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*** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** (I'm assuming you've already watched the film if you're going to read this.) --- Continuing my recent trend of seeing movies I haven't seen in years, or decades, for the second time, I rented "Easy Rider" on Amazon - my general rule of thumb lately has been to rent movies that I've seen, and enjoyed, but don't really remember. I knew that Easy Rider is a beloved road movie starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper; I didn't know their characters' names were Wyatt and Billy, respectively - for Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. With Amazon, you have the option of using "X-Ray" to glean little tidbits about films - for me, it's often helpful since I'm on my second viewing, but I can also easily see it being an annoyance - the good news is that it's easily deactivated. Since I'm more of an aesthete than a hedonist, I tend to use it for second viewings. My chicken's ready. I'm back. Do you get a little Robert Redford here? And, to Mr. Redford: *Happy 80th birthday this Thursday*! I doubt he'll see this, but hey, Jack Sock liked my tweet today! I didn't remember that Easy Rider popularized "The Pusher," which came out the year before: The brief scene when Wyatt looked at his watch and threw it on the ground is *so* late-60s, the rapid-fire changes in photos often seen in B-horror films, often with psychedelic music and sometimes with a girl screaming while realizing something. Wow, and all this during a cold open - I didn't even realize that. Well, as of right now, I'm 40 minutes into a 95-minute movie, and to be honest, I think it's pretty boring. Other than the obviously appealing imagery of the two men on the bikes (an iconic American image which will be around for a long time), we've visited a ranch - which was tolerable enough - and spent *way* too much time at a commune, and to what end? Perhaps this will tie in later in the movie, but as of right now, I wish they'd get the heck off that commune and get on their merry way. So far, this is poorly acted, without any clear meaning, and just plain dull. Also, the drug deal in the beginning has absolutely nothing to do with this except for financing their trip. It's the next day now. And now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've ever seen this film before, at least not in its entirety - I don't remember a single thing about it. I'm pretty sure I'd remember George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) riding on the back of that chopper in a football helmet. My biggest problem with the extended commune scene is that, one day later, I hardly remember a single person in the commune (or maybe, that's the whole point?); however, the campfire scene with George Hanson smoking his first-ever joint is priceless, and vintage early Jack Nicholson. *That* is some character development, and it only took a couple of minutes - it's the highlight of the movie, so far, in my mind. Dennis Hopper (Billy) - who got a little psycho-weird when he called BS on Hanson's UFO theory - always has a little bit of "creepy" to him, even here ... it's hard to get "Blue Velvet" out of my mind, even when I see him in such a vastly different role like this. Okay, the scene in the diner - with the local rednecks - is suspenseful. This movie is almost like a series of "short stories," linked together by motorcycles: Chapter 1 - Drugs, Chapter 2 - Ranch, Chapter 3 - Commune - Chapter 4 - Campfire, Chapter 5 - Diner. it's starting to chain together now, and I'm liking the movie more - it's almost like a theme and variations. Have you seen that internet meme that's been going around - the one about conservatives always longing for "the good old days" (itself a strawman - how many people have you actually heard say this?) and the liberals rebutting it by saying, "Name one single year that you'd like this country to return to" (of course, nobody can - the retort is nothing more than argumentum ad antiquitatem: an attempt to force the person to choose an easily debunked, logical fallacy). It's supremely ironic that Hanson said - after the diner scene - "You know, this used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it." Tables turned - most amusing, and whenever I come across things like that on Facebook, I realize I'm spending too much time on Facebook. I hope it goes without saying that I'm talking about "conservative" and "liberal" in the original, *non-political* definitions of the terms (the fact that I felt the need to say that makes me long for the good old days, when you weren't walking on eggshells every time you say something - we all need you, John Cleese): Hanson (Nicholson) is coming up with some compelling lines in this campfire speech, and I wish every food writer, celebrity chef, and hanger-on would watch this movie and pay close attention to what he's saying: things like, "It's real hard to be free when you're being bought and sold in the marketplace." Of course, even if they paid close attention they wouldn't dream of thinking that these words apply to them, so what good would it do? I'm sorry - did I just offend anyone? God, I hope so. Oh, man! And then he continues: "Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they gonna get *real* busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are." Man, this movie's slugging percentage just went up - way, way up. As the Wikipedia plot summary says, so correctly: "He [Hanson] observes that Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it." I wonder how many people *aren't* going to look in the mirror right now - probably something close to 100%. Nevertheless, this bit of dialog is the best scene in the movie so far. And then what comes right afterwards? Wow. The cowards strike in the darkness of night - just as they always do. Interestingly, the two girls in The House of Blue Lights are played by Karen Black and Toni Basil. Amazing cinematography in the final scene - powerful stuff. I was *so certain* I'd seen Easy Rider before, but I'd never seen it in my life, and I'm glad I did.
*** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** "True Grit" is a continuance of 'Hollywood Classics which I've never before seen.' It begins with a surprise murder by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), then a distressingly *non*-surprising gathering at the Courthouse, where they're going to be hanging three men that day. Why people have always wished to gather to witness others being violently killed is beyond my capability of understanding. And in case you think our species has evolved since the days of the Wild West: Aug 14, 2014 - "20,000 Watched the Last Public Hanging 78 Years Ago" by Mark Murrmann on motherjones.com Hating human beings, but loving cats and dogs, is perfectly justified, don't you think? Hey, I have an idea! Let's all have a get-together, and push our kids on swings while three men await their deaths! Anyway, daughter Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is understandably furious at the murder of her father, Frank Ross (John Pickard). Mattie is one of the witnesses to the public hanging, and thinks the cold-hearted judge (who "flips the switch") is *just* the man she needs to try the murderer of her daddy, and it's hard to blame her. Interestingly, Kim Darby was 21-years-old when she portrayed 14-year-old Mattie - she really does have a youthful appearance. Mattie reveals to us that she's from Dardenelle, in Yell County, Arkansas, establishing the setting of "True Grit." Frank Ross (Mattie's dad) was killed in Ft. Smith, just west of where the courthouse is, and one of the westernmost places in all of Arkansas. A pretty telling scene occurs when the Sheriff tells Mattie that Tom Chaney is now in "Indian Territory," which is out of his jurisdiction, and only U.S. Marshals can pursue him there. He names three of them for Mattie: the best tracker, the most merciless (Rooster Cogburn, played by John Wayne), and the straightest - Mattie immediately asks the Sheriff where she can find this "Rooster Cogburn" - she's out for vengeance, plain and simple. I'm very curious why Cogburn wears the eye-patch. This seems to have caught on as a generic "tough guy" symbol, and I wonder if this picture had anything to do with it - I suspect some older, pirate-based movie started it before this. Rrrrrrrrrr there any you can think of? Defense attorney Goudy (I didn't name these people) was played by Alfred Ryder, a character actor who was in many television shows, including "The Man Trap" - the first (non-pilot) episode of "Star Trek." (Darby, by the way, had the lead in the "Star Trek" episode "Miri" as the eponymous character - an important role.) In the same scene, there's a man sitting in the very front row of the courtroom, in what can only be described as a "bit part" - non-speaking, uncredited, and only on camera for maybe thirty seconds total. "True Grit," it turns out, was Wilfred Brimley's very first movie, and this is him - I think (but am not sure) that he's the somewhat stocky, somewhat balding man in the beige leather jacket towards the right of the photo: The only reason I even knew he was in here was because Amazon X-Ray listed him - there is *no way* I would have picked this up on my own. Brimley was personal friends with Robert Duvall - who plays Lucky Ned Pepper - and I strongly suspect that's how Brimley got the part - he was born in 1934, so he would have been only 35 when this was filmed. I'm not convinced this man is Brimley, but he's somewhere in the courtroom: When you see this film, concentrate on the initial, extended, one-on-one conversation between Mattie Ross and the Texas Ranger, Mr. La Boeuf (Glen Campbell). This conversation came across as stilted and poorly directed - essentially, an interplay between two inexperienced actors (which they both were) - nevertheless, this one falls on the Director, Henry Hathaway, and he didn't make it work. It didn't ruin the film, of course, but it was simply not a good scene. A very interesting note: I later read, long after I wrote the preceding sentences, in the "Trivia" section of the IMDB website, that Hathaway hated Campbell's performance, calling it "wooden," and only had him in the movie so he could have a hit song associated with it. If this *isn't* the worst scene in the movie, then that worries me. I. Do. Not. Like. Kim Darby in this role. I hope to God she gets better, because I have a feeling this film is going to hinge on her acting abilities. So far, Darby is every bit as "wooden" as Campbell - maybe more so. However, *this* gentleman, Chen Lee (H.W. Gim) knows how to slice bacon! As of right now, I'm 50 minutes into a 2'10" movie, and two of the three leads can't act worth a damn. I know that Duvall is going to show up soon, and so is Dennis Hopper - right now, I'm praying for a miracle, or at least that these two, along with Wayne, can act "louder" than Campbell and Darby - it must be so in order for this to be a good film: fingers, crossed. The film is half over, and we just met two horse thieves: Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon Dennis Hopper (thank goodness - btw, when is the last time Dennis Hopper has been spotted in a role that involves being very "off?"): Maybe now, we won't have to watch Wayne attempt to carry the entire movie by himself - Wayne was a good actor, but he wasn't good enough to carry a film when he's handicapped with Campbell and and Darby. Well, five minutes later, so much for either Quincy or Moon possibly saving the film. Now, we have to hope for Pepper (Duvall), who will be along shortly. For those of you into biker flicks, Jeremy Slate played the leader of the gang, "The Born Losers," a sub-par but highly influential movie that was the first of the "Billy Jack" enterprise. For those few of you who saw the film, here's a little memory stimulant to help you remember Slate's role, that of gang leader and lead antagonist, Danny Carmody, Billy Jack's (Tom Laughlin's) nemesis and gadfly: With Quincy and Moon gone, and over halfway into "True Grit," I'm painfully reminded that - just as with all the other art forms including the culinary arts, wine, music, and sports - I don't like "movies" per se; I like *good* movies. And so far, this simply isn't one due to the sub-par acting and the plot, which is thus far moving at a snail's pace. Why have I heard so much about "True Grit" throughout my life? I refuse to look until it's over - I'm just going to try and enjoy it, or at least to glean whatever I can from it. The extended, character-developing dialogue that Darby and Cogburn had, about 1:15 into the film, was *so much better* than the dialogue that Darby and La Boeuf had early on, that maybe it was mostly Glen Campbell, and not as much Darby, who was completely devoid of acting talent. I really enjoyed listening to those two talk with each other, and the viewer really learned quite a bit about Cogburn in the process. This is a *very* imposing gang that Pepper has, and that Cogburn, La Boeuf, and Darby are going to have to face by themselves (Duvall is third from the right): The whole, extended attack scene, complete with rattlesnake pit, made up for a *lot* of the film's first half of ennui. It was exciting, dramatic, well-acted by everyone, and just plain fun to watch. In many ways, it might have been an inspiration for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It is, by far, the high-point of the film, and enough on its own to make the movie arguably worth watching. Yes, it was a long, painful build-up, but it was one heck of an extended piece of suspense - even La Boeuf died a complete hero, winning over the hearts of all viewers. The near-mythical lawyer "Dagget" ended up being played by John Fielder, another famous character actor (who also played in "Star Trek," as Administer Hengst in "Wolf in the Fold.") He, too, deserves his own thread - he has done so much with his career, including being the voice of Piglet in "Winnie the Pooh." Dagget, to a much lesser degree, was to "True Grit" what "Keyser Söze" was to "The Usual Suspects." How do you not at least "like" a film that ends with such a sweet shot?
Yet another film that I've always wanted to watch, but never have, "Rebel without a Cause" is such an American icon that even the title alone breeds familiarity. I'm not sure I've ever seen a film with James Dean in it before, either. Dean stars as Jim Stark, Natalie Wood co-stars as Judy, and Sal Mineo is in a supporting role as John "Plato" Crawford. Other famous names include Jim "Mr. Magoo" Backus as Frank Stark, Dennis "Blue Velvet" Hopper as Goon, and Edward "Sorry About That, Chief" Platt as Ray Fremick - what an all-star cast this was! And there was plenty more talent in this picture, too - you might even recognize Jesse "The Maytag Repairman" White in an uncredited role as a policeman, questioning Sal Mineo early on. The title instantly reminds of Marlon Brando's line in "The Wild One," in which Kathie Bleeker asks Johnny Strabler, "What're you rebelling against, Johnny?" To which Brando replies, "Whaddya got?" I had never before heard of a Sam Browne before this scene: From what I've seen so far, it's no coincidence that this "teen angst" film came out just four years after J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (which, incidentally, may be the most overrated book I've ever read - at least, that's my interpretation of it upon first reading - if anyone can convince me otherwise, I'll have another go at it at some future point, but I found it very dated and painfully boring). "The Wild One," Rock-N-Roll music ... this is all Post-WWII expression, I suppose. I hate to say it, but we almost *need* another World War to remind ourselves of just how good we have things (and no, I'm not hoping for another World War, because the cost of that lesson would be far too expensive). Wow, this movie is more intense than I thought it would be, and from what I see in the scene where Jim's tires are slashed, he's a rebel *with* a cause - a very solid cause. Buzz Gunderson (played by Corey Allen) is a real shit-and-a-half, and why Jim agreed to go for round two after he so decisively won round one is beyond me. The editing (and cinematography) in this film is really good - it has a "slashy" feel to it, which mirrors a knife fight. Also, the juxtaposition of family problems (between families) is really effective at telling separate, but similar, stories. With 45 minutes left in the movie, I'm starting to wonder if "Rebel Without a Cause" means something entirely different than what I always assumed it meant. Jim has plenty of reason to be a "rebel" (if that's even the right word for it); but there was no good "cause" that should have made him this way. Restated, there was no justifiable "cause" that Jim should have become so troubled - and here I thought that James Dean was going to be a Marlon Brando-type character (in "The Wild One") - rebelling without any end game in mind, rebelling simply for the sake of rebelling. It's the difference between asking "What caused the rebel?" and "What's the rebel's cause?" Yes, he had a lousy family life, but that was a needless situation - it shouldn't have been like that, but, alas, it was. At 1:09 in the movie (on Amazon Prime), the song playing over the radio - dedicated to Jim from Buzz - is the exact same song in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Little Red Riding Rabbit": "The Five O'Clock Whistle." I'm having some trouble figuring out the meaning of the scene in the abandoned mansion with Jim, Judy, and Plato - I understand them needing some refuge, but it's an extended scene, and it doesn't seem like it quite fits in with the rest of the film - I suppose Jim and Judy needed some "alone time" to develop their relationship. Wow, now *Plato* - he was a rebel without a cause. Roger Ebert succinctly pointed out that Plato was gay in this film - something that I didn't pick up on, but I'm almost certain is correct - this shows you why Ebert is such a legendary film critic, and I should probably stick to writing about food and wine. DIShGo (who is watching the movie as I type) pointed out that Plato has a picture of "Shane" in his locker, lending further credence to Plato most likely being gay. You know, I'm observant enough, and I've watched enough films in my lifetime, that I *really* need to be picking up on things such as this - shame on me. This movie left me with some thinking to do - I'm not sure that I just watched a great film; I am certain that I just watched an important piece of Americana. It is certainly fitting that the movie ended where it was shortly after it began - in the planetarium, where the lecturer essentially gave an Existentialist talk about mankind. Foreshadowing? Oh, yeah. Rebel Without a Cause was also the final Hollywood film played by Marietta Canty, an important Black-American actress we should all know about.