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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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Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan: A Review by Nate Hill 

Crime doesn’t pay, and money is the root of all evil. There are countless stories of people who forsake such principles and venture down a dark, destructive path, but none quite so biting and tragic as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. What haunts the viewer so much is not the fact that these characters suffer through horrific turmoil resulting from the promise of money, it’s that these are nice, good natured, everyday folks. These are the people next door, the blue collar, salt of the earth Americans, and it’s harrowing to see the downward spiral they fall headlong into. Bill Paxton is the mild mannered hardware store owner, Billy Bob Thornton his unemployed, dimwitted brother and Bridget Fonda his wife. Three regular people who could be any of us, until they find the money. Out in a snowy rural landscape, millions of dollars in cash is discovered by them, and that’s where the trouble begins. The three go to great lengths to keep their secret hidden from the local authorities, and eventually become paranoid, deceitful and hostile towards each other, leading to some truly heartbreaking outcomes. It’s not enjoyable watching these poor people go through this, because this isn’t some exploititive crime genre exercise. Although shades of noir are present, this film is set in the real world where human beings are neither good nor bad as a template, but have complex capacity for great evil or compassion. When something like the money gets in the way, though, that potential for malicious behaviour is dialed up considerably, and the resulting calamity looks something like what we see here. What’s scary about the whole thing is that it’s essentially their own fault; yes, the money turned up, and yes, its presence is what drives this wedge among them, but the money isn’t sentient, it doesn’t wish ill will, it’s simply *there*, leaving the characters to make decisions regarding it, decisions which in this case lead to their despairing downfall. What’s more, money is our own creation, not some outside influence eating away at them. This is surprising output for Raimi, who is the guy we know for rambunctious horror and genre pulp, but he shows a skilled and subtle hand with the down to earth material, letting his story be a window into a cold world of feverish greed, a world where plans are, in fact, anything but simple. 

Yes Man: A Review by Nate Hill 

Yes Man is a loaf of fluffy, inconsequential Wonderbread amidst a career of denser comedic pumpernickel  for Jim Carrey. Most of what he does has weight to go along with the laughs, and if it doesn’t it still has a raunchy bite that always hits below the belt. This is one of the few times he treaded lighter, a tone which can also be found in Fun With Dick & Jane, but that’s just not a good movie. Yes Man has merit in fits and starts, and it’s harmless fun for most of the ride. Carrey plays the consummate negative Nancy here, a guy who spends the better part of his time turning down offers, cancelling plans, avoiding people and saying no to everything. This all changes when he goes to a dodgy seminar preached by batty self help guru Terence Stamp. Inspired by his slightly odd teachings, he challenges himself to say yes to everything, and I mean everything, for one whole year. This gets him into all sorts of trouble, and steers him to the obligatory 180 shift in his character arc, and his own enlightenment. Guzzling red bulls after an all night club bender, guitar lessons, sexual favors from his experienced elderly neighbor (Fionnula Flanagan), driving a homeless dude (Brent Briscoe) to the middle of nowhere and giving him like two hundred bucks, life is just more fun when you say yes to everything, as Carrey quickly finds out. He also meets cutie pie Zooey Deschanel, whose initial amusement towards his lifestyle quickly turns to exasperation when his affirmative nature gets just a biiit too crazy for her. It’s all in good fun, and while most of it isn’t memorable or super noteworthy, there is one particular scene that makes the entire film worthwhile: Carrey has an awkward kiwi of a boss (Rhys Darby) who is constantly inviting him to cosplay parties. The moment he accepts is a symphony of quirky mannerisms, scotch taped facial grimaces and absurdity that is pure Carrey and could be used to sum up his career in half a minute. Watch for work from Danny Masterson, Spencer Garrett and Bradley Cooper. Like I said, it ain’t gonna rock your world like many of the iconic, beloved Carrey films, but it’s an amusing diversion with some scenes that do bring it home.