Cool Hand Luke

A prison chain gang in Florida gains its latest inmate in the form of Lucas “Luke” Jackson (Paul Newman), a war veteran sentenced to two years for cutting the heads off parking meters whilst inebriated. However Luke has a fairly serious issue with authority and a tendency to rebel against any order he is given purely on the grounds of it being an instruction, so prison life isn’t something he fits into well.
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Rebel Without A Cause

The most iconic of James Dean’s 3 major roles, after East of Eden and before Giant, sees him inspiring numerous Eagles songs as Jim Stark, the new kid in a small town, eager to butt against any system willing to oppose him. He takes a shine to Judy, the girl of gang leader Buzz, and finds troubled social outcast Jon, calling himself Plato, takes more than a shine to Jim. A young Dennis Hopper plays one of the gang members – who I was half expecting to start clicking and dancing to Officer Krupke at some points, but thankfully this was not the case.

The film’s notoriety as a touchstone for a generation of rebellious kids with little to rebel against has raised expectations to levels left wanting, and though Dean’s performance shows potential it cannot be judged against those that might have been. Two scenes stand out – the ‘chicky run’ and tense observatory-set finale, but the film doesn’t even come close to its reputation.
Choose life 6/10

Easy Rider

Starring, directed, written and produced by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, there is every possibility that this film perfectly encapsulates the end of the 60s in America incredibly well, but alas today its relevance is far less. The two stars set out on a drug fueled road trip, casting aside their watches and heading across the American South in search of the true spirit of America, and unfortunately they find it everywhere they go.
Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I’ve only known drugs to be illegal, harmful, detrimental to your wellbeing and generally a bad idea (Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream were important parts of my youth), so to see their being used with such wild abandon is almost infuriating from an arguably more informed position (arguably because I know more about the effects, but nothing about the experience itself). I can only assume the intense and bizarre results of an acid trip are shown correctly, and if so then this films effect on me is probably the opposite of that intended, I don’t ever want to take drugs or experience such a level of disorientation,
Jack Nicholson makes an all too brief appearance as drunken lawyer George Hanson, owning knowledge of the finest whorehouse in the South, but even he cannot resurrect this aimless love letter to the free love era from the doldrums, though a stark and unforgettable ending is very well implemented.
Choose life 6/10

Speed

100th film! Although really I’d have preferred it to have been the 50th, seeing as it’s about a bus, rigged with a bomb that activates once the bus reaches 50 miles per hour, detonating should the buses speed drop below 50. The planter of the bomb is Dennis Hopper’s vengeful psychotic ex-cop Howard Payne, angry at Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels’ foiling of his first elevator-based hostage situation and eager for a paycheck he feels he’s been cheated. But you don’t care about the motive or who’s behind it, as Payne tells Reeves’ Jack Traven, “Your concern is the bus.” Whenever the film detracts from this central conceit, be it following the non bus bound cops trying to track down Payne or Hopper himself watching the action unfold on the ever present media, the pacing immediately slackens, so enticing is the central plot.

True Romance

Arguably one of the defining movies of the nineties, directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarantino, starring a cornucopia of iconic actors and featuring an air guitar-tastic soundtrack including Aerosmith, Billy Idol and Soundgarden, True Romance is nothing short of pure entertainment. The story, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as newlyweds on the run from her past and his mistake, takes a back seat (in a pink Cadillac) to a supporting cast of scene-stealing character actors including Gary Oldman as pimp and wannabe Rasta Drexl, Dennis Hopper as Slater’s father, Christopher Walken as a Sicillian mobster and Brad Pitt as stoner Floyd who, with only a few lines of dialogue and a near-immobile part walks clean away with the film. Not to mention Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, James Gandolfini and Val Kilmer (as Elvis no less), this is worth watching just for the cast list.
Choose film 8/10

Giant

Before watching it, I only knew of Giant as being the last James Dean film. I’d seen Rebel Without a Cause recently, and been thoroughly underwhelmed, so had high hopes for Giant, as surely this, or perhaps East of Eden, were the reason that Dean is now such a cult icon, a supposedly defining character for a generation. Also, by looking at the cover for this film, I expected Dean to be the star of the film, his image appearing no less than five times on the cover, with Elizabeth Taylor appearing just once, and Rock Hudson not at all. It was with some surprise then that I found the stars to be Hudson and Taylor, with Dean a supporting character (granted, the most important supporting character, but supporting no less).


Having now watched the film, it shall be filed alongside the previously reviewed the Jazz Singer as an important film, just not a great one, though this time for being the last film of James Dean, rather than the first feature length to include audible dialogue. Giant documents the life of a young couple, Hudson and Taylor, from the day they meet and through the next 25 years of their lives. Even with an epic run time of almost three and a half hours, the plotting is generally fast, with major events such as their marriage and the birth of their children skipped over, pausing to show the more landmark occasions, for example the dismay of Hudson’s Jordan Benedict as Jordy, his son, cries when set upon his first horse. Along the way, Jordan’s life is besieged at every turn by Dean’s Jett Rink, a ranchhand who, upon inheriting a small patch of land, becomes a billionaire when he strikes oil. Dean overacts to his heart’s content, failing to draw any compassion within his rags-to-riches arc.


There are two main points that I took from the tale. Firstly, that some things never change, and some things do. This seems a fairly pointless ethos, but shown in the films context takes some form, as the menfolk gather to discuss business as the times change around them, but Benedict’s initial negative feelings towards his Mexican ranchhands are subdued when his son, an excellent young Dennis Hopper, marries and produces a son, both Mexican and Benedict. Secondly, the film shows the dramatic effect a small act, in this case purchasing a horse, can have on the rest of your life. So, essentially, Giant is the Butterfly Effect without the nosebleeds.


Choose film 6/10