Category Archives: Easy Rider

Top 5: Jack Nicholson Movies

Hold on, getting a poster of this in my room right now.
According to some recent reports, Jack Nicholson has retired from acting. Then, according to some other reports, Jack Nicholson hasn’t retired from acting. I’m not sure which is true, but I really want to write this article.
It has been nearly three years since Nicholson has been credited in a movie and it doesn’t look like has any projects planned for the future. And at the Oscars this year he seemed, well, old (apparently, his retirement is due to memory loss). I’d love some more Nicholson but if he decided to call it quits now, he’d be leaving behind an amazing legacy. Besides maybe Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Newman, few actors have had such consistent records. And most importantly, “The Bucket List” isn’t the last credit listed on his IMDB page.
So I don’t know if this is the end of his career or not but either way, it’s never a bad time to celebrate Jack Nicholson. Also, this is a really fun way to put off my homework. 
Read On After the Jump: (Movies are sorted in order of the year that they came out).

Easy Rider (1969)

Before “Easy Rider” roared into theaters and announced that the hippies had taken over Hollywood, Jack Nicholson was getting a lot of small parts in a lot of B-movies which I still want to watch. “Easy Rider” wasn’t supposed to be much, but it subdued all expectations, as did Nicholson as alcoholic lawyer George Hanson. As George, Nicholson embodies Southern Hospitality. While he always seems a little sketchy, he is also nice enough to get a drink with. Nicholson burst with spontaneous little movements, giving the sense that he has as little control over his performance as George has over his own actions. Nicholson turned a small role into an Oscar nominated performance. It was the first of many to come. 

Chinatown (1974)

Nicholson’s filmography reads like a list of some of my favorite movies of all time. Perhaps Nicholson’s performances were always so consistently outstanding during the 70s because he was given the best material that Hollywood had to offer. Yet, Nicholson made every character he played his own. As Jake Gittes, Nicholson churned out a snarky version of a film noir detective. While they would usually be a little more reserved and mysterious, Gittes was instead abrasive and sneaky in his snooping methods. “Chinatown” is one of the darkest movies ever made, yet not enough people seem to give Nicholson credit for being both the protagonist and the comic relief. You better believe that after watching “Chinatown,” you’ll know exactly how to “screw like a Chinaman.”  
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Speaking of making characters his own, Nicholson did the same but this time with a character that had already been invented in literature. Nicholson makes R.P. McMurphy the gold standard for all Hollywood anti-heroes. From the second he enters the institution, jumping around and kissing doctors, he immediately lights up the room. Sure, he’s a repeated offender, but he’s so relatable because he’s so honest and real and doesn’t let anyone get the best of him. He’s the kind of person everyone wishes they were confident enough to be. He even stood up to Nurse Ratched. Now that was one scary lady. 

The Shining (1980)

This most remarkable aspect of this horror classic is Stanley Kubrick’s direction. However, Nicholson’s performance is just as important, as it stays away from hamminess and instead he gives a frightening portrayal of one man’s descent into madness. Just like the entire movie, watching Nicholson is a slow build. It’s even more frightening because the motives are so hazy. Fun fact: the now legendary “Here’s Johnny!” line was improvised by Nicholson.

About Schmidt (2003)

This is one of Nicholson’s most un-Jack performances. Instead of just playing Jack Nicholson, he instead played Warren Schmidt, a schlubby Midwestern man who suddenly feels alone and useless after he retires from his job and loses his wife. It’s a quiet, understated performance that’s equal parts awkward, funny, and moving. It was another well deserved Oscar nomination for somebody who probably didn’t need another one, but deserved it anyway.
Guilty Pleasure: Anger Management (2003)- I’m sorry (but not really). This is the only time we’ll ever see Jack Nicholson sing “I Feel Pretty” on film. Don’t take this for granted, people!

Levon Helm: 1940-2012

After a long battle with cancer, Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band, died today. He was 71.

The Band had all the right in the world to carry such a simple name, as quite simply there is no other band like them. Unfortunately, I know less of the inner workings of music than I do of television and film. But when I like music, I just get that inescapable feeling. Of the short playlist of songs the classic rock station I listened to growing up played over and over, “The Weight” is the only one I never tired of.

Imagine my surprise when I finally saw “Easy Rider” and heard this song playing as Hopper and Fonda rode choppers through the American West. Every time I heard that song soon after, I saw desserts and red rocky formations. I saw a chunk of America right there within its verses.

The Band were the main subject of another iconic movie: Martin Scorsese’s rock documentary “The Last Waltz,” which documented The Band’s last concert. Helm has been a huge part of both my film and music education.

We will never have a band quite like The Band again, nor a musician quite like Levon Helm.

Dennis Hopper: Always Riding Easy

It can be hard to sum up the entire life of an actor from the only two roles you’ve seen them in. But when they’re as powerful and unique as these certain two, it’s definitely worth a shot. After a long public battle with prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper died on Saturday. He was 74.

Hopper’s career as an actor (and many other jobs on the set) lasted over half of a century, spanning both film and television. Some might always have considered him a bit part, but he always left his mark on various legendary productions. At just 19, he had a small yet prominent part in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
But unfortunately I will admit, I am not the biggest expert on Hopper, and certainly am not worthy enough to tell his entire life story. But what I can do is show you Hopper through the two very different, but very amazing performances of his that I have seen.
Hopper’s breakthrough role came in 1969 with “Easy Rider.” Here was a film that not only established Hopper as a fine actor, but also broke down barriers and redefined American cinema. It could be even considered the first successful independent film made. And Hopper was such an integral part of that. Not only did he star in the film, but he also co-wrote (with Peter Fonda) and directed it. As a writer, he delved into long, maybe even improvised, speeches that could change your outlook on life. As a director, he established an America that was both hauntingly beautiful and free as well as nightmarishly conformist. One could argue that without him, there would be no Tarantino, no Soderbergh, no Kevin Smith, and no Miramax.
Hopper’s performance is also hard to forget. He plays Billy, the less serious, slightly more laid back character next to Fonda’s Wyatt. Hopper had this strange way of making his character’s memorable through just the tiniest details. One might remember Billy best from his giggly stoner laugh. Despite some of the less serious aspects of the character, we are no less haunted by his fate at the end.
Hopper might not have gotten the film’s pivotal line (“We blew it”) nor did he get the giant career breakthrough (that went to Jack Nicholson), but his contribution to this piece of history is something of an unseen story. Let’s just say he directed “Easy Rider” to victory.
The best performance Hopper might’ve ever given is in David Lynch’s freaky “Blue Velvet.” In it, he plays psychopath Frank Booth. Frank is a villain beyond our wildest dreams, which is why he just might be a dream. Yet, Hopper doesn’t let that bother him. Frank is into inhaling Nitrous Oxide and holding families hostage while he commits acts of shocking sexual perversion. It’s a total turn around from Hopper’s performance in “Easy Rider.”
Once again, he gave it his all. Frank might seem like nothing more than a one-dimensional psychopath, but Hopper took him out of that territory and made him hauntingly real. He became a projection of all of our greatest fears. You’ll never forget his beer preference nor the way he mouths “In Dreams.” In the end we question, is Frank just a projection of our nightmares, or the man who lives next door to us.
As the obituaries begin to pop up, most headlines have contained the word “Bad Boy.” While Hopper certainly carried that reputation, putting him simply into that category would be too little. Outside of film, he may have been a bad boy yet inside of film, he was a revolutionary of a filmmaker, and a truly exceptional actor. To that I say, keep on riding easy, Dennis Hopper.
Note: I just realized I totally forgot to include “Apocalypse Now” on the list. My apologies.