RETRO REVIEW: Hanging Out With MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED at The Strand

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 By:

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976); Dir. Peter Yates; Starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Larry Hagman;  May 18 at the Strand Theatre @ 3:00 PM.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

One of the truest joys of watching retro movies is that so many of them could never, ever be made today. We like to think of culture as a steady march of progress, but it’s more like a cycle of tides, with some particular mood cresting before receding, like the way the risqué shocks of the 1920s eventually morphed into the repressed sexuality of the 1940s. Moments come and go all the time, and what made sense for one era and one particular group of people can seem like it was beamed in from another world just a few years down the line. It’s not that they “don’t make them like they used to.” It’s more of a question of how they were ever made that way to begin with.

For example, look at MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, one of the strangest studio comedies produced during a very strange period of the mid-1970s when the rules about mainstream movies had shaken themselves apart and nobody quite knew how to put them back together. One part workplace comedy, another part slobs-versus-snobs, but also part serious social drama, MOTHER exists in a kind of weird pocket outside of genre. If you haven’t seen it, there’s no easy point of context to prepare you for what to expect.

Just going off the title, it’s easy to imagine MOTHER as a forerunner to the trucker-film craze kicked off by Burt Reynolds a year later in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977), but although the title characters are certainly drivers, their wheels are attached to Los Angeles ambulances instead of highway big rigs, and their antics are more in service of retaining their sanity over making a big score. Mother (Bill Cosby) is an irreverent veteran driver tasked with breaking in the rookie Speed (Harvey Keitel), so named because of his past selling drugs as an undercover cop. Mother and Speed encounter rival companies, tension with other drivers (including Larry Hagman in a pervy supporting role), and a loose collection of setups and punchlines, all the while hoping to make enough dollars to keep themselves and their business afloat. Meanwhile, the unfortunately-nicknamed Jugs (Raquel Welch) moves to escape her job as the dispatch and den mother for the boys and become the first female driver in her staunchly chauvinistic profession.

Welch’s plotline exemplifies the film’s jarring shifts in tone. Viewers are invited to laugh along with the drivers and the wacky ways in which they let off steam—Cosby, in particular, is at the peak of his talent and delivers plenty of laughs—but the film also aspires to blow the lid off of what was, at the time, a pretty scandalous industry. In an effort to maximize profits, drivers would sabotage rivals, bribe police officers, and invent phony fares to milk government kickbacks. Less the lifesavers that their marketing would have you believe, the ambulance business was more like a taxi service with steeper leverage over its customers. If you weren’t worth the driver’s time, then good luck finding another way to the emergency room.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was the brainchild of animation giant Joseph Barbera (the latter half of the Hanna-Barbera empire) who enlisted Tom Mankiewicz to construct the screenplay. Mankiewicz was a veteran screenwriter who presided over the James Bond franchise during its transition from serious spy fare to pulpier, more audience-friendly material and his particular tastes are all over MOTHER, including pairing slapstick wit and sudden violence. Mankiewicz, in particular, knew how to construct a set piece, as did MOTHER’s director Peter Yates, who helmed the iconic Steve McQueen picture BULLITT (1968) and later the less-successful (but justly infamous) KRULL (1983). MOTHER is likewise stocked with big, high-concept moments that keep things from getting too limp or self-important, which would have been death for a movie that so desperately wants to be a good time.

Ultimately, the real appeal of the film is Cosby, Keitel, Welch, and the rest of the ragtag assembly of drivers. MOTHER, JUGS, AND SPEED is a “hangout movie,” one in which most of the fun comes from revisiting these characters like a group of old friends. That’s another appeal of retro cinema. For better or for worse, even as the world changes around us, our old friends remain exactly the same.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED plays @3:00 on May 18 at The Strand. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Retro Review: Blast-Off Burlesque Takes a Joyride Back to the Heyday of the ’70s LA Porn Industry with BOOGIE NIGHTS at the Plaza Theatre Sat. Jan. 21

Posted on: Jan 18th, 2012 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Writer

BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997); Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson; Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. Jan. 21; 10 PM; arrive early for a night of innuendo-laden foods, Porn Persona superstar costume contest, prizes, Rollergirl madness and a hilarious stage show with special guest Cousin Dan; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

BOOGIE NIGHTS is one of those films I love in spite of my better judgment.  It’s a resolutely big-screen experience, and Atlanta moviegoers are going to have a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen at the Plaza Theater on Saturday, Jan. 21 when it appears as the feature accompanying Blast-Off Burlesque‘s saucy Taboo-La-La show starting at 10 p.m.

I can recall gendering at the beautiful one-sheet for BOOGIE NIGHTS before it was released in the fall of 1997.  I marveled at its huge cast, and was excited about the subject matter – a trip through the Los Angeles porn industry of the late ’70s.  I didn’t know who the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson was at that time, having not seen his first feature, the small-time con film, HARD EIGHT, but that would soon change.  The poster, though, with its intricate photo collage of characters from the film, promised an epic portrayal unlike anything ever attempted.  I was extremely thrilled about seeing it.

Burt Reynolds in BOOGIE NIGHTS. New Line Cinema, 1997.

In BOOGIE NIGHTS, we follow its naïve central character, Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), as he is ensnared into a makeshift family of porn filmmakers and performers.  He’s spotted by the patriarchal auteur Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) as he’s performing tricks on the side at his busboy job at an L.A. nightspot.  Impressed by his entire…um…package, Horner invites Eddie into the porn fold, and there his triumphs and troubles begin.  Eddie’s eventual transformation into the XXX-star Dirk Diggler is followed in great detail, but this story is really a kind of connective tissue for all the many other tales the film has to offer. Julianne Moore is a top-tier porn actress battling the courts and her ex-husband over custody of their son while using Horner’s coterie of performers as sort of stand-in children. William H. Macy is a meek assistant director struggling with his wife’s brazen infidelity. John C. Reilly is an amiable second-string performer with a penchant for magic tricks who’s attempting to forge a stronger identity for himself. Don Cheadle is another beaten-down porn star who’s finding difficulty breaking into the world of legitimate business. Heather Graham is the sexy but largely innocent Rollergirl, searching for the family she can’t find at home.  And Horner himself is battling pressures to convert to video rather than film – an idea he finds abhorrent (this is especially poignant now, seeing as how this might be your last opportunity to catch BOOGIE NIGHTS on 35mm).   Throw into this mix Philip Seymour Hoffman as a schlubby sound guy, Luis Guzman as an enthusiastic outsider, Robert Ridgely as a troubled producer, Philip Baker Hall as an imposing moneyman, and Ricky Jay as Horner’s loyal editor, and you can get a sense of this film’s great ambition.

Heather Graham plays a sexy, but largely innocent Rollergirl in BOOGIE NIGHTS. New Line Cinema, 1997.

I still find moments in the film to be quite wonderful.  The widescreen cinematography, by Anderson regular Robert Elswit (who would go on to win an Oscar for his work on Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD), is always vibrant and inventive, as is the ’70s-era source music score (which pairs nicely with a sad circus underscore by Michael Penn).  Anderson writes dialogue for dumb people particularly brilliantly, so there’s always funny conversation going on.  The period detail in the garish art direction and costume design are spot-on.  I love seeing Burt Reynolds tearing into a good role, for possibly the last time, and Julianne Moore is lovingly histrionic here, as she would be in Anderson’s MAGNOLIA as well (both received supporting player Oscar nominations).  As always, I find John C. Reilly to be a hoot as Reed Rothschild, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is sweet as the crewman who gets a crush on Eddie (his tortured confession of this to the unsuspecting Wahlberg is perhaps the movie’s most shattering scene).

Alfred Molina in BOOGIE NIGHTS. New Line Cinema, 1997

But I also find that many parts don’t work. William H. Macy is a barely-sketched punching bag of a character. Don Cheadle’s story fails to make a deep impression (note: any time you see a character in a white suit, you can bet that thing’s gonna be covered in blood by the end of the scene). And Graham’s Rollergirl, while extremely cute, also seems thinly-written.   It feels like Anderson just has too much movie here for 2 ½ hours to hold (BOOGIE NIGHTS would have been a much better TV series).

Still, though the film owes a bit too much to the GOODFELLAS style of soaring-then-crashing storytelling (with the onslaught of the 1980s being the rather too-obvious turning point), BOOGIE NIGHTS is required viewing if only for its extremely tense final third, which finds Eddie struggling with a cocaine addiction while trying to launch a hilariously ill-thought musical career (the songs, performed bravely and horribly by Wahlberg and Reilly, include the original “Feel My Heat“ and a cover of the closing song to THE TRANSFORMERS MOVIE, “The Touch“).  Particularly memorable in this segment, too, is one of the great scenes in movie history, where Wahlberg, Reilly and ne’er-do-well Thomas Jane are stuck inside a free-basing coke-dealer’s house.  The gun-toting dealer is played with a maniac’s energy by Alfred Molina; he’s so coked up, he has no idea that these three are planning to rip him off.  With firecrackers being thrown left and right by his houseboy, he holds the guys semi-hostage as he insists on playing “Jessie’s Girl” and “Sister Christian” for them on his stereo.  You’ll never hear these two songs in quite the same way again.  It’s really a marvelously scary moment that puts you right there in this mess and gets your heart pounding.

Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly in BOOGIE NIGHTS. New Line Cinema, 1997.

There are many other things I like about the movie: the stiffly-acted porn sequences, shot on a scratchy 16mm; the wonderful tour through one of Horner’s house parties, done in one long shot that recalls a scene out of I AM CUBA, where we follow a girl as she jumps into the pool out back, all to the tune of Eric Burdon’s “Spill the Wine”; and the final shot of the film, which recalls another Scorsese classic, RAGING BULL, but which ends with, at last, a glimpse of what made Dirk Diggler famous.  I wish BOOGIE NIGHTS as a whole was as good as these individual moments, but it’s certainly something worth checking out, especially if you’ve never seen it on the big screen.  And it remains an important film, if only as the breakthrough for an artist like Paul Thomas Anderson who, with each passing work, only seems to be getting better and better.

Dean Treadway is a longtime Atlanta film analyst and film festival programmer with more than 25 years of published works. His popular film blog is called filmicability with Dean Treadway.  He is also a correspondent for Movie Geeks United, the Internet’s #1 movie-related podcast.

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Retro Review: Hillbillies, Hobos, Cockfighters & Bandits, Oh My! Invade the Starlight Drive-In This Sunday

Posted on: Sep 1st, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

It must be Labor Day weekend when hillbillies, hobos (getting sledgehammered; no shotguns), cockfighters and bandits in sports cars invade the Starlight Six Drive-In. Yes, it’s time once again on Sun. Sept. 4 to load up the truck with lawn chairs, coolers and portable grills to hit the low end of Moreland Avenue and get down with the World Famous Drive Invasion 2011.

In addition to an afternoon/evening of cool bands, headlined by the legendary Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators fame (see end of this article for full band list), this year’s movie line-up is a rootin’, tootin’ rough and tumble grab bag, from the silly to the Southern sublime. Where else are you going to get to see HILLYBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, the late, great Warren Oates in the very rare COCKFIGHTER, Ernie Borgnine and Lee Marvin smashing the $*#@ out of each other, and relive the high octane fun of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT?

HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is a ‘60s country store full of old school horror star cameos (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Basil Rathbone), country and western (let’s hear it for Merle Haggard!), spies and general craziness. En route to Nashville, a carload of country singers with names like Woody Wetherby, Boots Malone, and Jeepers break down and end up in an old haunted mansion. But in addition to ghosts (oh, yeah?), the house is full of spooks of another kind – spies! Forget the plot, this flick’s really a musical showcase, and not a particularly good one, either, but it’s the right kind of silliness to get the movie party started.

COCKFIGHTER (1974) is a striking, unusual, little screen Roger Corman production directed by existential cult fave/cool dude director Monte Hellman. Hellman started out with THE BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE (1959), but is beloved by movie geeks like Tarantino for the weird Jack Nicholson westerns, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1964) and THE SHOOTING (1965); but is most famous for the 1971 road movie TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. Based on an off-beat novel by Charles Willeford (best known for his Hoke Moseley detective novels), which won the Mark Twain Award way back when the novel was published, COCKFIGHTER is a bleakly fascinating character study with Oates as a man obsessed with winning a cockfighting award and who’s vowed not to speak until he does. But, hey, his best friend’s played by Harry Dean Stanton who more than makes up for Warren’s silence.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) is one of director Robert (THE DIRTY DOZEN) Aldrich’s most interesting and brutal movies – some of the violence is hard to watch as Ernest Borgnine (coincidentally in town this weekend as a Dragon*Con guest), as Shack, a sadistic railroad conductor, uses his sledgehammer on hobos who dare to ride his train. Loosely based on a Jack London short story, the movie’s a battle of wills between Borgnine and Lee Marvin’s “A” Number One, a famous derelict and rail rider who is intent to be the only man to ride Shack’s train and live to tell the tale. Great photography, riveting performances. It’s an ATLRetro favorite!

SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977). Really, what needs to be said? Burt Reynolds, cool cars, a great cast – Sally Field at her cutest, kick-ass Jerry Reed as his partner Cledus, Paul Williams as Little Enos…and Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice! Time to put the hammer down and burn some rubber…a car chase movie that always leaves a good taste in the mouth thanks to former stunt driver-turned-director Hal Needham’s snappy, slick direction.

 

WORLD FAMOUS DRIVE INVASION, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011; Gates at 10 a.m.; Adults $25 Presale / $28 Gate, day of; Kids 3-9 $5; Tickets here.

Includes Silver Screen and Gasoline Car Show sponsored by Garage 71!

Performers: Roky Erickson (headliner), Jack Oblivion & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Dex Romweber Duo, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Gargantua, Hot Rod Walt & the Psycho Devilles, The Disasternauts, Ghost Riders Car Club, Burt & the Bandits, The Marques, Dusty Booze & the Baby Haters, Spooky Partridge

If you missed our ATLRetro features on Hot Rod Walt & the Psychovilles, Ghost Riders Car Club and Burt & the Bandits, read ‘em here, here and here!

 

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Band on the Run: Burt & the Bandits Race Up to Marietta’s Earl Strand Theatre Sat. July 30 & Invade the Starlight Drive-In & Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2011 By:

Burt and the Bandits, 8 p.m. Sat. July 30; $12 advance; $15 at the door; Earl Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta.

When ATLRetro launched in January, we knew the first Kool Kat of the Month had to be Jon Waterhouse. In a city fortunate to have several strong contenders for its most Retro Renaissance Man (Or Woman), Waterhouse is an undisputed 20th Century Pop Culture King. And that’s not just because he hosts a radio show called THE POP CULTURE KING SHOW on AM 1690, though that show, along with a regular freelance gig with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows him to interview many 20th century icons.

No, what’s so cool about Jon is the quantity and diversity of Retro culture that he’s tapped into. He’s done promo work for Van Halen and fronted Van Heineken, a Van Halen tribute band. He hosts all of Blast-Off Burlesque’s shows, transforming seemingly effortlessly into a succession of creative characters from a sci-fi nerd to Rip Taylor. For four years and over 100 Silver Scream Spookshows at the Plaza Theatre, he played Retch, Professor Morte’s lovable sidekick. He’s collaborating on a book related to the 1939 classic movie THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And just when you wonder what he could possibly do next, Jon’s latest adventure is Burt and the Bandits, which pays homage to the 1977 Burt Reynolds hit SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. They’re playing the awesome art-deco Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta on Sat. July 30, and after getting the lowdown from Jon, we can’t think of a better reason to dust off the old Trans Am, get loaded up and truckin’, never mind them brakes, put that hammer down and give it hell all the way to OTP…

Burt & The Bandits. From left to right: Jon Waterhouse, Barb Hays, Benny Boynton, Tim Price and Doug Williams.

ATLRETRO: How did you get the idea of a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT tribute band?
JON WATERHOUSE: Well, as a child of the ’70s, I remember the days when Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star going. There really hasn’t been another film celebrity like him since. He kind of cornered the market with a perfect mix of machismo and silliness. I have a special spot in my heart for his films, especially his earlier exploitation flicks like WHITE LIGHTNING and its sequel GATOR. Of course the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is at the top of the heap. Anyway, many of his films featured great, fun music. You’ve got the Jerry Reed tunes from SMOKEY, and even the Ray Stevens title track from CANNONBALL RUN.

So about six or seven years ago I had the idea of a band that would play songs from Burt Reynolds movies dressed as the SMOKEY characters. And the set would be supplemented with what I call “classic country comfort food” from the same era, back when country was at its coolest. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. It would be a tongue-in-cheek, comedic presentation, while still showing respect for the music. Heck, they did it with HEE HAW. Even Jerry Reed, who was a Chet Atkins disciple and one of the greatest finger pickers of his day, laced his music with humor. So that was the basic idea.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, May 16-22, 2011

Posted on: May 17th, 2011 By:

Monday May 16

Andrew & the Disapyramids

Swing to Joe Gransden, trumpet player extraordinaire, and his 16-piece orchestra and special guest Jazz Tenor sax great Skip Lane this week during Big Band Night at Cafe 290 on the first and third Monday of every month. Andrew & the Disapyramids bring back the best of surf, doo wop, Mod, soul, sock hop and all types of retro rock ‘n’ roll during a free gig at Noni’s Bar & Deli tonight. Read the Kool Kat feature on band-member Joshua Longino here. Find out if Kingsized and Tongo Hiti lead singer Big Mike Geier will croon a tune or two for tips as Monday night’s celebrity bartender at newly opened Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Parlor. Northside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday May 17

The Age of Aquarius rises again as HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical opens a weeklong run through May 22 at the 1929 Fabulous Fox Theatre. The legendary hippie rock opera follows a group of hopeful free-spirited young people as they explore sexual identity, challenge racism, experiment with drugs and burn their draft cards. This production won a 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.

Find out and see the winners of the 2011 Mid-Century Modern Georgia Photo Contest, during a reception at Gallery See in the Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta, Building C at 1600 Peachtree Street. Photos depict buildings or sites in the state that are part of the design movement that lasted from the 1930s-1970s, and attendees also will have a last chance to view the exhibition, “Capturing an Icon: Ezra Stoller and Modern Architecture,” featuring works by the celebrated American architecture photographer.

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tuesday Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring live video mixes of ’80s, ’90s, and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday May 18

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard TavernFrankie’s Blues Mission and Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck bring on the blues at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Northside Tavern respectively. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday May 19

Iconic ’80s alternative and psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips play The Tabernacle. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum Lounge. Breeze Kings and Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.Bluegrass Thursday at Red Light Cafe features Bluebilly Grit.

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