Book Review: Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel by Peter L. Winkler

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that Dennis Hopper is no longer with us.

Seriously, he’s one of those iconic screen figures who remains as much of a pop cultural presence in death as he was in life.  For an actor who spent a good deal of his career under an unofficial blacklist, Hopper appeared in a number of classic films.  Rebel Without A Cause, Giant, Night Tide, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Speed, True Romance, The Trip, The Other Side of the Wind, Queen of Blood, Land of the Dead, Hoosiers, Out of The Blue …. one of the things that they all share in common is the eccentric presence of Dennis Hopper.  Even Hopper’s bad films, like Waterworld, are more popular than the bad films of other actors.  And while Hopper will probably always be best-known as an actor, he’s received some posthumous recognition for his work as a director.  It’s been 12 years since Dennis Hopper passed but he’s still very much a part of the American cultural landscape.

How did this happen?  How did Dennis Hopper go from being a kid from Kansas to being a disciple of James Dean?  How did Hopper go from appearing in big budget films like Giant to working as a member of Roger Corman’s stock company?  How did Hopper come to revolutionize American film with Easy Rider, just to lose the next few years of his life to his legendary addictions?  Remarkably, Dennis Hopper not only inspired the “New Hollywood” with Easy Rider but he nearly destroyed it with The Last Movie.  In the 70s and the first half of the 80s, he was still capable of giving a good performance but the key was to find him when he wasn’t dealing with a fit of drug-induced paranoia.  And yet, even with his addictions and demons, he still directed one of the most important films of the 80s, Out of the Blue.

Remarkably, Hopper did eventually conquer his addictions.  Starting with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Hopper remade himself as one of Hollywood’s busiest character actors and, to many, he became an almost lovable relic of the 60s.  The former self-described communist became a Republican.  And, even if he never could quite restart his directing career, Hopper stayed busy for the rest of his life.  It was a remarkable transformation.  The rebel who once ran a cult-like commune in New Mexico became a beloved member of the establishment that he once swore he would destroy.

Peter L. Winkler’s 2011 biography, Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel, takes a look at how this happened.  The Dennis Hopper that emerges from this detailed biography is a natural born rebel who was also canny enough to keep one foot in the system that he was trying to destroy.  As such, Hopper could shares James Dean’s dismissive attitude towards Hollywood while also remaining a favorite of John Wayne’s.  Hopper could make the ultimate hippie film without actually becoming a hippie himself.  Hopper had the talent necessary to keep getting roles even when he had a reputation for not being quite sane.  Indeed, the book argues that Hopper’s best performances were given when he had something to prove and that Hopper’s work and his films became significantly less interesting once he was fully welcome back into the establishment.

And while I do think that Winkler is a bit too dismissive of some of Hopper’s later work, he does have a point.  Dennis Hopper thrived on being a rebel, which is one reason why he came to define the late 60s and the early 70s.  One reason why Hopper’s performance as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet remains so powerful is because he’s rage is so palpable.  Booth is trying to destroy the world, just as surely as Hopper once tried to destroy Hollywood.  But, eventually, Hopper’s style of rebellion fell out of fashion and then resurfaced as the subject of nostalgia.  The rebels always eventually become the establishment.

Winkler’s biography not only takes a look at some of Hopper’s best films but it also puts him and his work in a proper historical and cultural context.  The book is as much about what Hopper represented to a generation as how Hopper lived his life.  And while Hopper himself is not always a sympathetic figure (like many actors, he could be more than a little self-absorbed), he does come across as being a fascinating talent.  Hopper often referred to himself as being the epitome of the “American Dreamer” and this biography leaves no doubt that he was correct.

Lisa Marie’s Week In Television: 6/25/22 — 7/2/22

Emmy voting has officially closed but I’m still catching up on this year’s contenders.  I should be able to finish up over the upcoming week.

The Beatles: Get Back (Disney Plus)

This documentary, which was produced and put together by Peter Jackson, is about the recording of Let It Be and the final days of the Beatles.  Featuring actual footage of the Beatles joking, arguing, and acting like a dysfunctional family, this is a fascinating but extremely long documentary.  I watched the first episode on Saturday and I was exhausted by the time that it ended but I’m still looking forward to watching the remaining two episodes next week.

As far as the Beatles are concerned, I like George.

Better Things (Hulu)

I watched two episodes of the latest season of this sitcom on Tuesday.  Pamela Adlon’s great but the show was a bit depressing, in the way that so many sitcoms tend to be nowadays.  I guess the best way to put it is that the show has its moment but sometimes, it seemed to be trying too hard.

Bridgerton (Netflix)

I watched a bit of the second season on Thursday.  I liked the costumes.

Flack (Amazon Prime)

Ann Paquin plays a self-destructive, London PR agent.  I watched two episodes from the show’s second season.  Paquin was great and Sam Neill appears in a few episodes but the show itself was a bit predictable.  Even it’s cynicism felt a bit trendy.

The Flight Attendant (HBOMax)

Oh my God, I love this show!  Kaley Cuoco gives a brilliant performance as a flight attendant who is both a recovering alcoholic and an asset for the CIA.  I watched the second season this week and it wonderfully balanced comedy with action.

The Gilded Age (HBO)

This HBO series takes place in New York City in 1882 and it’s basically an American version of Downton Abbey, which is not surprising considering that it was created by Julian Fellowes.  The first season followed a host of characters as they navigated their way through New York’s demanding social world.  It was good but occasionally a bit uneven, largely because of the presence of Marian Brook (Louise Jacobson), who comes to New York to stay with her wealthy aunts (Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon).  Marian is supposed to be the audience surrogate but she’s such a dull and self-righteous character and Jacobson gave such a blah performance that I soon found myself dreading any scene that involved her.

Far more interesting were the characters of robber baron George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his ambitious wife, Bertha (Carrie Coon).  As long as the show focused on them and on the servants (all of whom has their own opinions on the wealthy people they served), The Gilded Age was compelling and entertaining.  It’s also a gorgeous show to look at.  I am looking forward to the the second season, though I hope there will be a bit less Marian drama to deal with.

Hacks (HBOMax)

I watched two episodes of the second season of this comedy.  Jean Smart plays an egocentric comedian.  Hannah Embinder plays her writer.  Embinder and especially Smart give good performances.  The rest of the show’s ensemble isn’t as interesting.

iCarly (Peacock)

Yay!  Carly’s back!  I binged the second season on Wednesday and this is a good example of how a show can be updated for the times without losing its charm.

Inspector Lewis (YouTube)

The Inspector and Hathaway had to solve another series of murders in Oxford.  Hathaway was trying to quit smoking and he was so miserable about it that I actually cheered a little when he lit up at the end.  Good for you, Hathaway!  I don’t smoke and I do think that people should be happy.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix)

Eh.  I watched the first episode of this new legal series.  I enjoyed the movie with Matthew McConaughey but the show was boring.  It was David E. Kelley on autopilot.

MacGruber (Peacock)

It’s been a while since I’ve cared about SNL but I definitely remember MacGruber and I enjoyed his show on Peacock.  Will Forte is so underrated.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime)

I finally watched the latest season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It’s a good show, I just hope no one’s getting too attached to Lenny Bruce.

The Squid Game (Netflix)

In this South Korean show, a group of financially destitute people are recruited to play deadly games for the amusement of the wealthy.  I finally watched this show on Wednesday and Thursday and I was a bit surprised to learn that it lived up to its considerable hype.  I know that some people, including the show’s creator, say that its a critique of capitalism.  Myself, I feel that its a critique of authoritarianism but then again, I’m a capitalist.  The most important thing is that the imagery was memorably surreal and the cast did a good job of making things feel real.

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

I finally watched the first two episodes of this second season of this series on Wednesday.  I will probably never join the cult of Ted Lasso but I do agree with those who have praised Jason Sudeikis’s performance in the title role.  If there was ever a Ted Lasso/Barry/MacGruber cross-over event, I probably wouldn’t mind.

What We Do In The Shadows (Hulu)

What We Do In The Shadows actually airs on FX but I watched the 3rd season on Hulu.  It’s a funny show, sort of like The Office but with exceptionally crude vampires.  The third season was both funny and surprisingly poignant, as Colin Robinson actually died.  (Maybe he faked his death but then Nandor crushed his head while trying to revive him….)  This season also featured the brilliant Kristine Schaal as The Guide.

Yellowstone (Peacock)

I finally watched this show, binging the entire fourth season on Monday and Tuesday and, to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.  Kevin Costner plays a politically powerful rancher who has a lot of enemies.  The great Kelly Reilly plays his daughter.  The show was undeniably melodramatic but it was also a lot of fun, with great performances from Costner, Reilly, Wes Bentley, and Cole Hauser.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Costner in the past but this show makes the best use of his somewhat flinty screen presence.

Cone of Silence (1960, directed by Charles Frend)

Cone of Silence is a very British film about aviation.

George Sanders plays an investigator who is looking into a crash of a “Phoenix” jetliner.  The crash has been blamed on the pilot, Captain George Gort (Bernard Lee).  Because Gort was killed in the crash, he is not around to defend himself.  Gort had a previous crash on his record and had also been reprimanded for flying to low when he landed a flight in Calcutta.  To Phoenix Airlines, Gort is the perfect scapegoat but a series of flashbacks reveals that Gort was a good pilot and that the cowardly Captain Clive Judd (Peter Cushing) was responsible for the incident in Calcutta.  Captain Hugh Dallas (Michael Craig) tries to exonerate Gort’s name before another crash occurs.

Cone of Silence is named not for the famed listening device from Get Smart but instead for a key part of Gort’s certification process, where he has to fly a plane without being able to hear anyone or anything else around him.  That Gort manages to do so is one of the things that leads to Dallas believing the Gort couldn’t have been responsible for the later crash.  Bernard Lee is best-known for playing James Bond’s unflappable superior, M, and it’s interesting to see him playing a much more neurotic character in Cone of Silence.  Gort is a good pilot but he knows that, after his first crash, no one trusts his judgment and everyone is expecting him to fail and it gets to him.  It does not help that he has to deal with the weaselly Captain Judd, who is looking to blame anything that happens on Gort.  Cushing does a good job of playing Judd as someone who is outwardly friendly but who is ultimately only looking out for himself.

Cone of Silence was released at a time when jet travel was still considered to be a luxury and pilots were viewed as being the men who could do the impossible.  Not surprisingly, the film is full of lengthy scenes in which Captain Dallas and others explain every step that goes into flying a jet.  Great care was taken to get every detail right, even if it meant limiting the film’s dramatic potential.  This may have been fascinating to audiences in 1960, many of whom had never traveled on a plane, but today, Cone of Silence can feel dry and overly talky.  It’s good to see Sanders, Lee, and Cushing all in the same film but Cone of Silence is never as compelling as its cast.

Film Review: The Princess (dir by Le-Van Kiet)

An unnamed Princess (Joey King) has been taken prisoner by the evil Julius (Dominic Cooper).  Julius wants to take control of the kingdom and the best way to do that is to force the Princess to marry him.  The morning of what is planned to be her forced wedding, the Princess wakes up handcuffed and trapped in one of those huge towers that always seem to turn up in movies like this.  The Princess takes one look out the window and is confronted by some cartoonish CGI that lets the viewer know that she’s really up high.

Fortunately, this Princess has spent most of her life training to be a warrior.  Under the tutelage of Linh (Veronica Ngo) and Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu), the Princess has learned how to fight and defeat almost any enemy.  (“Fight from you heart,” Linh tells her.)  As such, the Princess has no fear of breaking her wrist so that she can remove the handcuffs.  Soon, she is running through the tower, fighting every man that she comes across.

The first few fight scenes are cool and I appreciated the scene where the Princess shot a man with a crossbow just as he started to yell the C-word because, seriously, you boys have been going overboard with that word lately.  Ultimately, though, there’s so many fight scenes that eventually, the viewer can’t help but notice that the fight choreography itself is rather simplistic.  The Princess spends a lot of time jumping and spinning around in slow motion.  She’s good at sliding across the floor while ducking her head to avoid swinging swords and flying arrows.  It’s enjoyable the first few times but, as the film progresses, it all gets a bit repetitive.  A huge part of the problem is that none of Julius’s henchmen appear to be particularly competent.  They keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again and, as such, it’s not really empowering to watch The Princess defeat them because they’re all so clumsy that it seems anyone could defeat them.  Even Julius commits the cardinal sin of talking when he should be fighting.  A great hero needs a great villain and unfortunately, The Princess doesn’t provide that.  Still, the fight scenes are preferable to any scene that involves dialogue as the script sometimes seems to have been written by an AI programmed to include every cliché possible.  On the one hand, the Princess is smashing the patriarchy.  On the other hand, good intentions do not make up for clunky dialogue.

To be honest, there’s a certain cynicism at the heart of The Princess that’s a bit off-putting.  Written by two men and directed by another, The Princess is so proud of itself for featuring a young woman kicking ass that one has to wonder if the people responsible are seriously not aware that the action girl is one of the leading pop culture clichés of the past 20 years.  The main complaint about the action girl trope is that the character is often not given any personality or motivation beyond the fact that she can beat people up and look good while doing it.  The Princess doesn’t even bother to give its main character a name.  For all the talk about the fate of the kingdom, we never learn how the Princess feels about any of it.

As for the cast, neither Joey King nor Dominic Cooper are well-served by a script that doesn’t offer any sort of real depth to the characters.  Both deserve better.