Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

Oliver Stone’s U Turn

Ever had one of those days where literally everything seems to go wrong and there’s some kind of invisible cosmic force aligned against you? Sean Penn’s Bobby has one of those in Oliver Stone’s U Turn, a deranged, sun drunk parable by way of neo-noir and near Boschian displays of brutal human behaviour punctuated by pockets of the blackest comedy one can find. This is a deliberately, brutally unpleasant slice of nihilism that wouldn’t be easy to swallow were it not so fucking funny, so gorgeously visual, so perkily acted by the knockout ensemble cast and so beautifully scored by Ennio Morricone. Penn’s Bobby has the rotten luck of breaking down in the one horse town of Superior, Arizona, where bumpkin mechanic Billy Bob Thornton takes his sweet time patching up the rig, leaving him to drift about town and get in all sorts of trouble. There’s a rockabilly maniac named Toby ‘TNT’ Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix) who wants Bobby’s head for ‘making time’ with his girl (a loopy Claire Danes). The menacing local Sheriff (Powers Boothe) seems hellbent on doing anything other than protecting and serving. Jennifer Lopez is sultry babe Grace, who snares him up in a dangerously lurid love triangle with her husband Jake (Nick Nolte at his utmost Nick Nolte-iest), who also happens to be her stepfather (!). This all boils into a mucky miasma of murder, violence, sex games, insurance fraud, gas station robberies, betrayal, severed limbs, manipulation and any other noisy calamity you could think of to befall a small town in Arizona that the rest of the world has seemingly forgot. Bobby is on the run from a scary Vegas loan shark (Valery Nikoaelev), but nothing he can do compares to the level of hurt these warped townsfolk inflict upon him, so it’s kind of an out of the frying pan into the fire type scenario. The thing is, Bobby himself is something of a reprehensible scumbag anyways, so there’s a cheeky masochist edge in watching him traverse this dusty, 9th ring of Americana hell and circle an ending of inevitable doom. ‘Treat others how you wish to be treated’ is an adage that almost every single character in the film seems to have sadly forgotten or chose to ignore except one individual, a blind old native man played with disarming truth by Jon Voight. Bobby has several encounters with him, and he’s the only one who isn’t after something, doesn’t display hostility or unkindness, he speaks plainly and offers Bobby bitter pearls of wisdom that ultimately go unheeded. Stone employs the same type of jittery, whacked out visual surrealities he used in Natural Born Killers, a deeply saturated colour palette, tumble dry editing techniques and more breathe life into this vivid version of curdled small town life in the vast, lonely desert. Morricone’s score is a spring loaded jack-in-the-box in areas and a melodic, melancholic lullaby in others, an underrated composition that gives the film an eerie sadness and zany vibration all it’s own. There’s more going on than meets the eye here; at surface level it’s a dark crime comedy with a quirky edge, but both Voight’s character and a few mysterious hints at Lopez’s backstory with the tribes in the region hint at a deeper, darker sense of malice lurking out there with the coyotes, suggestive of an almost mythic aspect. Stone gets high praise for his political dramas, but I’ve always loved him best when he’s doing genre stuff, he’s such an expressive storyteller and the real fruit of his imagination comes out when he’s turned loose. For me this is his second finest work after Natural Born Killers and before Savages, the three films that seem most genuine and celebratory of the medium. In any case, U Turn is a southern fried, asphalt laden, angry, sexy, perverse road trip to sunny noir heaven or hell, and a masterpiece. Watch for neat cameos from Laurie Metcalf, Bo Hopkins, Brent Briscoe, Julie Hagerty and Liv Tyler.

-Nate Hill

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Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.

-Nate Hill

Barry Levinson’s Bandits

Every once in a while a quirky indie style film slips through the studio system disguised as a star powered blockbuster, and usually isn’t met with the best reception. Such is the case with Barry Levinson’s Bandits, a buddy crime flick by way of an oddball love triangle marketed as Elmore Leonard/Tarantino type fare but emerging as something way more stream of consciousness and weird. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play two slippery, bickering bank robbers who bust out of prison using a cement truck (that’s a new one) and continue their nationwide spree of larceny and mayhem, but none of that is even close to as violent or intense as it sounds. There’s a schoolboy charm to these two and every hostage they take, every bank they knock over is a breeze, feeling like a pleasant, quaint experience. Eventually a bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) tags along and they both fall for her, causing friction in a few ways. The three actors are perfect for each other; Willis is the cocky ladies man who has tunnel vision and doesn’t think too hard or too far ahead, Thornton ditches his usual alpha male snake shtick for a jittery, sweet natured hypochondriac fellow and their camaraderie is irresistible. Blanchett is never not in top form and it’s easy to see how a girl like her could stray into their lives, eventually becoming very important to both. Now, anyone looking for taut action scenes, an intricate plot or specifically verbose, showboaty dialogue will be disappointed. As penned by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton, most of the character interaction has a spontaneous, free flowing aesthetic and feels improvised half the time, which I loved. As for plot, the bank robber framework simply serves to see these guys meander around beautiful Oregon hanging out and talking with each other, with only a few succinct, clear cut set pieces. This is a film about what happens in between the action scenes or the robberies, about quiet situational humour, quirky romance and organic conversation. It’s tough to adjust to and nothing about the DVD artwork suggests how odd and airy the film will be, but if that’s your bag then you’ll love it. It drags a tad in the third act but pulls together nicely for a cheeky resolution to their story, and is overall an enchanting piece of comedic crime by way of impromptu theatrics. Loved it.

-Nate Hill

Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest is one of my favourite Christmas films and completely overlooked for the dry, sardonic black comedy gold that it is. It’s one of those dour, gloomy Christmas films where not only do things not go the protagonist’s way, but pretty much spiral out of control for everyone else too and the festive setting serves as an ironic lacing to the wry, nihilistic and comically violent story. John Cusack is laconic boozehound mob lawyer Charlie, who has just embezzled his gangster boss for a couple million, with the help of his scheming guttersnipe of a partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton at his utmost sleaziest). That’s the jumping point for a deliciously warped, noirish descent into deranged family values, deadpan interactions, double crosses and drunken shenanigans, and really is there any other way to spend Christmas Eve? There’s a femme fatale in stripper Renata (Connie Nielsen, rawr), the specifics of whose loyalties remains gleefully ambiguous until later on, a titty bar bouncer (Ned Bellamy) with serious anger issues, a nasty thug (Mike Starr) dispatched to kill them and the vengeful big city kingpin who has been swindled, played by a blustery, cheerfully psychotic Randy Quaid. Speaking of scene stealing, Oliver Platt does an encore as Charlie’s best friend who is now married to his bitch of an ex wife, the impromptu Christmas dinner scene the entire family shares is some kind of fucking demented, mean spirited comedic genius (“Turkey Lurkey!”). It’s interesting because there is not one single redeemable character in the film, they’re all a bunch of conning, backstabbing, murdering, ill adjusted, jaded criminals and severe alcoholics, especially Cusack, who downs enough bourbon throughout the whole night that it’s a wonder he can stand up for the third act. But somehow… somehow there’s a strange likability to these poor souls, trapped in a perpetually snowy Wichita Kansas trying to outsmart, outgun and out-drink each other. Morality rears it’s head but once among the gunplay and verbal sparring, when Charlie imparts a parable to Platt regarding his two uncles, one of whom was a standup guy and died early and the other a scumbag that lived a long life. His point being that it doesn’t matter what we do in the service of morality because it could all end tomorrow, nothing even matters so why waste time trying to be good and get off the naughty list? I enjoy that cheeky justification, and what better time for it than Christmas? A classic for me.

-Nate

Jeffrey Reiner’s Trouble Bound

Trouble Bound is like a low rent, dysfunctional, meandering Bonnie & Clyde, a laid back crime drama with a dry wit and slight romantic angle, and while it can’t really focus on any of the above aspects either individually or as a group, it still sort of has a lost puppy charm to it, thanks in part to Michael Madsen and Patricia Arquette in engaging performances as our leads. It’s a kind of ‘lovers on the run surrounded by crime’ thing like Tony Scott’s True Romance or Lynch’s Wild At Heart but they only really had enough money and creative juice for a half mast little exercise like this. Madsen plays a thief fresh out of prison trying to go straight, until a gaggle of thugs he used to take up with plant a dead body in the trunk of his car before he takes off. Then they decide they need it back, and start following him all over the country. Meanwhile he picks up Arquette, who is the daughter of a mafia kingpin and wants vague revenge on someone for needlessly complicated reasons. It’s all a bit over elaborate for something of this girth, the strongest element being the chemistry between Madsen and Arquette that’s somewhere south of charming, as they grow on each other while keeping that edge between them. Billy Bob Thornton is hilarious as one of the buffoonish thieves pursuing him, and there’s scattershot work from Paul Ben Victor, Gregory Sporlader, Mark Pellegrino and Seymour Cassell. Entertaining enough and a good time if you’re a fan of the leads, both of whom I love a lot. Kino Lorber released a DVD at some point, which is no doubt the way to find this as the relic of a disc I rented years ago had more grain than a box of shredded wheat.

-Nate Hill

The Light, The Dark & the souls in between: A review of FX’s Fargo by Nate Hill

Series creator Noah Hawley had the daunting task of taking Fargo, one of the most iconic Coen Brothers films, and turning it into a long form piece of television storytelling for FX. That’s the nutshell version anyways, what he was really up against was a gaggle of rabid Coen acolytes who wanted networks nowhere near the shining legacy of the film, which has gone platinum as a highlight in the Brother’s career. How did he and his team do? Well, better than the Coens themselves did, which may stand as a controversial opinion, but if you’re as big a fan of the show’s brilliant three season run as I am then you’ll agree.

The Coen’s designed the blueprint, if you will, while Hawley & Co. take that template and positively run wild with it. It’s an anthology piece where each season focuses on another bunch of ne’er do well characters who are connected sometimes loosely and sometimes in ways that floor you later on. Yes, all the tropes we love are there: thick blizzards of blinding snow, murder most foul, dark comedy and those hysterically quaint Minnesota accents that seem to be pulled right out of Tolkien’s The Shire in some odd way. But Hawley digs deeper, and for all it’s grounded noir, homicidal schemes and materialistic flash, his Fargo mines for esoteric gold and to me ultimately is about beings of light and dark waging war over human souls on our plane. This is of course my own intuitive theory and is evident sometimes more often than others within the show, but it’s hard not to see when you look at both how cheerfully angelic some of the good, kind folks are here and how fitfully, deliciously self aware the evil ones are, like it’s less their nature to be despicably destructive as much as it is simply their job.

The first and strongest season sees Billy Bob Thornton’s sagely psychopath Lorne Malvo blow into town on a whim and stir up a brew of horrors almost by accident or out of sheer boredom, pushing the already unstable nebbish Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) to ongoing acts of unspeakable destruction. A smart cop (Allison Tolman), another slightly less smart cop (Colin Hanks) and others fight the good fight to root out evil and stop Malvo’s unholy snowball effect of mayhem and restore order. This one works the best as a stand-alone, wraps up the loose ends most satisfyingly and holds as the showcase chunk the show has to offer. The second season is brilliant but less focused, flashing back to the snowy 70’s to chronicle Sheriff Lou Solverson’s (Patrick Wilson, also played by a stoic Keith Carradine in S1) battle against the brutal Gerhardt crime family when they’re turf skirmish with a big city syndicate erupts into all out warfare and the bodies begin piling up. What this season lacks in pacing and a clearly painted main villain it makes up for in spectacle, there’s a vast ensemble cast and lush period production design for a visual element that won’t quit. Zahn Mclarnon excels as Hanzee Dent, a troubled First Nations assassin who struggles with being a lone outsider and feels a moral crisis at the penultimate moment, Jeffrey Donovan is enthusiastically nasty as Dodd, the misogynistic elder brother of the Gerhardt clan, while Bokeem Woodbine is the slick city slicker encroaching on his territory. Season 3 unfolds on a smaller scale, back to the grassroots procedural drama that leads to heinous unlawful doings. Ewan McGregor does double duties as two twin brothers in a hateful feud, one of which finds himself in the ravenous maw of terrifying V.M. Varga (David Thewlis in a career best), a demonic opportunist out to cause bureaucratic anarchy within the ranks with his army of underworld goons. Local cop Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) tries to fit the pieces together and a mysterious messianic nomad (Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise) presides over the whole debacle with laconic benevolence. That’s the tip of the iceberg really, and vivid impressions are made by a beautifully chosen, star studded cast that includes Oliver Platt, Adam Goldberg, Stephen Root, Bob Odenkirk, Shawn Doyle, Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, Jean Smart, Kieran Culkin, Michael Hogan, Jennifer Copping, Brad Garrett, Russell Harvard, Scott Hylands, Frances Fisher, Francesca Eastwood, Fred Melamed, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cristin Milioti, Angus Sampson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Goran Bogdan, Shea Wigham, Mary McDonnell, Key & Peele, DJ Qualls, Scoot Mcnairy, Mackenzie Grey, Wayne Duvall and Bruce Campbell in a cameo as Ronald Reagan.

Each of the three seasons is a dense, meticulously woven patchwork quilt of violence, mistaken identity, literary references, surreal allegorical imagery, unpredictable plot turns, monsters, and mayhem, each with its own unmistakable style and atmosphere. Much of the storytelling is filled with things that seem like planted arbitration, like UFO sightings or cutaways to other vignettes, but they’re there to gild the tales with further eccentricity and for you to make of them what you will, as much of it is never explained or totally elaborated on, which I appreciate. With each episode there’s a lot more going on than what’s in the main arc, these are stories to be savoured and scrutinized for clues and references, of which there are many subtle callbacks to the Coen’s other work, it’s fun to notice and tally them up. The themes of light and dark are ever present through the entire run though, as if we’re privy to a never ending battle of forces wrapped in a cluster of crime stories centred around snowy Minnesota and surrounding areas. I’m not sure whether they plan to go ahead with a fourth season and I’d welcome it, but as it stands this is a beautifully made trilogy, with fantastic writing that practically feeds the brain like prosaic protein, a cast that’s to die for and narratives that truly take you on harrowing, hilarious adventures. You betcha.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Into The Grizzly Maze

I’ve never seen potential, cast and atmosphere so wasted like I did in Into The Grizzly Maze, there’s just no excuse for dicking up such a great premise like they did here. Originally titled Red Machine, which is way better anyways, it concerns various characters chasing down a monstrous rogue grizzly bear somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (actually Vancouver, naturally). These folks include ex con James Marsden, his park ranger brother Thomas Jane, Sheriff Scott Glenn, poacher Adam Beach and miscast Billy Bob Thornton as some sort of guru bear hunter. The character and writing are almost all flat, which amazes me because I’d be hard pressed not to write at least some engaging dialogue for a cast this badass, but nope. Marsden is as bland as sandpaper, Jane seems bored to tears, Thornton is so misplaced even his coat looks uncomfortable, Glenn is more grizzly than the bear but is underwritten, while Piper Perabo has a classic thankless chick role that’s beneath her talents. Seemingly immortal actor Bart The Bear is used effectively here but he can’t carry a film on his own and as a result the only truly memorable things are the beautiful locations and a particularly gruesome bit of makeup where half of Thornton’s face is literally slashed to ribbons, nice touch that. This seems to be a vague rehash of a 70’s bear flick that, from the looks of it, is probably eons better than this TV movie level garbage. Shame, as we’ll probably never see this cast together again. Avoid.

-Nate Hill