans — but the action auteur could be every bit as erratic and blunt as the candidate and his chief adviser. The new administration wants to “drain the swamp.” When approached about a TV series, Bloody Sam vowed to “tear out the soft underbelly of Hollywood.”

He may not have been an anarchist but Peckinpah certainly knew how to blow things up. (See bridge sequence in “The Wild Bunch.”)

Still, it’s absurd to think the iconoclastic filmmaker would have mounted up with the Trump Bunch, which already boasts the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, Charlie Sheen, and Gary Busey.

“Sam was a proud liberal Democrat,” protests Paul Seydor, author of “Sam Peckinpah: The Western Films” and director of the Oscar-nominated short ” ‘The Wild Bunch’: An Album in Montage.”

“The only time since his death that I have been happy he is not alive is now,” Seydor added. “It would have made him sick to his stomach to hear this cretin quoting ‘The Wild Bunch.’ ”

Zombies R Us: George A. Romero (1940 – 2017)

08/02/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Silver Moon Drive-In. Lewisburg, PA. Late summer. My girlfriend turned to me about 20 minutes into the first feature, a newsreel immediate indie about a disparate group attempting to ride out the original zombie apocalypse in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse. She said, evenly, “If we don’t leave now, I’ll never speak to you again.” 

Her measured response to what was unfolding onscreen in grainy black and white (set to music that sounded like flies sizzling on a griddle) told me that this was no ordinary ultimatum.

I put the window speaker back in its cradle and made for the exit. Disappointed? Yes. Secretly relieved? Probably.

That was my introduction to George A. Romero’s shocking, trendsetting “Night of the Living Dead,” shot on a shoestring just southwest of us, outside Pittsburgh. The seminal 1968 shocker was remembered in obits announcing Romero’s death from lung cancer at age 77Romero. (He was a lifelong smoker.) I finished watching what would go on to become the most influential American horror film since Hitchcock’s “Psycho” a few weeks later at a theater in State College, where I would attend graduate school and write about movies for the school newspaper.

Getting back into the dark with Romero’s zombies was akin to a double-dare made with your own warped psyche: How can you call yourself a horror fan? Get back in there and stare down your worst fears of being first cannibalized by your neighbors and then jerking back to “life” to join their ranks.

Romero made movies about other horrors, such as the all-too-prescient conspiracy thriller “The Crazies” and the clinically observed vampire variation “Martin.” But he will be forever remembered for his six-part zombie series, which somehow worked as a Rorschach test for the evolving viewer. The original zombies? “Us,” replied the ever-mischievous Romero. “We know we’re going to die, right? So we’re the living dead.” In “Dawn of the Dead,” they’re glassy-eyed consumers drawn instinctively to the muzak piped through every suburban shopping mall. In “Day of the Dead,” a Frankenstein’s monster variation, they’re the sadly abused “other.”  

Here’s my last conversation with Romero, published by the New York Times Syndicate in 2005.

Pittsburgh’s own George A. Romero is thrashing mad.

On the eve of the release of his zombie sequel “Land of the Dead” to DVD, the director says he’s seriously considering crossing the border.

“I’m fed up with the country, with the whole thing,” he says from Toronto, where he’s adapting another Stephen King book, “From a Buick 8.” “And I’m seriously thinking of leaving, man. Sure it’s a tough decision; I’ve lived there (in Pennsylvania) since college.”

None of this will come as a shock to anyone who has followed RomLandDeadero’s career.

He’s always been the most political of horror-meisters. Indeed, as has been pointed out more than once, his milling undead in “Night of the Living Dead” and its first sequel, “Dawn of the Dead,” are all-purpose metaphors for America’s disenfranchised. That’s why they’re so popular; they’re just like us, only uglier.

Romero looks upon his zombie series as a “platform” for rebellion.

“They’re sort of snapshots of the time in which they’re made, not only thematically but also cinematically. I try to make them look like one of today’s movies and at the same time reflect a little bit of what’s going on in society.”

“Night of the Living Dead,” released in 1968, resonated as a Vietnam War allegory. “Dawn of the Dead,” shot 10 years later in a shopping mall outside Pittsburgh, said something about consumerism run amok.

“Day of the Dead,” set in a subterranean lab in our own back yard, was the most cynical and worst received. “It came when we were just beginning to mistrust everybody. Not only institutions, but each other. Like who’s correct in that film?” Romero says.

“Land of the Dead” — due Tuesday as an unrated director’s-cut DVD — is, at $18 million, the most expensive of Romero’s zombie movies. It did well in Europe, but, arriving after “28 Days Later,” last year’s “Dawn” remake and the horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” went largely ignored on these shores.

Not surprising. It’s a ghoulish, post-9/11 parable that includes a city tower under siege and armored vehicles gunning down restless locals.

Actually, Romero points out, “Land” was on the drawing board at 20th Century Fox pre-9/11.

“Yes, I wrote this script literally days before the terrorist attacks. Then the towers came down and everybody wanted to make soft, fuzzy, friendly movies, and I basically put it away for a couple of years.”

But then Bush invaded Iraq and Romero said, “Jeez, this might even be stronger now.”

“I didn’t have to change much, because some of my original scenes resonated even more, particularly the armored vehicle going through a small village, mowing people down and wondering why they’re pi–ed off. I made the tower taller and protected it by water — until the water gets breached.”

If it’s so timely, why didn’t “Land” find a larger audience?

“You know, man, it could be as simple as we’re tired of horror films,” he speculates. “Also, I think American audiences want more gratification. They’re not as open to horror films that go a little deeper … (and) use horror as parable.”

Romero’s personal favorites among recent fright shows: “Saw” and “Shaun of the Dead” by England’s Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who have zombie cameos in “Land.”

But truth be known, Romero’s not big on bogeymen — or Halloween.

“I’m not a student, man. I don’t rush out to see these things. And I’m not into Halloween.”

Contact Glenn Lovell at glovell@aol.com.

“Uncle” Batman: Adam West (1928-2017)

06/12/2017

Adam West, who died Friday from leukemia at age 88, played Gotham’s Cape Crusader in ABC’s campy after-school series, inspired more by Lichtenstein’s pop art than DC’s brooding Dark Knight. Once the show was canceled, West was legally forbidden to don Bat-cowl for commercials or Comic-con. This didn’t stop him, however, from sounding off about his feuds with Warner Bros., DC Comics and Burt “Robin” Ward. Here’s our 2001 interview with West, who, more recently, appeared on “Family Guy” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

By Glenn Lovell

Twice a week for two and a half seasons, Adam “Batman” West donned cape and cowl, planted tongue firmly in cheek and BIFFED!! and KAPOWED!! the Penguin, Riddler and other garish archenemies into submission. Flash forward 35 years. West’s greatest nemesis in the 21st Century? DC Comics and then-parent company AOL Time Warner, which held the copyright to Batman and his likeness.

Holy Corporate Skullduggery, Caped Crusader! Your creator has turned spoilsport!

Yes, Robin. Sad but true.Adam

Fear not, Trusty Sidekick. The Cowled One won’t be cowed. Even now, disguised as boomer icon, he battles on.

West, tanned and robust at 71, used the DVD release of “Batman: The Movie – Special Edition” to finally stick it to DC Comics and anyone else who would deny him access to the bat cowl. The low-budget 1966 feature was spun off from the ABC series, which ran 1966-1968.

“I’ve been asked to be in very lucrative national commercials or on billboards, but DC Comics makes it very difficult – they want a lot of money for the costume,” West said over the phone from his farm in Ketchum, Idaho. “Unlike our incredible fans, they’ve given very little acknowledgment, credit, to the older TV Batman. I think it’s hypocritical, and arbitrary, on DC’s part.”

To illustrate, West recalled an offer to appear in a Canadian campaign for Yoplait yogurt. West said yes; DC handed Yoplait a bill for the Batman costume. The deal fell through.

What invariably happens at this point is that they hire a younger, less-expensive model who looks and sounds like West or those other square-jawed guys (Keaton, Clooney) in the more recent “Batman” movies

OnStar Corp., the satellite guidance system, used a West look-alike in bat-cowl and Batmobile in its national campaign, he pointed out.

“Yes, that’s happened quite a bit over the years,” West said. “That’s why I use the word ‘hypocrisy.’ They could get me, the real thing, if they paid my price. But if I want to do something in costume, they have to also pay DC a lot of money. Why should they turn me down and allow others to do it?”

If someone mAdam2et his and DC Comics’ price, he’d gladly don the bat suit again, said West. “I know it still fits.”

Warner Bros., which holds the rights to numerous DC Comics characters, said the Bat suit is not for rent or personal gain. “It’s our job to protect the integrity of the icon,” said Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti. “And sometimes we have to make judgments that seem specific. Batman is Batman – not the actor who dons the suit.”

West insisted he harbored no bitterness, that he was still in demand for movie cameos and voice-over work.

Then, too, there were six or seven annual “Batman” conventions, religiously attended by himself and Burt “Robin” Ward. Sadly, the fearless duo are now feuding. West cites Ward’s unflattering tell-all, “Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights.” “Burt thought he was Jackie Collins – there isn’t much truth in the book. But maybe I should be flattered: he made me look like a cross between King Kong and Errol Flynn.”

West and Ward attended conventions in street clothes. “That we’re not in costume doesn’t bother me, and it doesn’t seem to bother the fans.”

The events sounded as wild as “Star Trek” conventions.

“Yeah, they have their ‘trekkies’ and we have ‘batties.’ We have super-fans who dress up like characters and come play entire scenes from the movie. There are those who are maybe too deeply into the show.”

Have there been Bat-stalkers?

“Not for a while. There was a time when a guy did stalk me. He even followed me onto an airplane … People are usually warm toward the Batman phenomenon, very funny about it. There doesn’t seem to be any dark element … anything sinister to deal with.”

Here, West paused, then deadpanned: “Except a few nights at a couple of bars.”

Everyone wants to kick Batman’s butt, eh?

“Yeah,” he cracked. “I should have never worn my costume into a biker bar.”

At once pompous and playfully self-mocking, sort of like his stuffy Bruce Wayne-Batman persona, West liked to hold forth on the universal appeal of the TV series, which has been lumped – incredibly– with the Beatles and Bond phenoms. In the late ’60s, as the war in Vietnam raged, an entire generation of Bat-fans raced home from school to watch West and Ward do battle in a pop art world of hokey gadgets, bad riddles and almost chaste double entendres. (“You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt, Catwoman.”)

“It was unique – it had never been done,” explained West, who got the gig after spoofing a secret agent in a Nestle’s Quik commercial. “It was a comic character brought to life in a kind of absurd way. The kids got caught up in the crazy characters, the crime-fighting pizazz. And as they got older, they saw the gags, the double entendres, the absurdity of it. It was a family-friendly show, you know. Nobody got hurt.”

Except West and Ward, victims of a double whammy: They didn’t share in DC’s and 20th Century Fox’s lucrative syndication deal (their residuals stopped after six airings), and they suffered from terminal typecasting.

“I had to face being typed,” West acknowledged. “I knew it was coming. That wasn’t an easy thing to overcome. It took me several years to get out of the cape and cowl and, you know, do other things. I did theater, several TV pilots, guest shoots and a number of movies, some of them real turkeys.”

West would have been a natural for a cameo in Tim Burton’s darker, more operatic “Batman.” He, however, saw himself, even at age 58, as the lead. Warner Bros. and Burton didn’t race to the Bat-phone..

How did he feel when Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton broke records at the box office?

“When the first one was being promoted, I felt a little bit, um, left out. But that lasted about 10 minutes … The new ‘Batman’ movies are special-effects driven … The relationships aren’t there. Somehow, they don’t have the warmth, the wit, the silliness of our show. Overall, they’ve become too dark and sinister.”

Obviously there’s a need for a kinder, gentler Batman.

“Yes, they really need me,” he laughed. “So many heroes have let the kids down. They need Uncle Batman.”