Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (TIFF)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck Blue Velvet!” – Frank Booth

I was a pretty big David Lynch fan when I was a teenager, as well as in my twenties. His work was unique, bizarre, borderline insane and so surreal, that everything Lynch touched became otherworldly. My appreciation for his work really started with Twin Peaks. I never understood the show as an adolescent but it lured me in. Truth is, I don’t particularly understand it now. But I guess that’s Lynch’s modus operandi.

The thing is, as I get older, I expect more from my films than just beautiful surrealism and crazy madness. Lynch’s films get harder to watch with age and I’m just less accepting of incredible style over real substance. To be blunt, despite fantastic performances by the actors he casts, a lot of his work just comes off as pretentious faux-academic bullshit. You can call it art, that used to be my label for it, but his movies and his television show are weird just to be weird.

Blue Velvet, while it has a decent narrative and isn’t as confusing and baffling as Lynch’s other work, still falls victim to style over substance.

Now I don’t hate the film, I do mostly like it, but a lot of that has to do with the cast and how good they performed in this. This is Dennis Hopper at his most insane, which says a lot if you are familiar with his early work. It also features a very young Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern at their sweetest. Bit parts by Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay and Brad Dourif are all enjoyable too. I thought that Isabella Rossellini’s performance was over the top but I guess a lot of professional critics liked it.

Lynch’s films always have great cinematography, especially in regards to lighting and the angles used to capture the scenes. Blue Velvet is technically sound. Although, I am not a fan of the score. It feels disorienting and out of place at times but then again, this is Lynch and that is probably the point because why not be weird just to be weird, right?

Blue Velevet is a mid 1980s neo-noir. It is a good example of the neo-noir style, even if it is pretty far outside the box. It’s not bad, it’s just decent. It’s far from exceptional and severely overrated, in my opinion. But I can’t discredit the visual allure and the talented cast, especially Hopper.

Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

“It’s December 6th, 1976. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. I know less and less about who I am, or who anybody else is.” – Tom Ripley

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: ‘The Crow’ Film Series (1994-2005)

I just re-watched The Crow and all of its sequels. I watch the original film about once a year or so but it has been a long time since I have seen the sequels. Instead of just reviewing one of them, I figured I’d give my two cents on each film.

The Crow (1994):

Release Date: May 13th, 1994
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: David J. Schow, John Shirley
Based on: The Crow by James O’Barr
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling, Rochelle Davis, David Patrick Kelly, Jon Polito, Tony Todd

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 102 Minutes

the_crow_1994Review:

The first film in the series is by far the best, that isn’t even debatable. The cast was pretty fantastic, as director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I, Robot) strung together a nice team comprised of Brandon Lee (Rapid Fire, Showdown In Little Tokyo), the late son of Bruce Lee, as well as Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Oz), Michael Wincott (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Basquiat), Tony Todd (Candyman, Platoon), Bai Ling (Anna and the King, Three… Extremes), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Twin Peaks) and newcomer Rochelle Davis, who has only appeared in one other film.

The tone of the film was perfect, the music was perfect, the casting of Brandon Lee was perfect. There aren’t a lot of negatives that one can find in this near masterpiece. For its time, it was one of the best, if not the best, comic book films of all-time. The only comic book films that one could possibly put in front of The Crow are the Richard Donner Superman films and the Tim Burton Batman films. In 1994, when this movie was released, comic book movies were very scarce.

This is a film that has a strong cult following and deservedly so.

Brandon Lee died on set due to a firearm accident and it had to be finished without him. There was a lot of debate as to whether or not the film should even be released but it was and has had a certain degree of mystique attached to it. The real-life tragedy added to the emotion and darkness of the film in a way that didn’t make light of Lee’s death or try to capitalize off of it. Everything, in my opinion, was done tastefully and in a way that honored the actor and gave people a look at his best work.

The chemistry between Lee and Davis, as well as Lee and Wincott was pretty strong. Brandon Lee gave this his all and it was a good display of his talent, which never got to grow and reach the heights it could have.

Plus, there is a performance by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult in the film.

The Crow: City of Angels (1996):

Release Date: August 30th, 1996
Directed by: Tim Pope
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: The Crow by James O’Barr
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Iggy Pop, Richard Brooks, Thomas Jane

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 84 Minutes

the_crow_2Review:

The first sequel in the series was pretty bad, which would become the trend. It starred Vincent Perez (Queen of the Damned) as the title character and I still can’t recall anything noteworthy that I have seen him in besides this. It also starred punk rock legend Iggy Pop (Dead Man, Tank Girl), Thomas Jane (The Punisher, Hung) and Mia Kirshner (The L Word, The Black Dahlia).

Iggy was fantastic and just completely Iggy, which made his character great. Kirshner was angelic and beautiful with a real genuine level of sweetness but she was also more or less a statue propped up in the background to add allure to a very ugly looking film. Tom Jane basically just played a weird pervert and he was unrecognizable in the role.

I would consider this film to be the second to worst in the series. And there really isn’t much one can say about it. It is empty, soulless and an awful rehash of the classic before it.

But again, it features Iggy Pop and I will watch him in anything.

And I love Mia Kirshner, who has never looked better than she does in this.

 

The Crow: Salvation (2000):

Release Date: January 23rd, 2000
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri
Written by: Chip Johannessen
Based on: The Crow by James O’Barr
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Eric Mabius, Kirsten Dunst, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Fred Ward, William Atherton, Walton Goggins

IMF, Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation, Jeff Most Productions, Pacifica Film Development, Dimension Films, 102 Minutes

the_crow_3Review:

The second sequel was better than the first sequel. After the original film, this is the best installment of the series. It starred Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty, Cruel Intentions), Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, Melancholia), William Atherton (Real Genius, Ghostbusters), Fred Ward (Tremors, The Right Stuff) and Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified).

Mabius was much more personable and likable than his predecessor, Vincent Perez. Dunst was good but nothing extraordinary. Atherton and Goggins were both presences in the film but didn’t leave me with anything all that memorable. Fred Ward, one of those lesser-known actors I’ve just always liked for some reason, did a pretty solid job of playing the scumbag evil bastard in this film.

From a storytelling standpoint, this offered so much more than City of Angels. It involved a conspiracy, a cover-up and evil dudes sending an innocent kid off to die for their sins. It wasn’t as straightforward and as simple as the previous films in this series. Granted, it wasn’t a storytelling masterpiece but it had depth and a bit of mystery.

The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005):

Release Date: June 3rd, 2005
Directed by: Lance Mungia
Written by: Lance Mungia, Jeff Most, Sean Hood
Based on: The Crow: Wicked Prayer by Norman Partridge
Music by: Jamie Christopherson
Cast: Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Tara Reid, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Dennis Hopper, Tito Ortiz, Danny Trejo

Dimension Films, 99 Minutes

the_crow_4Review:

The final film in the series was god awful, and that might be an understatement. It starred Edward Furlong (Terminator 2, American History X), Tara Reid (American Pie, The Big Lebowski), David Boreanaz (Angel, Bones), Tito Ortiz of UFC fame, Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn), Dennis Hopper (Speed, True Romance) and a very brief appearance by singer Macy Gray.

Furlong just looked ridiculous as the Crow. I think the hair had a lot to do with the sloppy shitty look. Also, Furlong by this point, had grown too old and looked like a washed up forty-something Robert Smith wearing his Cure makeup instead of an awesome twenty-something Robert Smith wearing his Cure makeup. Furlong’s acting was horrible but so was everyone else’s.

Boreanaz was deplorable, Tara Reid was annoying and not naked enough, Tito Ortiz was a dipshit and Danny Trejo was the worst I’ve ever seen him and I really love that guy. Dennis Hopper took the cake, however, as he stumbled through some of the worst written lines I have ever heard in a film. It sucks that such a great actor was working on shit like this so late in his career.

Technically speaking, the special effects were disastrous, the cinematography was nightmarish and the editing was shit. There isn’t anything nice I can say about this film.

Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (1986)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: L. M. Kit Carson
Music by: Tobe Hooper, Jerry Lambert
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson, Bill Moseley, Lou Perryman

Cannon Films, 101 Minutes

texas_chainsaw_massacre_2Review:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not as good of a film as its predecessor but I still prefer it to the original. Maybe that is a controversial stance, considering that most fans of the original loathed the sequel, but I don’t care.

I find this one to be the most entertaining of the series and I like that it is a gory dark comedy that parodies itself. Besides, the first film didn’t have the blood and guts one would anticipate with a film featuring its name. This one, more than makes up for its predecessor, if blood and guts are your thing.

I’m not a huge gore hound but the way it is used in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is fantastic. It is deliberately over the top, almost to mock the critics of the first film that didn’t get the violence they felt they were promised. This movie pretty much states, in the most bold way possible, “Here you go! Here’s your fucking gore!” The scene where Lefty knocks a hole in the wall, only to discover that the whole place is full of human viscera, is enough to make most people wince.

I think it was over a lot of people’s heads that this was satire. It certainly wasn’t marketed that way when it was released and it may have caught people completely off guard or just pissed them off. When I saw this as a kid, I was grossed out, but I loved the humorous approach. And while I didn’t understand that it was a parody, at the time, I appreciated that it upped the ante a thousand times over.

It also develops the psychotic cannibal family’s story more. You really didn’t know much about them in the first movie but now you have a better idea of what they are. You also see Leatherface, as a character, more clearly. The introduction of Bill Moseley’s Chop Top is a great addition to the family and this became one of his most iconic horror roles.

The opening sequence of this film, as nonsensical as it is, is still one of my favorite openings to any horror film. I never understood why the vehicles drove at the same speed, albeit slowly, or why the radio station couldn’t hang up the phone but it still works for me. Maybe it was the awesome Oingo Boingo track that accompanied the violent and bizarre scene.

The music in this film was really good. Well, the rock tunes were. The actual score is pretty horrid. It sounds like a ten year-old with a synthesizer trying to pound away with scary sound effects. It kind of fits the satirical nature of the film though and it blends in well, as the movie progresses.

As far as the sets go, I much preferred the family living in an old defunct theme park, as opposed to the gross farm house from all the other movies. The evil lair was surreal and the scenes of Caroline Williams running through its bizarre halls was infinitely cooler than all the other girls, in all the other films, running through the woods with Leatherface in tow.

The scenes in the radio station also provide a cooler atmosphere than the creepy house.

Dennis Hopper said that this was the worst film of his career but he’s an idiot if he thought that Super Mario Bros. was any better.

I like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I like it better than all the others in the franchise. Again, the first movie is better, artistically. However, this one is just a lot more fun and insane.