Tag Archives: Dennis Hopper

David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET

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BLUE VELVET may just be one of the most depraved and transgressive love stories ever put on film. It’s a complex narrative that ushers the audience past their comfort zone into a dark and dangerous world of obsession and perversion. Not only do we enter this world through our innocent protagonist, Jeffery Beaumont, but we see and experience what he is exposed to. As his innocence erodes, as does ours.

Like anything David Lynch, the film is richly layered. The color scheme can be overanalyzed, as can the vague shadow world crime story, and especially the shifting timeline. When we’re in Jeffery’s world, we are in this overly nostalgic “good old days” of Americana and once we enter into Frank Boothe’s life in the fast lane all of a sudden we are thrown into this overly stinging and lightspeed paced contemporary (the 1980s) world of drugs, violence, and sexual perversion.

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Lynch constructs a deeply layered world by his own aesthetic and his brilliant casting strokes. Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern’s star-making performances zigzag back and forth between the two worlds that Lynch creates, showcasing their brilliant range as actors as they carefully hold the audience’s hands during the build up of the story only to rip away once they enter the world of Frank Boothe.

Dennis Hopper is incredible in this film. His embodiment of Frank Boothe is not only one of the finest performances on film ever, but it is such a bold and daring performance. Frank Boothe is nearly irredeemable. He’s disgusting, he’s dangerous, he’s insane – yet he has a very empathetical trait. Everything he is doing, he’s doing because he is so very much in love with Dorothy Vallens played by Isabella Rossellini who matches and outdoes Hopper when it comes to giving a deeply brave performance.

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With Lynch’s casting of Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, and George Dickerson he builds his pure vision of the idea of America, only to tear it down with the Hopper and more specifically former Golden Age of Hollywood child star Dean Stockwell in one of the most unique and scene-stealing performances ever. Stockwell’s overly caked on makeup, 70’s powder suit, and lip syncing Roy Orbison’s IN DREAMS using a work light as a microphone is one of the most memorably haunting scenes in Lynch’s canon, and that’s saying a lot.

Once the rip cord is pulled in the film, it is an incredibly exhilarating ride. How this film got made, or better yet distributed to the degree it did upon its initial release is gobsmacking. It’s a piece of cinema that will never be outdone. It propelled Lynch into a stratosphere of auteurs that not many can even approach.

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The Crow: Wicked Prayer


Out of the multiple attempts at The Crow sequels, Wicked Prayer is the most legendarily awful. You’d think that after two rainy, urban set, near identical efforts that a switch up to the New Mexico desert for an Aztec, satanic theme might just be grand, but nope, they dicked it up royally. Even with a cast as cool as they were able to lasso into this mess they couldn’t make it work. The Eric Draven avatar here is a trailer trash troublemaker named Jimmy Corvo, played by Edward ‘John Connor’ Furlong, who hasn’t exactly brushed up his acting skills since his iconic turn in T2. Corvo is in love with Lilly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the daughter of a local chief (Danny Trejo lol) who despises him. Also running around is Luc Crash (David ‘Angel’ Boreanaz), an occultist whacko who wishes to use his body as a vessel for Satan and… rule New Mexico I guess? Joined by his psychotic little hoe girlfriend (Tara Reid) and four thug henchman aptly named after the horsemen of the apocalypse, he needs a couple human sacrifices, and who better than young lovers Jimmy and Lilly? Furlong is resurrected via that good ol’ blackbird, of course, and sports the worst makeup job since.. I don’t know since what to be honest, it’s an equally horrendous and hilarious look. He goes looking for vengeance against Crash and his ilk, and all sorts of silly supernatural nonsense ensues, yada yada. You’d think that such a concept would have been great, but everything is handled so poorly, the budget seems lower than the filmmaker’s standards of quality, and Dimension should be ashamed to have to slap their classy label on this roadkill of a four-quel. As if all that wasn’t enough wasted talent, Dennis Hopper shows up arbitrarily as a jive talking, white 70 year old pimp who has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and whose dialogue as well as delivery will have your eardrums bleeding out in minutes. Please, please avoid this at all cost. 

-Nate Hill

Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend 


-Nate Hill-
Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend is so strangely plotted, so illogical and hard to understand, that not even John Hurt providing a play by play from an ever present tv monitor can seem to make sense of it. It’s not that it’s a bad film, parts are very well done and there’s that nostalgic Cold War vibe that 80’s espionage thrillers always have, it’s just that somewhere along the way, whether in the editing room, the shot list or scheduling, someone quite literally lost the plot. It’s enjoyable, well acted and supplies some of that classic Peckinpah grit he’s known for, but it’s just one massive loose thread that no one bothered to pull taut, which is a shame when you look at the talent involved. The film opens with the murder of a beautiful woman, the wife of a CIA spook (Hurt). Now, this inciting incident is what spurs on the rest of the plot, but the how and the why seem to be missing, and the matter of his wife doesn’t come into play again until all is almost said and done, and seems to have not a lot to do with the entire rest of the film. The bulk of it focuses on controversial talk show host John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), a man who lives to rub people the wrong way and put men of power on the spot with provocative, candid questions, all from the safety of his brightly lit studio. He’s forced to get his hands dirty though when Hurt contacts him, informing him that his three friends he’s planned to spend the weekend with (Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper and a sleazy Chris Sarandon) are in fact soviet spies in hiding. Forced to bug his weekend home and play host to Hurt as he watches them all via hidden cameras, tensions arise as they try to smoke the three out and figure out… something. But what? It’s anyone’s guess what three potential traitors have to do with a murdered agent’s wife, and I’m sure the novel by Robert Ludlum on which this is based covers that a little more pointedly, but this film is just all over the place. It drags where it should glide, and skips hurriedly over scenes with potential to be great. Nevertheless, they achieved some level of class at least, with a crackling on-air conclusion that cathartically weeds out some corruption and provides almost a glimmer of an answer to what’s going on. There’s a fight scene between Nelson and Hauer that’s excellently choreographed, the performances are committed and engaging, and I’m always a sucker for cloak and dagger theatrics. But the thing just can’t seem to cohesively pull itself together and present a story that makes sense. It’s not even that it doesn’t make sense in a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy sense, because I’m sure that if I sat down and watched that film like five times in a row, id get it, it has a plot buried under all of it. This one though, it’s like there’s pieces missing, and the ones that are left are either out of order, or from a different puzzle entirely. Close, but no cigar. 

O.C. AND STIGGS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After Popeye (1980), Robert Altman had effectively alienated himself from most of the Hollywood studios and took to adapting stage plays for the big screen through independent financing. In the early 1980s, National Lampoon magazine published stories about two troublemaking teenagers named Oliver Cromwell ‘O.C.’ Ogilvie and Mark Stiggs written by Tod Carroll and Ted Mann. When Altman made O.C. and Stiggs in 1984 (it wasn’t released until 1987), teen comedies were all the rage but he hated them and so, instead, he made it into a biting satire of these kinds of films. Not surprisingly, nobody liked it and the movie quickly disappeared. Even among Altman fans it has few supporters and was eventually quietly released on DVD.

O.C. (Daniel Jenkins) and Stiggs (Neill Barry) are suburban teens and avid practical jokers who live in Phoenix, Arizona. The main target of their gags is the Schwab family, a decadent, materialistic clan headed by Randall Schwab (Paul Dooley) who sells insurance. The mother (Jane Curtin) is an alcoholic, their son (Jon Cryer) is a gullible idiot while their daughter is about to get married.

In some respects, O.C. and Stiggs are like teenage versions of Hawkeye and Trapper John from M*A*S*H (1970). Both feature clever hipsters but the latter were also brilliant surgeons whereas the former are only good at one thing – staging elaborate practical jokes. In M*A*S*H, the two surgeons were fighting against authority and the absurdity of war while O.C. and Stiggs are fighting against materialism and mediocrity as represented by the Schwabs with their bad fashion sense and gaudy décor – the epitome of the “ugly American.”

The problem with O.C. and Stiggs is the central characters. They aren’t particularly interesting. Their obsession with pulling endless practical jokes on the Schwabs seems mean-spirited at times. Another problem lies in what O.C. and Stiggs are rebelling against, which isn’t as clearly defined as the war in M*A*S*H. The teen pranksters are rebelling against the mind-numbing banality of suburbia and the “Greed is good” era of Reaganomics. There is an attempt to provide some kind of motivation for why these kids do what they do. Stiggs’ dad is cheating on his wife while O.C.’s dad (grandfather?) is unemployed and possibly senile. No wonder they spend all their time together devising elaborate schemes. It is a form of escape from their mundane surroundings.

This movie sees Altman in an extremely playful mood with the same kind of fast and loose structure as California Split (1974), which also features two freewheeling pals careening from one crazy encounter to another. A crazed, babbling Dennis Hopper even pops up as a burnt out Vietnam vet. It’s as if his photographer character from Apocalypse Now (1979) had somehow made it out of Kurtz’s compound and came back to the United States.

There are some nice moments, like when O.C. dances with a beautiful girl (Cynthia Nixon) at the Schwab wedding that is a nod to classic Hollywood cinema by way of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But it is not enough to keep this uneven film together.

Altman flips the ‘80s teen comedy on its head. He even refuses to populate the film’s soundtrack with trendy New Wave music, instead opting for the catchy African music of King Sunny Ade. No wonder people hated this movie when it came out. Clearly Altman did not grasp the original source material (or didn’t even bother to read it) and just did his own thing. The results are, at times, amusing and at some point you either surrender yourself to the goofiness of the whole enterprise or resist this maddeningly frustrating effort.

EASY RIDER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The critical and commercial success of Easy Rider (1969) scared the hell out of the Hollywood studios at the time of its release. Executives thought that they knew what the public wanted to see: safe comedies like Pillow Talk (1959) or the Frankie and Annette beach party movies. Along came this counter-culture movie that featured contemporary rock ‘n’ roll music, two hippie protagonists and a nihilistic ending. And audiences loved it. All bets were off on what audiences wanted to see and so the studios began hiring young producers and directors who in turn cast their friends and contemporaries in their films. As a result, Easy Rider ushered in the last great decade of American movies in the 1970s.

After selling their stash of cocaine, Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) decide to ride their motorcycles from California to Florida (by way of the South) where they plan to live off the money. They travel the back roads of America and encounter all sorts of people: suspicious small-townsfolk, an oppressive sheriff and a rancher and his large family who invite them to a meal. The deeper they go into the South, the more resistance they meet because of how they look.

Easy Rider is a fantastic snapshot of the times. It signaled the end of the not-so idyllic 1960s, where having long hair could deny you a room in a motel because the manager didn’t like the way you looked. The hippie commune that Billy and Wyatt briefly stop at is not all peace and love. Some of them are suspicious of the duo. There is conflict among the members and it becomes obvious that they suffer from many of the same problems that plague the outside world.

Time running out is a constant theme throughout Easy Rider. When Billy and Wyatt start their journey, Wyatt throws away his watch. Later on, he finds a discarded pocket watch just before they leave the commune. Also, as they are leaving, the hitchhiker they pick up warns Wyatt that time is running out. It eerily foreshadows the film’s disturbing finale and gives a feeling of impending doom that hangs over the entire film.

Peter Fonda plays Wyatt as the quiet, more introspective character, while Dennis Hooper’s Billy is a talkative, let-it-all-hang-out type. Wyatt is more trusting of people and Billy is more paranoid and guarded — he is constantly thinking of the money they have stashed in their bikes and is very protective of it. They make a good team with their strengths and weaknesses complimenting each other. However, their dynamic is given a jolt once Jack Nicholson appears as George Hanson, an ACLU lawyer who gets Billy and Wyatt out of jail. Nicholson showcases his trademark easy-going charm in all of the scenes he’s in. His stoned rap (during one of the camp fire scenes) about UFOs and “the Venusians” is funny and oddly poignant. Later on, he talks about how the country has been divided and says, “It’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the marketplace.” His speech anticipates the greed-obsessed ‘80s. People forget that Easy Rider really put Nicholson on the map and led to an impressive string of film roles in the ‘70s.

Laszlo Kovacs’ beautiful cinematography really does a stunning job of showcasing the expansive landscape of the U.S.: the imposing mountains in California, the vast canyons of Arizona at sunset with pink and red hues in the sky and the deep green foliage as Billy and Wyatt get closer to New Orleans. Kovacs would go on to shoot such great films as Five Easy Pieces (1970), Shampoo (1975) and Ghostbusters (1984).

easyrider2Easy Rider’s nihilistic ending would go on to inspire similar-minded road movies in the ‘70s, like Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Vanishing Point (1971), and Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973). Easy Rider’s legacy is impressive. It paved the way for the Movie Brats (Coppola, Lucas, Scorsese, et al) in the ‘70s, which was the golden age of American filmmaking where the director was king.

Waterworld: A Review by Nate Hill

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I don’t get the hate for Waterworld, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it was was a ginormous flop at the box office. I suppose there has to be one incredibly underrated gem of an adventure film every generation (John Carter comes to mind), and I’m ok with such films becoming cult classics years later, or loved by a small, loyal faction of people, but I still can’t see how such a creative, entertaining piece of cinema was so ignored. The best way I can describe my impression of it is Mad Max set adrift at sea. And what a premise. Kevin Costner and team craft an earthy steam punk dystopia where nearly all of our planet has been covered in oceans, hundreds of years in the future. Costner plays a lone adventurer called the Mariner, a humanoid who has evolved to the point where he sports gills, and can breathe underwater. He’s on a quest to find dry land, and is hindered at every turn by a one eyed tyrannical warlord called Deacon (the one, the only Dennis Hopper), who is on a mad hunt for oil of any kind, laying waste to anything in his way. He runs his empire off of a giant, dilapidated freighter ship, and commands a gnarly army of scoundrels. If they made a post apocalyptic super villain mortal kombat, he would probably face off against Fury Road’s Immortan Joe. Costner is a dysfunctional beast who somewhat befriends a lost woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her plucky daughter (Tina Majorino in what should have been a star making turn), venturing forth into the vast blue on a rickety raft, meeting all sorts of sea bound weirdos on their journey. Kim Coates shows up with a whoville hairdo and an indecipherable accent as a sunbaked pervert who’s probably been afloat for a decade. The film is pure adventure, and loves it’s target audience unconditionally, which begs me to question why the masses savagely bit the hand that graciously feeds them. No matter, it’s a winner regardless of how it was received, and has probably gained a following that they never thought they’d arrive with when they made it. The cast extends further with work from Costner regulars and newcomers alike, including Michael Jeter, Robert Joy, Jack Black, Robert Lasardo, Sean Whalen, Lee Arenberg and R.D. Call. No one who loves a good old adventure can turn this down, and I’m still pissed that my knowledge of its reputation held me back from watching it for so many years. Let that happen no more. Either you’re won over by an inventive, balls out adventure epic like this, or you’re not.

LAND OF THE DEAD – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The 2000s saw a resurgence in the zombie film with the good (28 Days Later), the bad (Resident Evil) and the funny (Shaun of the Dead), but all of them pale in comparison to George A. Romero’s trilogy of zombie films. The first two have been remade already, most significantly with Dawn of the Dead (2004), and both failed to build on or even recapture what made Romero’s films so great in the first place. They seem to only be in love with the gore and miss (or just didn’t understand) the socio-political message of them. Romero returned with a zombie movie that was years in the making and was well worth the wait.

As with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead (2005) is a stand-alone story but looks like it could exist in the same universe as the others. The zombies have completely taken over and the dwindling human population tries desperately to hold onto what little land they have left. A small, heavily armed group venture regularly into zombie territory to scavenge whatever supplies they can find and then return to an island complex known as Fiddler’s Green. The island has been heavily fortified by the military who rule with complete control with rich businessman Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) as their leader.

Society has degraded even further since Day of the Dead (1985). The wide gulf between the rich and the poor is even more pronounced. In the slums of the city people can get their pictures taken with captive zombies or shoot them with paintball guns. At one point, they even throw a woman (Asia Argento) into a steel cage with two zombies for sport. The rich people aren’t much better as represented by Kaufman who is corrupt and amoral enough to make money off of and sacrifice his own people. It’s as if Romero’s saying that it wouldn’t be so bad if the zombies wiped us out. Look at what we’ve become.

The glimmer of hope is represented by Riley (Simon Baker), the leader of the scavengers and his sidekick and ace sharpshooter Charlie (Robert Joy). Like the protagonists in Romero’s Dead trilogy and Knightriders (1981), Riley is a reluctant leader who is tired of this corrupt world and is quietly planning an escape route to a more natural way of life. However, this is disrupted by another member of his group, Cholo (John Leguizamo), who represents the dissenting voice. He’s only in it for the money and has a secret pact going with Kaufman. However, when Kaufman rips off Cholo, the mercenary goes rogue and takes off with Dead Reckoning, the island’s heavily armored vehicle. So, Kaufman cuts a deal with Riley to find Cholo, kill him and bring back the vehicle.

To make matters worse, the zombies are getting smarter as exemplified by Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) who not only learns how to use a gun but is also able to organize legions of the undead. It’s nice to see a return to the slow moving zombies that we all know and love, but with a definite upgrade in the intelligence department while the humans continue to regress, embroiled in more bickering and in-fighting. After all, the zombies are the ultimate have-nots in this world. They are clearly tired of being shot at and exploited by the living. It’s almost as if Big Daddy is some kind of zombie Che Guevara leading an undead revolution that wants to take down corrupt, rich capitalists. In fact, Land of the Dead can be read as Romero’s critique of the George Bush administration with Kaufman as a Donald Rumsfeld stand-in.

Romero has crafted a very smart horror film, which is something of a rarity these days what with all of these lames remakes littering the landscape. Land of the Dead has all of the requisite gore (and the unrated version has even more) while actually trying to say something. There are plenty of powerful images, like the undead rising out of the water at night (a nice nod to Carnival of Souls, one of the films that inspired Night of the Living Dead) or zombies crashing through the posh apartment complex and feasting on the wealthy. Like with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead is a commentary on the times in which it was made. And for that alone, his movie is a refreshing breath of fresh air.