Cult Movie Review: The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]
Director: Roger Corman
Genre: Drama
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern
Runtime: 85 minutes

After reading Jack Deth’s great post on Roger Corman over at Front Room Cinema, I was inspired to see one of the legendary director’s films. There was one in particular that stood out to me: The Trip, a 1967 feature written by Jack Nicholson. As luck would have it, the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

As the title would suggest, The Trip is all about LSD. Filmed in “psychedelic color”, the movie stars Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a young television commercial director who is heartbroken over the divorce proceedings with his adulterous wife. Looking for some sort of guidance with his life, Paul decides to embark on his first acid trip with the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), an experienced advocate of psychedelics.

The Trip [1967]

From this point on, we follow Paul as he fades in and out of reality, essentially joining him on this trip. He sees all sorts of things, some real, some not. Kaleidoscopic colors, dwarves, strobe lights, naked dancers, druids, police.

Paul meanders aimlessly through these visuals and starts to freak himself out. In a fit of terror, he escapes the house (and his ‘sitter’) and wanders off to the city. This is when the movie really shines, as now we get to see how Paul interacts with others. A conversation with a not-so-classy lady at the laundromat is freakin’ hilarious and is the highlight of the movie. The lady suspects something is off with Paul as he plays around with the washing machines, but she appreciates the attention regardless.

The Trip [1967]

The movie culminates with Paul returning to where he came, this time running into a young Dennis Hopper, whose character also acts as a sort of guide for our acid-ingesting friend.

The Trip is a relic of its time, a fascinating snapshot of the Summer of Love and its free-spirited hippies. It has been said that Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all took acid together in order to prepare for the film. Even Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time so he had a better idea of how to direct this film. Perhaps most amazing is that Bruce Dern, not a fan of drug culture whatsoever, was able to play an acid guide so effectively. He is the voice of reason throughout the film, a way to keep Paul in check and make sure he has a good time.

Obviously, this isn’t a movie that everyone will enjoy. The first half of the film drags along as Paul doesn’t do too terribly much, but it becomes wildly entertaining once he hits the city. It certainly helps to have an interest in the late 60s counterculture period and/or psychedelics in general to fully appreciate this. Music buffs will get a kick out of The Electric Flag’s groovy soundtrack as well.

7/10

Movie Project #13: Blue Velvet [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Blue Velvet [1986]

Blue Velvet [1986]
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper
Runtime: 120 minutes

I have been thinking about Blue Velvet quite a bit since I saw it two weeks ago, and I have struggled to put my thoughts into words. How does one write about a film so dark and peculiar, one that turns Middle America upside down on its head?

The classic opening scene sets the tone for this neo-noir. We see glimpses of blue skies, white picket fences, vibrant flowers, school children crossing the street, a man watering his lawn while his wife watches television inside. Suddenly, the man’s garden hose becomes tangled, and in the fuss to get it loose, he suffers a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog playfully sticks its head in and out of the still-flowing water as a child wanders onto the scene. The camera then makes its way through the blades of grass on the lawn before digging deeper into the beetle-infested dirt, no doubt a metaphor of the seedy underworld to be found in this glimpse of suburbia.

The old man’s stroke serves as an introduction to our protagonist, his son Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who comes into town to visit his ailing father. After walking home from the hospital, he spots a severed ear near the side of the road. Jeffrey takes the ear to Police Detective Williams (George Dickerson), and meets the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) for the first time. She gives Jeffrey a tip about the missing ear, and the two of them decide to do some sleuthing on their own.

The investigation leads them to the apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and this is where the movie takes a bizarre and unexpected turn. Jeffrey sneaks into the singer’s apartment and unexpectedly finds himself the witness to a violent S&M excursion, as a wild and out-of-control Dennis Hopper (as Frank Booth) bursts into the room and has his way with Vallens. What transpires from this moment on is just crazy, as Jeffrey gets caught up in a strange sexual relationship with Vallens, all while trying to stay hidden from the dangerous Booth.

It really is strange how the movie flips a relatively standard mystery plot into a violent S&M freakshow, but would you really expect anything less from David Lynch? The movie zips along as it pleases, throwing all sorts of odd behavior at the viewer, and it even includes a seemingly random (but incredible) lip-syncing scene featuring Dean Stockwell:

No matter how weird the movie gets, it is always entertaining. This is helped by the addition of Dennis Hopper, in an absolutely deliriously over-the-top performance as the psychopathic Frank Booth. The man is a gas-huffing lunatic who has a strong affinity for Pabst Blue Ribbon:

Seriously, that line had me in hysterics. Isabella Rossellini is also fantastic as her character gradually evolves over the film’s running time, leaving her bare and broken along the way. Her performance drew much sympathy from Roger Ebert, who surprisingly gave this film a negative review.

The bottom line here is that Blue Velvet is quintessential Lynch. I found the movie to be fascinating, but I am still trying to wrap my head around some of its ideas (and reading other theories just muddied my thoughts even further). As expected, this seems to be a film that will reward further on subsequent viewings, and writing this post has made me eager to see Blue Velvet again. If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s that Lynch has a way of sticking around in your brain.

8/10

Movie Project #15: Cool Hand Luke [1967]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

Cool Hand Luke [1967]
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

What we got here is… failure to communicate.

Watching The Hustler made me appreciate the awesomeness that is Paul Newman, and I was eager to check out Cool Hand Luke, another well-regarded movie of his. I had heard this titled as the “ultimate guy’s movie”, and everyone spoke volumes about Paul Newman’s character. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Cool Hand Luke tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Newman), a guy who lives by his own rules and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. After getting arrested for cutting heads off parking meters (while heavily drinking at the same time), Luke is sent off to prison for two years. At the prison, he keeps to himself yet somehow ends up in a boxing match with the much larger “Dragline” (George Kennedy), who is the leader of the chain gang. Despite getting his ass kicked, Luke keeps getting back up after every punch before finally his adversary walks away. This single act of courage (or just plain recklessness) earns Luke respect from his fellow prisoners, and many begin to look up to him.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

This is the beginning of a recurring theme, as Luke continually stands up to others, especially the law, and attempts to do things his own way. What makes him so likeable is that he is just a laidback dude who is always up for a challenge — whether that is trying to eat 50 eggs in one sitting or attempting to escape prison. He is a real “cool hand”, as Dragline affectionately labels him.

One thing that has surprised me in reading about Cool Hand Luke is that not many articles mention the significant amount of Christ imagery present in the movie. The most obvious example is after the egg-eating scene when Luke collapses on top of a table, spread out like Jesus on the cross. Another major comparison between the two is in the form of Luke’s name combined with his prisoner number: 37. Hence, Bible verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is interesting to think of things this way, and the comparisons are not far-fetched, as both were nonconformists who developed followers through their actions.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

I can’t think of anyone else that could have played the role of Luke other than Paul Newman. He just oozes charisma here, making it real hard not to root for the guy. He is aided by an outstanding supporting cast led by Kennedy as his strong righthand man. There are a lot of bit roles here, including spots from Harry Dean Stanton and a young Dennis Hopper, with everyone performing well. There are not many women in the movie, which gives credence to the whole “guy’s movie” reputation, but the passing role of Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother creates one of the most emotional scenes of the film.

While a little slow by today’s standards, Cool Hand Luke is still a fascinating study of one of Hollywood’s great characters. Paul Newman’s performance is incredible, and it’s baffling that he didn’t win the Oscar for this. With a lot of great quotes (such as the one at the beginning of the review) and some truly unforgettable scenes, this is well worth seeing.

8.5/10