Sunday, December 26, 2010

No. 88: Easy Rider

Easy Rider (1969)

Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson

Directed by: Dennis Hopper (and produced by Peter Fonda)

Awards: Nominated for 2 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for Nicholson

I heard conflicting opinions about Easy Rider before I ever watched the movie - everything from “it’s unwatchable” to “it’s my favorite movie of all time.” My poor brain was confused, so I decided to do some background reading. I read five different reviews (including the original 1969 New York Times review) and it didn’t help - at all. I definitely ended up more confused than before I began.

* “Easily one of the most overrated films of all time, Easy Rider, a definite product of its time, is a pretentious, indulgent and self-satisfied bore.”

* “The movie is a cultural landmark.”

* “It's pretty but lower case cinema.”

* “Easy Rider is a motorcycle drama with decidedly superior airs about it.”

I gave up on trying to determine its value, and decided to just sit and watch the movie. For future reference, probably the best plan of action.

Anyway, Easy Rider is a motorcycle drama teetering on the brink of camp – but when put in historical context, it’s somewhat redeemed (I’ll explain that later).

Two stylin’ 60’s-era bikers, Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), cash in on a drug deal and use their earnings to go on a bro-cycle road trip to New Orleans. Along the way, they meet a herd of hicks, visit a hippie commune, try every drug imaginable and, while in jail, pick up an alcoholic named George (Nicholson). The movie turns dark when George is killed by a group of hippie-hating Texans, and when Wyatt and Billy eventually get to New Orleans, what do they do? Go on an extended acid trip in a graveyard with two hookers. Classy! The two bikers head back home, and are shot and killed by two hillbillies who “think it’d be fun to scare the bejesus out of them.” It’s a depressing ending to...dare I say…not such a great movie?

We can start with the good. The best thing about Easy Rider is Jack Nicholson. In the role that made him famous, he’s fantastic at showing both the funny and the weary side of an alcoholic. Peter Fonda is the better of the two bikers; his acting seems less wooden, and more realistic. Maybe it helped that they used real drugs to film the drug scenes? About that historical context: when the film was released, it shocked America. Older people were feeling out of touch with the counterculture - hippies, drugs, protesting! - and young adults identified with the movie’s themes.

On the bad side: a lot to talk about. Dennis Hopper’s acting? I’m sorry, it’s simply horrendous. The blaring soundtrack didn’t work for me – but to be fair, I had a raging headache, and my slightly sensitive ears didn’t like “Born To Be Wild” screamed over and over again. I also didn’t love the sets and color schemes, but they were of the period, so there it is.

So, if you like:

* American-flag embellished motorcycles

* Jack Nicholson at his sly, early best

* Early hippie motorcycle bro-mance

* Steppenwolf, The Byrds and lots of 60’s music

..then you’ll love Easy Rider.

Next up, Frankenstein (1931) – starring the always-intriguing Boris Karloff. I’ve seen this one before, but I love it, so I’ll be more then happy to watch it again and review it. Stick around and read about it!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No. 89: Patton

Patton (1970)

Starring: George C. Scott and Karl Malden

Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner

Awards won: 7 Oscars, including one for Best Picture

First off, I'd like to say I'm truly sorry for not posting in what, 2 months? I mean, I'm a busy teenager, but it doesn't take too much effort to sit and write a post. From now on – I promise! - there will be a lot more posts coming your way.

When I sat down to watch Patton, I was a little apprehensive. I didn't know much about the movie; the only thing I knew was what my parents told me - that Patton swears like a sailor. That didn't bother me - I've seen Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas. Not too much shocks me now.

Quite frankly, I think Patton is the story of a madman: General George S. Patton. The movie begins with his famous Army "pep talk" in front of an enormous American flag: one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. The rest of the movie follows his military exploits through Europe and North Africa - the whole time, trying to balance his insatiable need for attention with being a good leader.

Patton has major highs and lows. Low? The Army suspends him for slapping a troubled soldier. High? The general marches his troops across the continent, demolishing a good chunk of the German army and contributing to victory in Europe. When the movie's over, the theme becomes clear: Patton was a successful general who got results - but his big mouth and egotism consistently damaged his career.

There were a lot of things I liked about Patton. George C. Scott is amazing, channeling Patton's manic energy and craziness to a tee. Karl Malden is equally good as General Omar Bradley – it’s a less showy part than Scott's, but just as impressive and entertaining. The location shooting (Spain, Morocco, Italy) and sweeping cinematography work together beautifully, the Francis Ford Coppola script is engaging, and the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith will stick in your head for ages. I'm warning you about the music. I found out the hard way.

There weren’t too many negatives, just a few small details. Scott can go too over-the-top and makes his character a little unwatchable. Malden is believable as Omar Bradley (“The G.I.’s General”) but his goody-two-shoes dialogue can make you cringe.

Let’s summarize. If you like:

* Military men with big egos

* Inspiring speeches - with liberal profanity thrown in for flavor!

* Karl Malden’s bespectacled self

* World War Two history (Oh hey, Dad. You don't like this, do you?)

* Soundtracks that permanently stick in your head

..then you'll like Patton. A lot.

Next up, Easy Rider (1969) - starring and directed by the recently deceased Dennis Hopper, and also featuring Peter Fonda. According to my mom, the movie is unwatchable. Should I be looking forward to this? Either way, stick around and read about it!