Tag Archives: Dennis Hopper

PAST THE POISON: A Look at Rene Perez’s THE INSURRECTION by Kent Hill

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Right off the bat, I like pictures that make you think. Nicholas Meyer once said that movies have the dreadful propensity of doing it all for you, leaving nothing for later like some greedy kid turned loose in a chocolate factory. In the era where everything old is new again – dusted off, repackaged and marketed to an audience for whom, the first time it was released, isn’t a part of their lexicon – it falls upon us to turn to those filmmakers working outside the mainstream; the place where stories that entertain, provoke thought, and evoke the magnitude of the how insurmountable power and the forces that wield it engulf us…constant willing victims that we are.

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Though Rene Perez (as he once told me) might be near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to cinematic voices in the tempest that is the modern day film industry, to me, he is a tirelessly, self-sufficient auteur. His pictures – while made for the VOD market (not unlike the VHS boom before it) and designed for the casual scroller in search of an evening’s mild amusement – are more than mere formulaic forays in genre.

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With The Insurrection, Perez comes out with all guns blazing, literally, but with the timeliness and the gravitas of the message he is projecting. Michael Paré (Eddie and The Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment) is a military veteran. Strong, determined, and not afraid to stand tall in the crossfire, yet burdened by regret for the life and family he neglected while serving in the line of duty. This makes him the ideal candidate as well as the only choice, and hope, for the magnetic Wilma Elles’ (Playing with Dolls: Havoc, The Fourth Horseman) Joan Schafer. More than your garden-variety whistle-blower, she is a part of the grand plan, a loyal servant of the ‘Ruling Class’. After securing Paré’s release from prison, Joan tasks the warhorse to keep her alive long enough to tell all – not just of her own private torment, but primarily of a plan that began long ago…to make slaves of us all. And it is for these bold words – how we are but pawns for the powerful, the hungry masses that heartily sup upon the most potent of elixirs supplied by the small glowing screens we carry in our pocket – that she is now targeted for termination by her former overseers. The first casualty, when war comes, is truth, and because of this truth…she must not be allowed to live.

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Schafer’s truth also encompasses the concept that we, the controlled masses, are victims of the promise, the carrot, dangled by the influential. She presents the fact that, no matter the microcosm of society in which we dwell, whether it be the real world or the one manufactured on that luminous rectangle that hangs before us in the darkened movie theatre – whether it be Romero’s Land of the Dead, Anderson’s Logan’s Run or Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel – the promise our own ivory tower, our place among the Gods, is far too alluring a bait…as opposed to love, family…life’s simple wonders.

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As parallel duels of words and weapons rage, you will be equally gripped the story unfolding as you will by Perez’s dynamic camera and fluid editing. These combine, serving as an absorbing delivery system for a tale of the price those who choose to stand alone against the rising tide of the media-saturated, cynical world that consumes us, ultimately pay. Paré’s steely gladiator projects authority through his silence; a strong accompanist to Elles’ articulate argument relating to how easy it has been, and how easy it still is, for the mighty to suppress any and all beneath them.

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It is a thought-provoking work of intensity and depth that we have before us with The Insurrection. In the tradition of action-thrillers like Peter Hyams’ Narrow Margin and Harold Becker’s Mercy Rising, Perez and his team bring us a splendid declaration of the courage it takes to fight for freedoms we, all too frequently, take for granted.

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Hopper Performances

One of Hollywood’s most infamous screen outlaws, Dennis Hopper’s career stretched all the way from black and white 50’s westerns to voiceovers in PlayStation platform games. His epic and resounding career saw him take on countless roles including cowboys, psychos, politicians, detectives, terrorists and all manner of extreme portrayals. He had an intense way about him, a clear and distilled form of verbal expression and half mad gleam in his eye that made any scene he appeared in fiery and memorable. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Victor Drazen in Fox’s 24

One of the more heinous and tough to kill villains that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer ever went up against, Drazen is a genocidal warlord from a fictional country who turns up near the end of Day 1 to make life hell for everyone. Cold, dead eyes and hellbent on escaping captivity so he can resume ethnic cleansing and blow shit up, Hopper gives him a formidable edge and makes a terrific final boss baddie for the season that kicked everything off.

9. Paul Kaufman in George A. Romero’s Land Of The Dead

Even in a post apocalyptic zombie world there are still greedy billionaire developers, Kaufman being the chief one in a ruined, decaying Detroit. He presides over the coveted skyscraper community Fiddler’s Green with an iron fist of elitism and Donald Trump megalomania, isn’t above wantonly discriminating against the poor or murdering shareholders in the business to get ahead. His response when the zombies finally bust down his doors and invade this sickened utopia? “You have no right!!!” It’s a darkly hilarious, deadpan, tongue in cheek arch villain role that he milks for all its worth and steals the show.

8. Billy in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider

A seminal 60’s counterculture biker picture, Dennis directs and stars as an outlaw of the road who along with his compadre (Peter Fonda) embarks on a strange, prophetic and ultimately violent journey across an America that seems to resent and coil towards the two of them at every turn. This film didn’t strike the profound chord in me it seems to have in most viewers and while I’m not it’s hugest fan, the impact that Hopper’s words, direction and rowdy performance has made on cinema and pop culture itself is remarkable.

7. Deacon in Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld

Another post apocalyptic villain in a very misunderstood and under appreciated film. Deacon is essentially the big daddy of an aquatic desolation after water covers most of the planet and forces the dregs of the human race to adapt to marine life. He’s got one eye, legions of henchmen at his beck and call and runs his operation from an enormous derelict freighter ship. Deacon is a larger than life and a definite scenery chewer but Hopper calibrates the work just right and doesn’t go too far into ham territory, which he has sneakily done so before (remember that weird ass Super Mario film where he played King Koopa? Lol).

6. Feck in Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge

A crazed, one legged drug dealer with a blow-up doll for a girlfriend, Feck is just one of many maladjusted small town rejects in this arresting, challenging drama. Forced to confront an act from his past when a local teen murders his girlfriend for the sheer hell of it, his true nature comes out and he arrives at the ultimate decision. It’s a performance that’s terminally weird and off the wall but there’s a strange gravity in amongst the madness, a juxtaposition that Hopper handles like the expert he was.

5. Lyle from Dallas in John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Texas hitman Lyle doesn’t even show up until midway through the film and at least two characters are mistaken for him before then. When he does show up though, this deadly desert neo-noir really kicks into gear and churns put some darkly funny scenarios. Lyle is killer good at what he does but at first he’s just baffled at how all the other players managed to muck things up so badly while he was on his way there, and there’s some delicious comedic bits to go with the fiery violence he brings into play.

4. The Father in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish

This angelic arthouse gang flick sets up a hypnotic tone for an ensemble cast to dreamily wander in. Hopper is a rowdy drunken dad to Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon, two wayward street kids on a collision course with inevitable trouble. The father/son banter between these three has a beautifully improvised, organic feel to it and you really get the sense that this trio rehearsed, spent time together and wanted to make their collective dynamic something truly special, which it is and can definitely be said for the film overall as well.

3. Clifford Worley in Tony Scott’s True Romance

A stubborn, tough as nails ex cop and father of the year, Clifford and Christopher Walken’s mobster Vincent get some of the best passages of dialogue from Quentin Tarantino’s script in their brief but blistering standoff. It’s a galvanizing, hilarious and now iconic scene in cinema with Hopper in full on Hopped up mode.

2. Howard Payne in Jan De Bont’s Speed

LA’s finest ex cop turned mad bomber, Howard is disappointed by the department’s meagre pension fund. His solution? Arm a city bus with enough C-4 to level an entire block and detonate it if the vehicle slows below 50 MPH. It’s up to super cops Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels to nab him, but both his plan and Dennis’s performance are something to be reckoned with. “Pop quiz, hotshot!” He taunts Reeves with that maniacal glee only this actor could bring out.

1. Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet

What can I say about Frank. He huffs oxygen to get high, prefers Pabst Blue Ribbon over Heineken, loves kinky S&M sex and is an unstable, volatile psychopath who engages in every kind of reprehensible behaviour and illegal activity you can think of. It’s an unhinged piece of acting work that carries both Lynch’s and Hopper’s distinct brand of eccentric sensibilities and off kilter lunacy.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

So, the sequel to Stephen King’s Firestarter is an interesting one.. more of a miniseries than an actual film and runs well up almost to three hours, is full of horrendous pacing issues and numbing filler and yet… I still kinda dig it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the languid runtime that fills up an entire rainy afternoon or who knows, but I own this on its own DVD and in the two pack with the first one and I pop it in at least once a year.

What’s it all about? Well the clairvoyant Charlie who was first played by Drew Barrymore is now grown up and embodied by Marguerite Moreau, who has some great charisma and pulls it off quite well. When she was a kid her and her dad were on the run from all kinds of nasty characters, most of whom fell victim to her incredible but severely destructive elemental gifts. One who did not however is John Rainbird, the vaguely occult weirdo played by George C. Scott in the first and now given the diabolical essence of Malcolm McDowell this time round. He wanted her powers for himself and if that didn’t work he was prepared to kill her, an agenda that kind of went up in flames (weyy). Now he’s back with gnarly burn scars and has spent the decade tracking down other kids with similar powers as Charlie and training them to be his evil little work force, eventually hoping to track her down and… who knows, the guy is beyond certifiable. Charlie has kept off the grid and struggled with these demons from her past as well as an understandable confusion in her own self identity. She finds companionship in a young journalist (Danny Nucci) who tries to help her and another psychic from their collective past played by Dennis Hopper in a warm, compassionate extended cameo.

So, what works? Well, McDowell as Rainbird is the film’s strongest point. Stephen King wrote this guy as a Native American and Hollywood just had to do their thing in casting a white dude so there’s this weird stoicism that didn’t come across well in George’s work. Malcolm reinvents the dude and fares far better as a manipulative, Machiavellian sorcerer hell bent on chaos and he eats up the role tremendously. We see flashbacks to young Charlie again and this time instead of Barrymore it’s Skye McCole Bartusiak, the excellent child actress who passed away sadly and too soon a few years back. Hopper is always terrific even in an easygoing paycheque role. I appreciated the genuine interest in the filmmakers part on building this world further and exploring new ideas. There’s a super cool, explosive showdown between Charlie and Rainbird that takes place in an all but deserted western style town. Moreau makes the most of the role and carries it pretty effectively. So what doesn’t work? The thing is two fucking hours and forty five minutes long, which is just a big no no. This could have easily been a sleek ninety minute flick and been all the more effective by pulling up the narrative slack and cutting all kinds of droning filler. It’s clearly lower budget, made for TV and we don’t get that beautiful Tangerine Dream score as we did before. It ain’t a great film but for what it is, it’s pretty fun.

-Nate Hill

Not your average Poe: An Audience with Jeffrey Combs by Kent Hill

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Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over Men at Work and why can’t they make a sequel. While I feasted on potato chips nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping, turns out it was Herbert West a-rapping, at my chamber door.

I just want to go on the record and say there are a handful acting dynamos out there that have enjoyed long and industrious careers. But then, there’s Jeffrey Combs. If you’ll forgive the crassness of a STEP BROTHERS fan (and Jeff, I mean this as a compliment mate), Mr Combs is the f#@king Catalina Wine Mixer of genre/character/genius actors.  You need only to watch Sir Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners – nothing further your Honor.

Now I love RE-ANIMATOR, I love the RE-ANIMATOR fans, heck I have card-carrying diehards as friends, but I must confess I’m more of a fan of Jeff’s Cellar Dwelling, Fortressy, Robot Joxy, Doctor Mordridy type offerings – and don’t get me started on Honky Tonk Freeway – whole other show.

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But for right now let’s focus on NEVERMORE. The creators of the eleventh episode in the second season of Masters of Horror have brought their act to a literal theatre near you – but if you’re reading this outside of the US – sorry. Directing legend, Stuart Gordon (Space Truckers) and his (frequent) co-writer from “The Black Cat” Dennis Paoli (From Beyond) have created a vehicle which has brought to the stage a critically heralded experience that has delighted audiences for over a decade.

Hailed as “a landmark performance” by the L.A. Times, Combs has thrilled crowds across the country with his dynamic and revelatory portrayal of the legendary Poe.

This marks NEVERMORE’s Westchester County, NY, premiere, an event made extra special by the area’s bicentennial celebration of Washington Irving—a contemporary of Poe who was, from Poe’s perspective, also a rival. As Combs recalled in a recent River Journal article, “I don’t think they ever met. I take dark delight in pointing out that Poe doesn’t have very nice things to say about Irving. Specifically, about Irving’s penchant for always having a moral to his stories while Poe was often criticized for being without morals.”

SHIFF (The Sleepy Hollow Film Festival) celebrates the Hudson Valley’s wellspring of American history, of classic literature, and the continuing legacy of supernatural writings and cinematic works that it has inspired,” says festival co-founder Taylor White. “We’re excited to have NEVERMORE as part of the festival because it encapsulates so many of these ideas—not to mention it’s a fantastic show, at the perfect time of year, in the perfect venue. We can’t wait for the crowd to experience it!”

As Combs added in the River Journal, “Poe was truly one of America’s great writers. I’m honoured every time I step on stage and recite his beautiful words.”

SHIFF, a celebration of outstanding genre cinema in the cradle of the American supernatural, takes place in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, NY, October 10-13, 2019.

Finally, Jeff Combs was an absolute pleasure to chat with, his personality is as vivacious and extraordinary as the multitude of characters he has brought to our screens. If we had more time I would have really delved a great deal deeper – but, never being one to turn down opportunity when he comes a-rapping at my chamber door, I could not in good conscience turn down the chance to talk with one of the world’s most original performers. He’s still batting a thousand, I hope you’ll enjoy…

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Lunch with Immortan Joe by Kent Hill

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Dolly Parton once said, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” I like to muse that this was going through the mind of my distinguished guest and Ozploitation luminary, Hugh Keays-Byrne. And my reason behind this thinking – even though, for all intents and purposes, the characters he has brought to our screens for decades have been seen as pure, cold-hearted villains – turns out, we’ve all been wrong.

Toad (Stone), William Whopper (Secret Valley), Toecutter (Mad Max), and the divine one, all shiny and chrome, Immortan Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road) are not the boogeymen society would have you believe. No folks, they are progressives, forward-thinkers. They see the big picture, they are thinking about future generations, not the pesky problems of the current cloud of mayhem.

But let’s face it people – bad dudes are more fun. And our Hugh is one of cinema history’s ultimate bad (though secretly underappreciated visionary with people’s best interests in mind) dude. Born the same year, in fact two days before my Dad, in India, Hugh returned the homeland of his parents, England, where he not only completed his education but also found his way into The Royal Shakespeare Company, and it was in one of their productions that he found his way here, to the great southern land – and here he stayed.

Continuing as he had also been in Britain, prior to his Shakespearean exodus, he appeared on local television productions till along came the ultimate auteur-ozploitation picture in the form of Sandy Harbutt’s STONE. Keays-Byrne would transform into the iconic Toad. But ladies and boys, this filmography is a little bit like a classic rock radio station, because the hits, just keep on coming. He shared a cab ride and a request for narcotics with the Easy Rider, he’s tasted THE BLOOD OF HEROES (while saluting the Juggers), he’s shared the landscape with FARSCAPE and very nearly was the Martian Manhunter for Dr. George’s Justice League. Sure, sure. It might have been groovy. But he will be remembered in the halls of Valhalla as the electrifying good guy of Miller’s indelible imprint on the art of the motion picture when he became the Toecutter in a little movie headlined by a guy named Mel.

Recently, Mad Max: Fury Road has back in popular discussion. It is topping lists as one, if not the penultimate action film OF ALL TIME! That’s right, I said ALL TIME. Now – these may be mere lists on the internet – no shortage of those right – but truth be told, Miller literally, all these years after THE ROAD WARRIOR  (or Mad Max 2, as we like to call it), has reignited the same fire that he started way back when. Fury Road is as much a cultural monolith as it is action-film opus.

It has been a long time between lunches here in my little corner of cinematic nirvana. Last time I had lunch it was with The Equalizer himself, (and another Aussie cinema legend) Richard Norton. So, it is with great pride that I get to enjoy another lunch break with you dear PTS listeners – lunch with the merciful and compassionate Immortan Joe…

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OH WHAT A DAY, WHAT A LOVELY DAY!!!

 

 

 

Jan De Bont’s Speed

“Pop quiz, hotshot!!” Most action films are comprised of beats, wherein there are exciting sequences and then lulls in between to catch our breath and collect ourselves, but the beauty of Jan De Bont’s Speed is that as soon as the central premise is delivered to the narrative, pretty much every beat is action, the concept airtight in terms of any breathing room creeping in, and that’s one reason why I think it’s endured as a such a classic in the genre.

Dennis Hopper plays yet another wild eyed lunatic here, and it’s scary to think that his mad bomber Howard Payne was once a decorated LAPD officer. He’s now a very pissed off ex police officer who has gone psychotic and started blowing shit up all over the city, attracting the attention of daredevil super cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Howard gets elaborate when he decides to rig a city bus with a device that will blow it the fuck to bits of the driver slows down past fifty miles per hour, and from then on in the film barely stops to grab a coffee, take a piss or collect its thoughts. Howard masterminds the whole deal from a secret surveillance lab, Jack races to board the bus and defuse the bomb and intrepid civilian Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes over the wheel after the driver has a heart attack. Reeves and Hopper play off each other like flint and steel, it’s a hero villain smackdown for the ages between a rock steady officer of the law and a probably once great detective who has lost his mind but none of his wily nerve. Keanu and Sandra also have great romantic chemistry too but it’s underplayed and sort of seems natural, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Throw in Joe Morton, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Alan Ruck, Hawthorne James, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright and scene stealer Jeff Daniels as Keanu’s charismatic senior partner and you’ve got one hell of an ensemble.

This was one of the first R rated action cookouts I was allowed to see (hell, I think I even saw it before Die Hard) and it still blows my mind as much today as it did back then. The stunts and set pieces are all unbelievable and so kinetically explosive its a wonder that talented cinematographer Andrej Bartkowiak could keep his lenses following them. Everything with the bus on freeways and overpasses is extraordinary (that heart-stopping bridge gap!) but don’t even get me started on the balls out underground subway crash that blows the lid off any sound system it touches. A classic.

-Nate Hill

River’s Edge

The events depicted in River’s Edge are strange, disturbing, morbid, compelling, darkly humorous and may at first seem farcical or something removed from reality. However, the film is set in any one of the thousands of small, poorer towns this continent has to offer, and the youth portrayed here are probably not that far from truths existing out there, especially when you consider the unsettling fact that this is based on a true story, and not even that loosely either. One day a maladjusted high school teen named Samson (Daniel Roebuck) strangles his girlfriend for no particular reason than she was ‘talking shit.’ He leaves her body on the banks of the river and proceeds to brag to classmates back in town of the deed, seemingly in no hurry to keep it a secret. When he brings his friends back to show them the body, reactions range from stoned amusement to vague unrest, but none of the appropriate horror or shock. Deranged speed freak Layne (Crispin Glover) simply pokes the corpse with a stick and decides that all of them should inexplicably keep it a secret and protect Samson. Only Keanu Reeves’s Matt seems to show a flicker of conscience, providing dissent in the ranks while dealing with a psychotic younger brother (Near Dark’s Joshua Miller). To make matters more complicated and a lot weirder, local oddball drug dealer Feck (Dennis Hopper, right off of Blue Velvet and still half crazy) gets involved too, a piece of work who carries around a sex doll he calls Ellie and apparently once killed a girl himself. Ione Skye and Roxana Zal are great as others in their group who make a half hearted attempt to be the voice of reason but can’t quite bring themselves to defy Layne’s logic. “He had his reasons,” Glover snarls in a performance so over the top and cartoonish that it almost defies description. He’s a terminally weird dude who has a habit of elongating his vowels and twitching like a marmot in heat until he almost becomes something inhuman and reaches a plane of acting all he is own. Roebuck’s Samson is a fat, unpleasant and scary individual whose aloof nature spirals into a very dark place that mirrors events for their whole group, his arc is not a pretty thing to see. Hopper goes certifiably nuts here, a Nam vet and ex biker who has clearly lost his mind but the actor lets the perfect amount of emotional truth into his performance right where it counts, it’s another great work in his canon. This is a difficult and distressing film, but it finds the pitch black humour in its premise too. All of the teens we see here are hooked on booze and drugs right out of the gate, including the twelve year old kid. “Where do my children go at night?” laments Reeves’s mother. The answer might come from looking in the mirror, or that’s too harsh a prognosis, then simply around them at the quality of life in such a forgotten place. Samson may indeed be a budding psychopath, but at the time his reasons for killing his girl seemed as if there was no better, or rather more interesting thing to do, and in fact after he did it his first order of business was to stroll into the local convenience for a beer as if he just got off work. Idle hands are indeed the devil’s work, spurred on by circumstance and setting. These kids might not have turned out so bad in another life, but the one they were dealt has made quick work of them, and it’s most discomforting and somehow mesmerizing to see it play out. Great film.

-Nate Hill