Archive for the ‘Movies, Videos, DVDs’ Category

This day in Willie Nelson history: “Songwriter”

Friday, October 9th, 2020

Today in 1984, the movie, “Songwriter,” starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson premiered in Nashville.

Willie Nelson and Amy Irving, in “Honeysuckle Rose”

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

Willie Nelson, movie star

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020
by:  Tom Leydon

When it comes to acting in feature films and TV-movies, Willie Nelson is game for just about any sort of role — as long as the role allows him to more or less be himself. “I pretty much play whatever I am or whoever I am,” he told us a few years back. “And that doesn’t require a lot of acting.” So where would he place acting on his lengthy list of achievements? “Probably at the bottom. I’m probably the worst actor ever.”

Sorry, but that’s not an appraisal we would echo. Indeed, we would go so far as to say that Shotgun Willie is his own harshest critic when it comes to evaluating his work on screen. To celebrate his birthday, we’re taking a second look at some of the memorable titles on his resume, all of them available on streaming platforms.

The Electric Horseman (1979)

Credit The Sundance Kid as the one who first recognized Willie Nelson ought to be in pictures. As Nelson recalls in his 2016 autobiography It’s a Long Story: My Life, he and Robert Redford were seated together on an L.A.-bound plane after a New York benefit when Redford suggested that Nelson’s “naturally relaxed” style would serve him well on screen. Director Sydney Pollack agreed — and cast Nelson in The Electric Horseman as a laid-back pal of Redford’s over-the-hill rodeo champ, who gallops out of Las Vegas with a prize-winning horse. “I didn’t plan and I didn’t rehearse,” Nelson recalls. “I learned my lines, but tended to bend them my own way — or borrow from writer friends. In The Electric Horseman, Pollack loved the line I spewed: ‘Gonna get myself a bottle of tequila and find me one of those Keno girls who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and kick back.’ Still not sure how that made it past the ratings people. Wish I could claim credit, but I’d found it in a novel by my buddies Bud Shrake and Dan Jenkins, who were happy to lend it out.”

Honeysuckle Rose (1980)

Nelson didn’t exactly stretch himself in his first star vehicle, a musical dramedy in which he was cast as “a Willie Nelson-styled character” (his description, not ours) who’s torn between his love for his wife (Dyan Cannon) and his affair with his girlfriend (Amy Irving). While flying on a private plane during pre-production location scouting, producer Sydney Pollack and director Jerry Schatzberg encouraged him to write a song about being on the road during a concert tour. By the time the plane landed, Nelson had completed the lyrics for — yes, you guessed it! — “On the Road Again.” As he relates in his autobiography: “Independent of the film, the song wound up with a life of its own. Even got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. Became a big hit on its own — so big that when it was time to air the movie on TV, they changed the title from Honeysuckle Rose to On the Road Again. That simple song, a part of my nightly repertoire since I wrote it back in 1979, has had a longer battery life than the film it was written for.”

Thief (1981)

Nelson proved he had the right stuff as a serious character actor in director Michael Mann’s violent caper thriller, in which he played the mentor and former cellmate of the film’s protagonist, Frank (James Caan), a veteran jewel thief who desperately wants to start a family even as his plies his illegal trade. Critic Roger Ebert wrote in his original Chicago Sun-Times review: “If Thief has a weak point, it is probably in the handling of the Willie Nelson character. Nelson is set up well: He became Caan’s father-figure in prison, Caan loves him more than anybody, and when he goes to visit him in prison they have a conversation that is subtly written to lead by an indirect route to Nelson’s understated revelation that he is dying and does not want to die behind bars… But then the Nelson character quickly disappears from the movie, and we’re surprised and a little disappointed. Willie has played the character so well that we wanted more.”

Barbarosa (1982)

New York Times film critic Janet Maslin aptly described this exceptional Tex-Mex border western — directed by Fred Schepisi (Roxanne) and written by Bill Witliff (Lonesome Dove) — as “a film that uses one American legend, Willie Nelson, to create another.” In the title role of a celebrated outlaw who alienated himself from his Mexican wife’s family by killing a few of his in-laws (in self-defense) on his wedding night, Nelson comes across as a sad yet proud folk hero who proves to be an invaluable resource for fellow outcasts like the fugitive farm boy played by Gary Busey. “When Barbarosa first appears,” Maslin wrote, “he is caught up in a gunfight and a bullet nicks his cheek, but Mr. Nelson doesn’t even flinch. He doesn’t appear to believe anything could really harm him, and the audience shares his supreme confidence after a while.”

Songwriter (1984)

Director Alan Rudolph (Trouble in Mind, Love at Large) and screenwriter Bud Shrake brought out the best in co-stars Nelson and Kris Kristofferson during this amiable comedy-drama about a country singer-songwriter (Nelson) who relies on help from a fellow entertainer (Kristofferson) and an up-and-coming singer (Lesley Ann Warren) to turn the tables on an a slick operator who controls the rights to his songs. Roger Ebert again proffered praise: “[I]t’s interesting how subtle his acting is. Unlike a lot of concert stars whose moves tend to be too large for the intimacy of a movie, Nelson is a gifted, understated actor.”

Stagecoach (1986)

Veteran actor Thomas Mitchell earned an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a hard-drinking doctor who earns the respect of his traveling companions in John Ford’s original 1939 Stagecoach. Nelson didn’t receive a comparable accolade for playing essentially the same part in this made-for-cable remake, in which he co-starred with fellow Highwaymen Kris Kristofferson (in the John Wayne role), Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. On the other hand, thanks to some revisionist scriptwriters, Nelson didn’t play just any doctor — he was Doc Holliday. No kidding.

Red-Headed Stranger (1986)

Bill Witliff wrote and directed this independently produced western, loosely based on Nelson’s 1975 album of the same title. Critics weren’t kind, and audiences were scarce, but Nelson — who credibly played the lead role of preacher in need of a shot at redemption after killing his treacherous wife — managed to make a profit for his investors. More important, he continues to use Luck, the near-Austin western town set constructed for the film, for musical and movie events.

The Big Bounce (2004)

Author Elmore Leonard wasn’t impressed by the first movie version of his 1969 crime novel The Big Bounce — and, truth to tell, he wasn’t all that happy about this adaptation, either. And yet, oddly enough, the 2004 reboot — which relocated to Hawaii the original narrative about a ne’er-do-well (Owen Wilson) tempted into thievery by a shady lady —actually seems a lot more like a Leonard story than the original novel. Nelson and Harry Dean Stanton don’t really have much to do as card-playing cronies of supporting player Morgan Freeman, but they appear to be having a nice time, and it’s easy to share their mellow, what-the-hell vibe.

The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

As Uncle Jesse in this big-screen version of the 1979-85 TV series about good ol’ boys in souped-up cars, Nelson saunters through the proceedings with, as New York Times film critic A.O. Scott noted, “the mellow ease of a man who can earn a paycheck just by showing up.” For those of you who have always wanted to see him punch out Burt Reynolds — and you know who you are, so don’t be coy about it — well, this is the movie for you. (To his credit, Reynolds plays the sleazy Boss Hogg just bombastically enough to make himself well worth punching.)

Angels Sing (2013)

Originally known as When Angels Sing, the 1999 Turk Pipkin novel on which it’s based, director Tim McCanlies’ family-friendly dramedy has Nelson perfectly cast as Nick, a cheery old fellow who might be Santa Claus, or even an angel — or, really, anything else that bah-humbugging college professor Michael Walker (Harry Connick Jr.) might need to jump-start his seasonal ho-ho-hoing. Would he agree that he was cast against type in this one? “Oh, sure,” Nelson said with a chuckle when we talked to him about the film back in 2013. “Me as an angel? Yeah, this could be the hardest part I’ve ever played.”

Waiting for the Miracle to Come (2019)

The improbable pairing of Nelson and famed British actress Charlotte Rampling turns out to be a match made in movie heaven as the two living legends bring out the best in each other during the course of writer-director Lian Lunson’s freeform, fantasy-tinged drama. Filmed largely on location at Nelson’s Luck ranch, the movie is a dreamily stylized concoction that has something to do with a budding young trapeze artist (Sophie Lowe) eager to help her newly widowed mother (Sile Bermingham) unlock a secret from her troubled past, and something else to do with two long-married ex-vaudevillians who operate a combination trailer park, horse ranch, and performance venue. Whether together, individually, or in one-on-one scenes with Lowe, Nelson and Rampling convey such raw emotional authenticity — running the gamut from anguished remorse to indefatigable faith — that it’s very east to believe their characters have spent a lifetime together.

Monday, February 24th, 2020

“The Thief”, with James Caan, Willie Nelson (1981)

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Professional safecracker Frank (James Caan) visits Okla (Willie Nelson) to get some advice for his life on the outside and gets some very good advice: “Lie to no one,” and then is asked to do the impossible — get Okla out of prison before he dies.

In addition to James Caan and Willie Nelson, the movie, released in 1981, Tuesday Weld, Dennis Farina, James Belushi.

thief (1)

Professional safecracker Frank (James Caan) visits Okla (Willie Nelson) to get some advice for his life on the outside and gets some very good advice: “Lie to no one,” and then is asked to do the impossible — get Okla out of prison before he dies.

In addition to Willie Nelson, the movie, released in 1981, stars James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Dennis Farina, James Belushi.

This day in Willie Nelson history: “The Big Bounce” released (January 30, 2004)

Thursday, January 30th, 2020
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On January 30, 2004, the movie “The Big Bounce”, opened.


Thank you, Mark, from Willie Nelson’s Museum and General Store, (, for finding this gem, a still from the movie, “The Big Bounce” released in 2004, also starring Owen Wilson, Gary Sinese, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Bebe Neuwirth, Harry Dean Stanton, Gregory Sporleder, Steve Jones, Director: George Armitage


Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, “Oh, You Pretty Woman”

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Willie Nelson, “Angels Sing”

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019


Already a holiday movie favorite!

Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Willie Nelson and Connie Britton available in stores December 2. (CNW Group/Entertainment One)

“Angels Sing”, starring Harry Connick, Jr., Willie Nelson and Connie Britton now available on DVD.

Willie Nelson, Barbarosa

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

Thank you, Phil Weisman, for this still from my favorite Willie Nelson movie.

Willie Nelson featured in Ken Burns’, “Country Music” on PBS (Sept. 15th)

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Tune in or Stream Sunday, September 15 at 8/7c

Explore the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the 20th century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

Country Music features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. The eight-part 16-hour series is directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Country Music explores questions –– such as “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?“–– while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created and shaped it — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times in which they lived. Much like the music itself, the film tells unforgettable stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people.

No one has told the story this way before.


Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ is right on key (review)
by: Bruce R. Miller


It’s the songs, stupid.

That’s what makes country music so popular. Able to tap into emotions many feel, the songs boast “three chords and the truth” and lifetimes of experience.

In Ken Burns’ stellar documentary, “Country Music,” we learn how the genre started, how it blossomed and how it’s faring, even now when overnight sensations are expected. Spread over 16 hours, the series gets dozens of artists, managers, writers and executives to distill the music and track its growth from southern Appalachia to the world.

Interestingly, those songs incorporate all kinds of instrumentation (and rhythms), but still have strong stories at their core and, usually, a singer who’s able to emote from experience. One by one, Burns and company tick off the big names – Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton – and show how they’re connected.

Country music, Burns and company contend, has a through line, one that binds its artists and fans as family. It’s easy to see how the Carters and Cash are connected (he married into the clan). But where does that leave someone like Parton or Garth Brooks? Writer Dayton Duncan does a masterful job connecting the dots and showing how an 11-year-old Marty Stuart was able to go from a local fair to the Grand Ole Opry. (Stuart vowed he was going to marry singer Connie Smith one day and, sure enough, he did.) Stuart, in fact, is the documentary’s best “witness,” able to demonstrate how sounds differed and tell stories about the folks who created them.

Parton, Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson get to chime in on their own piece of the puzzle (they’re great storytellers, obviously), but it’s someone like Brenda Lee who has even better observational skills. In the mix with the biggest names, she was able to see what was brewing. And she’s not afraid to say Lynn led the life Tammy Wynette sang about, while Wynette lived the life Lynn chronicled.

Drugs and booze are common denominators in many stories. Relationship problems are practically a given.

Country music reflects the times (it became a salve for money-tight folks following the Depression) and becomes a pawn for big business. It also serves as a lure for The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others. And, yes, “Country Music” details all of the back and side roads.

Read rest of article here.

Rest in Peace, Bill Wittliff, and thanks

Thursday, September 5th, 2019
by: Joe Leydon

We tip our hats to the talented screenwriter, author, and photographer.

WILLIAM D. WITTLIFF?—?often billed in TV and movie credits, and addressed by friends and collaborators, simply as Bill Wittliff?—?ensured for himself a prominent position in the pantheon of great western storytellers as the award-winning screenwriter of Lonesome Dove, the classic 1989 miniseries based on Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a cattle drive led by retired Texas Rangers Woodrow F. Call and Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae.

Tommy Lee Jones, who befriended Wittliff while playing Call in the epic drama, spoke for millions of admirers when he described Wittliff’s handiwork thusly to Texas Monthly writer John Spong: “It wasn’t an adaptation. It was a derivation, a condensation. You’ve got to let the book be your guide, and that’s not easy. It requires a confidence in your own creativity, along with a selflessness that not a lot of people have. Bill had it in abundance.”

Wittliff, who passed away June 9 at age 79 in Austin, lived an enviably full life as a prolific author and screenwriter, an accomplished photographer, and a tireless champion of the arts. A native of Taft, Texas, he and his wife, Sally, founded Encino Press, a Dallas-based publishing house devoted to fiction and nonfiction about life in Texas and the Southwest, in 1964. He kicked off his show business career in 1978 by writing Thaddeus Rose and Eddie, a TV movie starring Johnny Cash and Bo Hopkins as reckless Texas buddies that was praised by People Magazine for having “a Last Picture Show authenticity.”

Wittliff went on to write or co-write several feature film screenplays, including Honeysuckle Rose (1980), Raggedy Man (1981), Barbarosa (1982), Legends of the Fall (1994), The Perfect Storm (2000), and A Night in Old Mexico (2013). In 1986, he wrote and directed Red Headed Stranger, a western based on Willie Nelson’s 1975 album, starring Nelson, Morgan Fairchild, and Katharine Ross.

Also in 1986, Bill and Sally Wittliff established at Texas State University what would become known as the Wittliff Collections, a wide-ranging archive and research center devoted to collecting, preserving, and celebrating the creative legacy of the Southwest. Among the items included in the Albert B. Alkek Library on the university’s San Marcos campus: More than 19,000 photographs of the Southwest and Mexico, including historical images, 20th-century masters, and emerging 21st-century artists; a Texas music collection that runs the gamut from country and Western swing to blues, polka, rock ’n’ roll, conjunto, and Tejano; and the  private papers and original manuscripts of authors, playwrights, screenwriters, and songwriters such as Sam Shepard, Cormac McCarthy, Bud Shrake, Larry McMurtry, Willie Nelson, and J. Frank Dobie.

And, yes, rest assured: There’s also an entire room devoted to memorabilia from the Lonesome Dove miniseries.

Photography: Ted Albracht/Courtesy Texas State University

From the October 2019 issue.

Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, “Barbarosa”

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Willie Nelson and Dyan Cannon, “Loving You Was Easier Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again”

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

This day in Willie Nelson history, “Country Bears Movie” released (July 21, 2002)

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

On July 21, 2002, the movie, “The Country Bears” was released. Like other celebrated rock-and-roll groups, the members of the legendary group the Country Bears were torn apart by the perils of their own success: ego, jealousy, and a little too much honey. The story of how eager young fan Beary Barrington can convince the bitter ex-members of the rock band to put aside their differences and perform a benefit concert to save Country Bear Hall, the legendary venue where the band got its start. Initial release: July 21, 2002 Director: Peter Hastings


Willie Nelson and Rip Torn in, “The Songwriter”

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

Rest in Peace, Rip Torn
by: Stephen L. Betts

With the hundreds of film and television roles actor Rip Torn played throughout his career, some are so memorable and well-known (The Larry Sanders Show’s Arthur, for instance) that many others are relegated to “I forgot he was in that one” territory. Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. in Temple, Texas, in 1931, Rip Torn died Tuesday in Lakeville, Connecticut, at age 88.

Among Torn’s many roles, and indeed, in his personal life, are numerous connections to country music. Coal Miner’s Daughter Oscar winner Sissy Spacek was his first cousin, and Torn’s first wife, actress Ann Wedgeworth, would go on to play Patsy Cline’s mother, Hilda Hensley, in the 1985 biopic Sweet Dreams. Torn would inhabit the roles of both country-music artist and manager with two films a decade apart, one in which he was the lead and another as supporting character to two country icons: Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

In 1984’s Songwriter, Torn plays Dino McLeish, the slick and sleazy manager of Kristofferson’s character, country star Blackie Buck, who is best friend to songwriter Doc Jenkins, played by Nelson. In the above scene from the film, Nelson and Torn are joined by Lesley Ann Warren as Gilda, an aspiring, neurotic singer also being managed by Dino. The hilarious exchange between Doc and Dino is, quite literally, a bit of fast-talking wheeling-and-dealing as the two negotiate Gilda’s musical future. It’s a stellar bit of acting from Torn and Nelson, especially, with their tough-as-leather Texas roots informing both characters. (There’s a mostly unrelated scene in the clip, in which Doc, wearing a borrowed suit and brandishing a vacuum cleaner, visits his ex-wife, singer Honey Carder, who is mentioned briefly by the self-doubting Gilda in the previous scene.)