Tag Archives: Dennis Hopper

My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Betuel)

It’s hard to say what’s worse in My Science Project, Beutel’s lame characters or his direction of the actors playing those roles. And I’m not counting Dennis Hopper, who plays an ex-hippie in the picture. While Hopper certainly has a poorly written character and Beutel’s direction of him is bad… it was Hopper’s decision to play a caricature of himself. I’ll give Beutel a pass for that one.

But Fisher Stevens (as a television trivia obsessed Brooklyn “greaseball”), Raphael Sbarge (an overweight–the padding is visible–nerd) and Richard Masur (a cowboy detective)? Beutel doesn’t just have dumb ideas, he’s also incapable of executing them.

Science Project also suffers from a lack of plot. High school senior John Stockwell discovers an alien gadget and complications ensue, including a time warp with future mutants, a surprisingly competent dinosaur and a damsel in distress. But there’s no drama to the plot. Beutel just throws in things he’d seen in other movies and relies on Fisher’s bad jokes to make the film palatable.

The damsel, played by Danielle von Zerneck, and Stockwell actually have a fairly decent romance. Though one wonders if Beutel ever actually attended high school, given the absurdities of the one in Science Project.

Von Zerneck’s always good, even when the script’s bad, and Stockwell’s best in his scenes with her. The final third lacks their chemistry and the film suffers.

Beutel’s composition is competently unoriginal. Peter Bernstein’s music helps.

But Beutel’s Science Project still fails (sorry, couldn’t resist).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jonathan R. Betuel; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Jonathan T. Taplin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring John Stockwell (Michael Harlan), Danielle von Zerneck (Ellie Sawyer), Fisher Stevens (Vince Latello), Raphael Sbarge (Sherman), Richard Masur (Detective Isadore Nulty), Barry Corbin (Lew Harlan), Ann Wedgeworth (Dolores) and Dennis Hopper (Bob Roberts).


RELATED

Advertisements

Waterworld (1995, Kevin Reynolds), the extended edition

I haven’t seen Waterworld since the theater–probably opening day. I remember it being an unimpressive sci-fi adventure without a lot of distinct characteristics, but certainly not a disaster. Watching it again after fourteen years, that description holds (for the most part). The film–even in the three hour extended version–moves quickly. There’s always something going on, some bit of tension to pass the time. But I certainly didn’t remember Kevin Costner’s character was such an unrepentant bastard. He might be the worst protagonist in a major Hollywood summer tent pole. It’s stunning how little the film–until the third act–cares about making him a likable character. The way the film works, how to plot unfolds–and how long they manage to keep pertinent information (information the viewer knows) from the protagonist is something.

Costner has some good acting moments, but the script doesn’t provide many of them. He’s fine throughout, but it’s frequently a physical, silent performance. He has a good conversation with Jeanne Tripplehorn at one point and then, at the end, he has a fine standoff with Dennis Hopper. That final standoff comes after the viewer is told all about Costner being a dangerous person. The film only shows the aftereffects, which makes the sequence awkward, but when Costner faces off with Hopper–those previous, iffy sequences get an automatic pass.

Hopper’s okay as the villain. He’s got some good moments and some bad ones. He’s really funny with Tina Majorino. Waterworld‘s interesting today because of its rather neon anti-American sentiments. The villain wants nothing more than to turn the mythical Dryland into a golf course development. Not to mention the ice caps melting (from an unmentioned global warming)–it’s kind of strange, but also an indicator of when the film was made. I don’t think any big Hollywood pictures today are going to allow any “anti” American sentiments in.

Waterworld‘s most successful as a spectacle. It cost a bunch of money and it looks great. There’s some definite 1995 CG, but it’s certainly excusable, given the amazing practical effects. Kevin Reynolds knows how to shoot action scenes–complex ones with intricate geographies and lots of players–and Waterworld‘s exciting when it’s trying to be exciting. James Newton Howard’s fine score only amplifies the film’s (relative) success. It’s a big action-adventure movie with zero sequel prospects included–a dead sub-genre.

Even though it doesn’t affect Waterworld‘s quality overall, the third act features some truly idiotic developments. It humanizes Costner all of a sudden, with one particular scene being the turning point. Except that scene doesn’t have anything to do with humanizing him. Either there’s a scene missing or Waterworld‘s makers thought the audience wasn’t going to be paying enough attention. It’s an annoying misstep, the first of many in the conclusion. After spending at least two hours inflating the viewer’s suspension of disbelief–everyone speaks English (and some can read it), there are still discernible ethnicities, there’s oil around and the ability to refine it–Waterworld ends on fast forward. There’s a rapid-fire romance between Costner and Tripplehorn, which doesn’t make any sense since she kind of seduces him and then, in the next scene, has given up hope. There’s the convenient return of the people from the first hour–I mean, R.D. Call’s good and I was glad to see him back, but come on–and then there’s the conclusion. It’s not like they’ve got Hercules’s twelve labors to get to Dryland. It’s kind of sitting around for anyone to find and it’s unbelievable only two other people did. Waterworld plays fast and loose with its time frame, which is fine until the lackluster ending, when it should come through and doesn’t.

Some of Waterworld‘s failures have to do with Costner. When he made this film, he wasn’t a big star–he was on the way down, as I recall–but he made epic films. Waterworld is a finely paced summer diversion masquerading as an epic. It needed a solid rewrite, another half hour and, surprisingly, a bigger budget (for more characters and sets).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; written by Peter Rader and David Twohy; directors of photography, Dean Semler and Scott Fuller; edited by Peter Boyle; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, John Davis and Kevin Costner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (The Mariner), Dennis Hopper (The Deacon), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Helen), Tina Majorino (Enola), Michael Jeter (Old Gregor), Gerard Murphy (The Nord), R.D. Call (Enforcer at the Atoll), Jack Black (Smoker Plane Pilot), John Toles-Bey (Ed, Smoker Plane Gunner), Robert Joy (Ledger Guy), John Fleck (Smoker Doctor), Kim Coates (Crazed Drifter), Sab Shimono (Elder of the Atoll), Leonardo Cimino (Elder of the Atoll), Jack Kehler (Banker), Rick Aviles (Gatesman at the Atoll), Sean Whalen (Bone), Lee Arenberg (Djeng), Robert LaSardo (Smitty), William Preston (Depth Gauge) and Chris Dourid (Atoller).


RELATED

The Indian Runner (1991, Sean Penn)

Halfway through The Indian Runner–I’m guessing at the location, but halfway sounds about right–there’s a stunning montage. It might be the best way to talk about the film, or at least to start talking about the film, because The Indian Runner resists any standard–or glib–entry angles. It’s a five character montage, taking place in the late evening and then the late night. David Morse lies in bed, smoking cigarette after cigarette–as close to the filter as he can accomplish–wife Valeria Golino asleep beside him, watching the Democratic Convention riots on the news. Four states away, his brother, played by Viggo Mortensen, steals a car from a man going to a birthday party (his birthday party, in fact). Mortensen’s girlfriend, Patricia Arquette, spends an evening watching Gilligan’s Island with her parents, hoping Mortensen will call. Across town from Morse, he and Mortensen’s father–Charles Bronson–watches home movies of the two as children. Penn includes the birthday party in this montage of his main characters and there’s where The Indian Runner is something. It’s frequently indescribable. This montage, where Penn is able to plummet into the depths of his characters, doesn’t have any dialogue. It takes the length of the song playing on the soundtrack. It’s like nothing else.

What Penn brings to The Indian Runner–as an auteurist–is a thorough understanding of how to apply (and I hate to use the term) pre-Miramax independent filmmaking techniques to a mainstream American story. The montage is an easy example. Not so simple is, for instance, Arquette’s constant shrieking–or the graphic child birth sequence–or Morse (a deputy sheriff) harangued by a lonely woman. Or Golino smoking pot and Morse giving her time to put it out before he sees her. Or Bronson telling Morse he’s glad he married Golino, even though she’s a Mexican. The Indian Runner is based on a Bruce Springsteen song and Penn captures that complicated pride Springsteen feels about people and being American. It’s like nothing else.

Penn has some amazing directorial moments–the end is a visual delight, though it’s hard to use the word delight while discussing The Indian Runner, since–even though it’s a positive affirmation of the human condition–it’s a constant downer. But the scenes where he lets the people talk… those are something else. The Indian Runner isn’t dialogue heavy. It’s conversation heavy–but that description isn’t right either. People talk and people listen. Charles Bronson spent the last half of his career in schlock, but fifteen seconds of his performance in The Indian Runner leaves a fine epitaph, revealing an immensely capable actor if only he had the opportunity. Penn’s script is extraordinary, but his direction of it–the way he can introduce a character, the time he gives the actors–makes it. The script is so fine it allows David Morse to emote while wearing sunglasses.

The character development is another high point. Mortensen’s the screw-up son (even before Vietnam, which makes The Indian Runner somewhat unique), but it slowly becomes clear he’s the one more like Bronson. Mortensen’s regret at failing to make Bronson proud is palpable and devastating. It comes at a moment long before Penn even plunges deeper into the characters’ depths–the climatic scene near the end gives the impression of reaching bottom, but the denouement reveals otherwise. It’s almost limitless.

I suppose, since I’ve talked about Bronson and Mortensen (a little), I could spend some time talking about the other actors. Glibly, because it’s one of the few subjects related to the film where I can get glib. Penn gets a great performance out of Valeria Golino, something I previously would have said was impossible. Arquette’s excellent. Morse–in this quiet (especially when compared to Mortensen) role–is amazing. So many of Morse’s scenes are spent without verbosity, just with him looking at something, watching something… Penn’s ability to get a performance out of his actors is incredible, especially for a first time director.

The Indian Runner doesn’t have a single misstep. Everything Penn does is perfect. It’s one of the most impressive debuts.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Don Phillips; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring David Morse (Joe Roberts), Viggo Mortensen (Frank Roberts), Valeria Golino (Maria), Patricia Arquette (Dorothy), Charles Bronson (Mr. Roberts), Sandy Dennis (Mrs. Roberts), Dennis Hopper (Caesar), Jordan Rhodes (Randall), Enzo Rossi (Raffael), Harry Crews (Mr. Baker) and Eileen Ryan (Mrs. Baker).


RELATED

Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)

For a film with pioneering use of widescreen composition–the shot with the cars moving past Natalie Wood–and one of the better film performances (James Dean), Rebel Without a Cause is a curious failure. It’s loaded with content–there’s the stuff with Dean and his parents, the stuff with Wood and her father, the gang, Sal Mineo, the police, the stuff with Dean and Wood, Dean and Mineo, Mineo and his home life. It goes on and on until it finally gets to the ludicrous conclusion. The film’s entirely nuance-free. It’s probably the finest example of “Technicolor filmmaking.” Even if it was shot in Warner Color.

There are countless problems with the film’s details–like Corey Allen’s affable gang leader, Wood going from amoral sociopath (cheering on the bullies, something she never shows any regret for–her actions towards Dean, yes, but not the ones she supported). Then there’s the film’s almost unimaginable lack of subtext. There’s a frequent and rather misogynistic conflict between Dean’s parents, Jim Backus and Ann Doran. Dean’s constantly suggesting Backus needs to assert himself more and it leads to Backus sitting on the couch in a flowered apron trying to defend him. It’s like the film’s parodying itself (but it is not).

For every second he’s on screen–which is thankfully most of them–James Dean commands the film in a perfect performance. He’s in the first shot and from there on in, I don’t think there’s a single scene where Dean doesn’t do something amazing with his performance. The script occasionally gives him great material–the early scene with Edward Platt, some of the scenes with parents Backus and Doran (Backus’s browbeaten husband gets to be a bit much very quickly), and most of the scenes with him and Wood. Wood’s got a story arc all her own–the film drops it after a while, which is a bad move; the fast forward romance between her and Dean is well-acted by both, but it comes off false. The film opens with Dean, Wood and Mineo at the police station, all three with some definite problems–as the story progresses, it forgets about Dean and Wood’s problems and concentrates solely on Mineo’s, given their Cinemascope potential. The conclusion for Dean and Wood comes off goofy, but Rebel‘s been goofy for almost an hour and a half so it’s not exactly a surprise, but it is a disappointment….

The film has two conceptual failings–first, it’s a teen gang movie where we’re supposed to believe Allen’s a scary tough guy (not to mention gang fights happen at scenic spots, cheered on by a dozen middle class kids); second, it’s a continual present action. The film takes place over a day and a half. There’s the whirlwind friendship between Dean and Mineo, the whirlwind romance between Dean and Wood–both of those can get a pass (it’s a movie, after all), but the film forgets these people have been up for thirty hours. Stern’s script, so strong in the first act, kills off a kid in front of twenty other kids, none of whom freak out–no crying, not even from the kid’s girlfriend. It’s an abject oversight–Rebel Without a Cause would have been a much better film if it’d taken responsibility for that plot development and dealt with it, instead of ignoring it for the Mineo emphasis.

The story problems do bring down the film, but they can’t really vandalize Dean’s performance (or Wood’s to some degree). Like I said before, Dean’s enthralling. But Ray doesn’t keep him on screen enough, talking enough, to camouflage the plot deficiencies (the frequent, poor scenes with the teen gang on the loose jar). But Ray does a great job directing Rebel Without a Cause and that achievement–significant as it may be–doesn’t overcome the writing. Maybe because the film came from Ray’s story, so he’s embracing all the shortcomings.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Ray; screenplay by Stewart Stern, based on an adaptation by Irving Shulman of a story by Ray; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by William H. Ziegler; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Malcolm C. Bert; produced by David Weisbart; released by Warner Bros.

Starring James Dean (Jim Stark), Natalie Wood (Judy), Sal Mineo (Plato), Jim Backus (Frank Stark), Ann Doran (Mrs. Carol Stark), Corey Allen (Buzz Gunderson), William Hopper (Judy’s Father), Rochelle Hudson (Judy’s Mother), Dennis Hopper (Goon), Edward Platt (Ray Fremick), Steffi Sidney (Mil), Marietta Canty (Crawford family maid) and Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Stark, Jim’s grandmother).


RELATED