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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

Guy Maddin’s Keyhole

What comes to mind when you think about films set in a haunted house? I promise you that nothing in your set expectations or perceived notions of the genre can prepare you for Guy Maddin’s Keyhole. “I’m only a ghost, but a ghost isn’t nothing” observes ethereal 1930’s gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric). He isn’t kidding. From the moment he and his gang evade the coppers in a sketchy, raggedly edited shootout and find themselves ensconced in his eerie childhood home, it becomes clear that that this ain’t your average family reunion, character study, ghost story, noir homage or even experimental film.

Ulysses and his gang find themselves trapped in an ever changing tangle of hallways, rooms, alcoves and hazily lit interior enclaves, the probing beams of police searchlights casting an otherworldly glow on their ordeal. Upstairs the spirits of his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), sons and spooky grandfather (Louis Negan) languish in eerie solitude and await his arrival. His goons mess about, try their hand at interior decorating and construct a weird homemade electric chair trap thing. A Doctor (Udo Kier, remarkably low key) arrives from outside the house to treat a mysterious drowned girl (Brook Palsson) who has come back to life and unsettlingly wanders about in a daze. This is of course the plot described literally, but such an endeavour is redundant here, as apparently is for Maddin territory in general from what I hear.

This is the first Maddin film I’ve seen, I’m embarrassed to say, but I am now completely in love with his artistic sensibilities and can’t wait to check out some more. Although surrealist art films are definitely my thing not all of them speak to me or reach out in a way I can process and absorb, but this one drew me right in the way David Lynch’s work does, an obvious comparison but a reasonable one to make. I always try and search out films that successfully replicate the atmosphere of being inside a dream, or what that subjectively means for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of Dreams and artists struggle to bring them to life, no matter the medium. It’s not easy to do and simply can’t be approached from a traditional narrative or stylistic standpoint, but for Maddin it disarmingly seems like second nature, like he’s right at home in the surreal to a point where his characters don’t even bat an eyelash when shit gets weird, it’s just par for the course. Patric is chilling, hilarious, deadpan, gruff and bewildered as Ulysses, whose entire life seems to be contained in this manor, in no easily discernible order either mind you. Characters flit in and out of scenes with little to no introduction, phantoms loiter in hallways wailing to the ether, people’s identities shift mid scene and the dialogue seems to be untethered somewhere between logical scene construction and poetic meanderings. The sound design is full of hisses, hums, drones, cracks, whooshes and all manner of beautifully layered hullabaloo. Visually the film at first seems to bare its cards: rattling Tommy guns, angular French windows, antique interior design, buttoned down 30’s attire, the trappings of a classically inclined film noir. But once one settles into this world it feels anything but earthbound, there’s constant shift in perceptions, the walls seem to be stationary yet in motion, images are quickly intercut into scenes and the overall feeling is off kilter, eerie, bizarre and yes… exactly what it feels like to be deep within a dark, disorienting dream. It’s Ulysses’s dream though, told by Maddin in a fashion that has no interests in holding your hand, tucking you in, reading a bedtime story or explaining just what’s going on. It simply tosses you into this realm and invites you to observe, feel and intuit without logical deduction, and viewers will either be responsive or find it cold. I think it’s something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Peter Weir’s Fearless

A plane falls out of the sky and crashes in a cornfield. Some of the passengers survive. Others do not. No one involved is ever the same after. Such is the premise of Peter Weir’s Fearless, a complicated, challenging, unconventional and altogether brilliant piece that goes a lot deeper than most Hollywood produced films are allowed to. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, a man who emerges serenely from the wreck having saved multiple lives and undergone a personal change that can’t be made clear in a scene or two, but rather takes the film it’s whole runtime to explore. While the entire plane is in full panic, Max reaches a sort of tranquility in the face of death, and instead of freaking out he very lucidly gets up and joins a young boy who’s alone on the flight and comforts him. When they land and he survives, his relationship to those around him is affected including his wife (Isabella Rossellini), young son, a trauma counsellor (John Turturro hired by the airline) and others. Most fascinating is the time spent with Carla (Rosie Perez) a fellow crash survivor whose newborn baby wasn’t so lucky, leaving her in a pit of grief. They share something together that no one, audience included, can fully understand because they weren’t there. The beauty of it is that Bridges and Perez can’t really know either, but the magic of both their performances is that they make you believe they’re in this extraordinary situation for real. Bridges never plays it with a messianic or mystical aura like some would, he’s always straight up and kindly which works wonders for this character. Perez is a revelation, soulful and heartbroken but never cloying or panhandling for our tears, she earns them fair and square. I’m not one too get too heated about Oscar snubs but it’s a crime she got beat out by Marisa Tomei that year for fluff like My Cousin Vinny. Peter Weir is a thoughtful director whose films are always high concept stories, but are also always character driven to provide that balance. He’s interested not in spectacle or sensationalism here but the difficult questions that others might gloss over or be too afraid to think about. There’s two scenes revolving around the crash, one of the aftermath and an extended one of the incident itself playing out that reach a level that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Not an easy film to classify or describe in a review, but the rare Hollywood picture that tackles concepts well above what we’re used to seeing. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart can be given the nutshell description of ‘Lynch does Bonnie & Clyde’, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this twisted, surreal, beautifully scarring piece of bizarro cinema cunningly disguised as a love story. It is a love story, first and foremost, but that’s also only a blueprint onto which all sorts of other dreams, visions and nightmares are painted. It’s very, *very* loosely on a book by Barry Gifford, but what Lynch whips up makes the source material seem grey and unrecognizable in comparison. Gifford’s book is the black and white prologue to The Wizard Of Oz and Lynch’s version is the dazzling yet unnerving technicolour dream world that follows, and indeed he uses imagery and gives shout outs to that film any chance he gets here. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune, lovers on the run from the Deep South and Lula’s tyrannical monster of a mother Marietta, played by Diane Ladd in an Oscar nominated turn that doesn’t just chew scenery but devours it with the force of an imploding neutron star that eats galaxies. Marietta is intent on keeping the two of them apart for reasons slowly and subtly unveiled, and she sends everyone and their mother after them including mopey private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and dangerous mobster Marcellos Santos (the late great J.E. Freeman). Sailor and Lula’s journey is a deranged yellow brick road through 50’s infused Americana, perverse apparitions abound and literally almost everyone they meet ranges from deeply disturbed to outright psychotic to marginally quirky. Santos sends a cabal of weirdo assassins headed up by ghoulish sadist Perdita Durango (Grace Zabriskie in a pants shittingly scary performance) and her cronies (David Patrick Kelly and Calvin Lockhart). In Texas they run into reptilian scumbag Bobby Peru, brought to life by Willem Dafoe in a skin crawling portrait of sexual menace and warped glee that would scare off Frank Booth. Lula tells tales of her delusional cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) putting cockroaches on his anus and of being raped at age thirteen by her father’s business friend (actually shown in a brief but upsetting cutaway). Why all this unpleasantness, you ask? Well… I don’t know, but Lynch seems to and he isn’t sharing the coordinates of his moral compass with anyone, he’s simply storytelling and holding nothing back of the weird or wild variety. Amongst all the violence and monstrosity there’s an undercurrent of tenderness and love that pulses via Sailor and Lula’s relationship, cultivated in an ebb and flow tide of simple, candid pillow talk and unbridled passionate sex that mirrors their frequent and feverish visits to sweaty dance clubs. This is their story, and every ghost, goblin and witch they meet along the way is simply a dark passenger or otherworldly day player in their tale, plus they often make for hilariously off colour vignettes, like Jack Nance’s deranged 00 Spool or Freddie Jones’s gnomish pigeon expert. My favourite sequence is a sobering, haunted diversion off the side of a freeway where they discover a distraught girl (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) rambling through a bout of brain trauma from a car accident. Angelo Badalamenti’s score sings through this to the point of chills, as it does throughout the film. Also traversing down this dark yellow brick road are William Morgan Sheppard, Frances Bay, musician John Lurie, Nicholas Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frank Collison, Ed Wright, Isabella Rossellini and Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee herself as Glenda the Good Witch. As proclaimed by Lula at one point, “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top..” It is indeed, and we’re lucky to have a filmmaker like Lynch to do his part in keeping it that way by making unique, bizarre films like this to remind us just what is possible in cinema with a little invention, a whole lot of colour, splashes of horror and a love of storytelling. Maybe not Lynch’s most prolific or instantly recognizable work, but a full on classic for me and high up on his filmography list.

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy: A Review By Nate Hill

  
Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy is one of the most unsettling film experiences you will ever sit through, and the damn thing is only 90 minutes. It’s disconcerting, ambiguous and seems to exist simply to spin the viewer’s anxiety reflex into a storm and make our stomach turn loops. It’s a trim entry into the psychological upset sub genre, and puts a frazzled looking Jake Gyllenhaal through a wringer as he pursues a mysterious doppelgänger through the streets of Toronto, a bustling city that feels oddly desolate as glanced upon by Villeneuve’s camera, adding to the themes of paranoia and mental unrest. Gyllenhaal plays a twitchy college professor who is stuck in a closed loop routine: he gives lectures at the local university, drives home to his emotionally inaccessible girlfriend (Melanie Laurant), rinse and repeat. A chink appears in the chain when he becomes aware of another man in the city who appears to be his identical twin. The other man is a small time actor with a pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) and a decidedly more nasty approach to the situation than the professor. The two of the, circle each other in a disturbing game of not so much cat and mouse, but Jake and Jake, both of them having not a clue as to what is going on, the edges of madness inching closer to both of their perception. Are they twins? Are there even two? Is it just one of them, losing their mind? There’s very freaky dream sequences with the constant imagery of spiders, both large and small, and what do they mean? Who’s to tell? Denis has stated in interviews that there is both rhyme and reason to his creation here, but whether he will ever divulge them remains to be seen. Perhaps it’s better left illusory, a formula for entrancing audiences that has already proved to work well for David Lynch. The moment that the man behind the curtain reveals the conscious meaning of his very subconscious efforts, the spell is no doubt broken. In any case, it’s a very hard film to process or focus on, our nerves jittering constantly and sabotaging any modicum of rational though that we might employ in deciphering the piece. This may be called style and atmosphere over substance by some, but even in not comprehending what’s going on, we feel deeply that there is some sort of cryptic cohesion if we are able to feel between the lines, maybe coming up empty handed ultimately, but knowing within us that we’ve attained wealth to our soul simply by bearing witness. I can’t say it’s a film that I love, or that I would watch again, but it’s certainly one that won’t leave my memories any time soon, and that is an achievement no matter how you look at it. It’s also got one of the scariest and most unexpected endings to any film I’ve ever seen, taking you so off guard that you feel like you’re going to have a coronary. It’s filmed in sickening piss yellow saturation which adds to the overall disconcerting nature, and quite the striking colour choice as well. I can see why this one was released with little fanfare or marketing, despite the presence of heavyweights Villeneuve and Gylenhaal. It’s difficult stuff, a movie that frustratingly soars above your head, onward towards its intensely personal and psychological destination. It’s up to us to jump, grasp and attempt to reach as high as the piece in order to get what we will out of it. Good luck.