Behind the Screen: Remembering Burt Reynolds


I’m a little late to the party, I know, but I really needed a day to gather my thoughts before I wrote my tribute to Mr. Burton Leon Reynolds, Jr., who passed away yesterday at the age of 82.  Cause of death was listed as a heart attack.

I grew up in Tampa, and if there’s one thing that Floridians were always proud of it was that Burt Reynolds was one of us!  Yes, he was born in Michigan but at age 10 he and his family made their way to the Sunshine State, so he’s one of ours!

Burt became an actor by accident.  He attended Florida State University on a Football Scholarship (in high school he had been named both ALL STATE and ALL SOUTHERN as a fullback).  In his sophomore year, he injured his knee.  He later injured the other knee, and ruptured his spleen, in an automobile accident.  These injuries hampered his ability and, seeing his dreams of playing professional football dashed, he decided to look for a career.   After hearing him read Shakespeare in English class, his professor convinced Reynolds to try out for a play he was producing, called Outward Bound.  Reynolds won the lead role and, for his performance, was given the Florida State Drama Award.

With the award came a summer at the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York.  There Burton met actress Joanne Woodward, who introduced him to agents in the area.  This lead to his first appearance on Broadway, in the play Look We’ve Come Through, earning good reviews.  He went on the road with the show but soon found himself out of work.  However, he soon found himself in the company of Mister Roberts, with Charlton Heston in the lead role.  The play’s director got Reynolds an audition for the film Sayonara, but that film’s director, Joshua Logan, informed Reynolds he couldn’t use him as he looked too much like the film’s star, Marlon Brando.  Logan did encourage Reynolds to go to Hollywood, where he soon found himself in small roles on television.

His big break came when he starred on the television show Riverboat.  He gained more fame when he joined the cast of Gunsmoke as Quint Asper, a “half-breed” blacksmith.   As his success in television grew, he began doing films, including Angel Baby and Navajo Joe.  Reportedly producer Albert Broccoli asked Reynolds to be George Lazenby’s replacement as James Bond, but Reynolds turned him down, being unable to imagine an American playing the British secret agent.

“Deliverance” made Reynolds a star

Reynolds ascended to star status with his role in the film Deliverance.   The film, coupled with Reynolds appearing as the centerfold of “Playgirl” magazine began a run of success that would, by the end of the decades, see him named as the most popular actor in Hollywood.

“COSMO” made him a legend!

His meteoric box office run included such films as The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, White Lightning, Gator, The Longest Yard, Lucky Lady and the second most popular film of 1977:  Smokey and the Bandit (damn you, Star Wars!)  1978 gave us all a double shot of classic Reynolds, as both Hooper and The End are released.

As the 1980s rolled in, he continued his streak with roles in Smokey and the Bandit 2, Cannonball Run, Best Friends and Paternity.   He also took more interest behind the camera, directing several of his films, including Sharky’s Machine, which was both a box office and critical success.  Having released an album in the early 70s, Reynolds was a natural to star opposite Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  He later went on to star on the long running television series Evening Shade, earning an Emmy as Best Actor in a comedy.

Burt sings! One of the prizes on my record shelf!

Though he has played many an iconic character, Reynolds also turned down many roles that made other actors stars.  Besides James Bond, he turned down the role of Han Solo in Star Wars, Michael in The Godfather and John McClain in Die Hard.  The one role he regrets turning down was one written especially for him, that of former astronaut Garret Breedlove in Terms of Endearment.  Citing a promise to his friend Hal Needham to do the film Stroker Ace, Reynolds turned the role down.  The part was given to Jack Nicholson, who would go on to win the Academy Award as Best Supporting /Actor for his work.  The one role he’s glad he turned down?  Edward, the lonely businessman played by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.  Reynolds actually repeatedly turned down the role that would bring him his only Oscar nomination, that of Jack Horner, the adult film director in Boogie Nights.

We at Media Mikes have many fond memories of Burt Reynolds.  Both Mikes (and our wives) met up in New Jersey, where Reynolds was scheduled to be a guest at the Chiller Theater convention.  Due to scheduling reasons, Reynolds could not attend, but we spent the weekend making each other laugh as we all tried to impersonate Reynolds classic, high pitched “Ha-ha!” laugh.  In 2011, Mike G. got the envious job of getting to interview Reynolds for the site.  You can read that interview HERE

And if you want to hear that classic laugh, click HERE.

Breaker, breaker to the Bandit. Keep those wheels spinning and the beavers grinning. R,I.P. sir.

Blu-ray Review “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”

Actors: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin
Directors: Don Scardino
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: New Line Home Video
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Run Time: 100 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi AND Jim Carrey…that is comedy talent overload for me. How could you go wrong? Well if you make this the Steve Carell show (who has never impressed me post “Anchorman”). Jim Carrey is barely in the film and yet is played like a star. He is also not funny at all either given the boring character he was given to play. The best part of the film was easily Alan Arkin, who steals the show (as always). See clip below! One thing I have to give to this film is that it gets better in its third act but unfortunately by then you have already lost all interest in the characters and the story. This film just ends up adding another reason why I am not a Steve Carell fan (I really hope he doesn’t ruin “Anchorman 2” for me).

Official Synopsis: Superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have ruled the Las Vegas strip for years, raking in millions with illusions as big as Burt’s growing ego. But lately the duo’s greatest deception is their public friendship, while secretly they’ve grown to loathe each other. Facing cutthroat competition from guerilla street magician Steve Gray (Carrey), whose cult following surges with each outrageous stunt, even their show looks stale. But there’s still a chance Burt and Anton can save the act, both onstage and off, if Burt can get back in touch with what made him love magic in the first place.

Even though the film is not perfect, Warner Bros. continues to deliver fantastic Blu-ray releases. This combo pack includes a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy with iTunes and UltraViolet. You get all the options available here to choose from. The 1080p transfer is clear and shines like Las Vegas’ strip. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 works with few jokes and music throughout the film.  The special features are light in terms of content like the film itself.  There is about 20 minutes of Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes included as well as a Gag Reel, which is basically just improv-o-rama. There is a short featurette “Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield”, with the magician talking about magic. Lastly there is “Steve Gray Uncut” with raw, never-before-seen extra footage with Jim Carrey.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is available on Blu-Ray 6/25/2013 at the WB Shop

Film Review "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey
Directed by: Don Scardini
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Young Albert (Mason Cook) is a lonely boy. He lives with his mother who works frequently, meaning he’s often home alone. One year, while celebrating his birthday (alone) he opens a present to reveal a magic kit complete with an instructional video featuring the great Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). Albert practices the enclosed tricks and is soon a young wiz with the sleight of hand. A chance meeting with fellow lonely boy Anton (Luke Vanek) nets him an assistant. Together the two devise new tricks and dream of the day they will be on top of the magic world.

A sweet film with a message of never giving up on your dreams, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” gets by on the magic of a game cast. Now adults, Burt (Carell) – the former Albert – and Anton (Buscemi) are THE attraction to see in Las Vegas, where there show, “A Magical Friendship,” packs them in nightly. But things aren’t what they seem. Off-stage these friends have grown tired of each other, fake-smiling their way through performance after performance while they gradually grow bitter at performing the same illusions over and over. Burt now fancies himself a lady’s man, though his female assistants would be to differ. After firing yet another one – mid show – Burt appoints one of the stage crew to the position. Jane (Olivia Wilde) reluctantly takes the job, even though Burt continues to call her “Nicole” – the name of the last assistant.

Meanwhile, a new kind of entertainer has come on the scene, one Steve Gray (a hilarious Carrey). Gray is a performer in the tradition of David Blaine – he really doesn’t do anything. Among his “feats” are staring for three days without blinking and not peeing for twelve. Yet Gray manages to attract crowds while filming a television special called “Brain Rapist.” And as Gray begins to grow, Burt and Anton’s audiences begin to shrink. Soon their theatre is dark and Burt finds himself performing at the local Big Lots. But a chance meeting with his inspiration convinces Burt he may have one more trick up his sleeve.

Consistently funny, with a little heart mixed in, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a welcome addition to multiplexes still packed with raunchy comedies, action films and last year’s Oscar contenders. Carell and Buscemi work well together and it’s nice to see Buscemi with a substantial comedy role, not just a bit in an Adam Sandler film. Wilde, who was so funny in last year’s underrated film “Butter,” also flashes some comedy chops, holding her own with Carell and Carrey, two comic masters. As a casino owner more involved with business then his own son James Gandolfini is perfectly cast. Carrey steals the film as Gray, a man more concerned with the trappings of fame then actual entertainment. The script quietly delivers the laughs, not hitting you over the head as some comedies do. Director Scardino, an Emmy winning television veteran, keeps the film moving while staging some great visual illusions.