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It Hurts to Look: Christopher Penn, 1965-2006

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It Hurts to Look: Christopher Penn, 1965-2006

Why is it so hard to make myself write an appreciation of Christopher Penn? Because I know that on my best day, I can’t convey one hundreth of his roiling, unstable excitement.

Chris Penn was a human hand grenade who lived to pull his own pin. He scared the shit out of me. He was on a short list of great contemporary character actors (Keitel, Walken, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Jason Leigh) who truly seemed capable of anything. It’s always easier to write an appreciation of someone who makes you feel good. Chris Penn was a great actor—a vital and important actor—but I suspect he’d have been the first to admit that generating warm and fuzzy feelings didn’t rank very high on his “To Do” list.

Granted, now and again you’d catch Penn in a role that was essentially light and funny: unlikely dancin’ fool Willard in Footloose, smiling id creature Tom Drake in the Fast Times sequel The Wild Life (admirably attempting the impossible: playing an alternative to/replacement for his brother’s Fast Times icon Jeff Spicoli).

But the light roles weren’t the ones that released his greatness; Penn’s greatness originated in darkness. He was like his more famous brother in that respect—Sean Penn courted darkness like no leading man since De Niro—with a crucial difference: where Sean Penn hid things from us, shrouded himself in contradiction and mystery, Chris Penn kept no secrets. There truly was no wall between him and you. You stared right into his heart, and it was terrifying.

Think of Chris Penn, and you might as well be picturing an astronaut, a test pilot or one of those guys who traps gigantic rats in the subway. He was a nasty daredevil, fearless and playful and game for anything. He was willing to go places and do things other people didn’t have the guts to contemplate.

Think of Chris Penn and you picture him sweating, or stewing, or trying to hide his almost unbearable hurt. Jesus Christ, he hurt like nobody else. He hurt so bad sometimes you could barely stand to look at him. His very existence was an embarassment to every male’s secret macho self-image. He was every man’s true self, needy and neurotic, childish and jealous, paranoid and depressed. Manhood without the mask.

Think of Chris Penn, and you think of him imploding with sexual insecurity and envious hate in Short Cuts as his wife (J.J. Leigh, his onscreen soulmate!) verbally services phone sex customers with fantasies her poor hubby didn’t even dare consider; and then you picture that same brute schmuck standing in the woods with Robert Downey Jr., holding a rock in his hand, eyes glazed, as if he knew what he’d done and also knew, deep down, why he’d done it, but could not quite bring himself to grasp the reality that his life was now over.

Think of Chris Penn and you picture him as a thug detective in Mulholland Falls, or spitting out jocular wisecracks to fellow cops in True Romance, or fat and drunk and sweaty, roaring out a Tin Pan Alley tune in The Funeral (pictured above) in a period-accurate, white-guy-approximating-a-black-guy voice. Think of Chris Penn and you picture his fearful face in At Close Range—a rare project with his brother—as he stands in freaky blue moonlight and realizes that his father, his beloved father, the father he always idolized even when he didn’t know where to find him, is about to shoot him dead, and worse, that after his beloved father shoots him dead, he will probably go right home, kill a six pack, jerk off and enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. Think of Chris Penn, and you think of him during the climax of Reservoir Dogs, bringing Quentin Tarantino’s cartoon Mexican standoff back to emotional reality by shrieking, hoarsely, “Don’t you point that gun at my dad!”

I can’t think about you for very long, Chris. It takes too much out of me.

You made me hate myself and see through myself and fear my own potential for weakness and evil. You made me fear embarassment and pain and death during films that were supposed to be stupid fun. You make me fear I’ve learned nothing about women. You showed me what a hypocrite I am, and how immature I am, and how little I know about life. You reminded me of how small I am and how little my life means.

I hate you. I wish I’d never seen your face. You affected me that much.

When David Mamet wrote, in True and False, that acting used to be a terrifying and mysterious profession, that regular people used to fear actors because they thought they made a career of letting themselves be possessed by demons, and that after actors died, they were buried at crossroads with stakes through their hearts, he was writing about you.

I will miss you terribly.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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