Tag Archives: Natural Born Killers

Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers


I will sing the praises for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers til the day I either die, am too dementia ridden to compile a coherent review or too arthritic to type anymore (you folks will get some peace and quiet on your social media once any or all of the above happens). This film is less a film than it is a writhing elemental force, a cinematic being brought to life by tools seldom used in Hollywood, namely the sheer audacity of Stone’s frenetic filmmaking style. The MPAA kept an R rating just out of his reach for a while before finally conceding, harping to him that though he cut violent bits here and there to make it semantically tamer, it was the general aura of chaotic madness that irked them so. Stone considers this a compliment, and well he should, for its not everyday that an artist so fluidly taps into the artery of violence and the many catalysts of it in such a primal, intangible way that brilliantly splices what compels us with what appalls is, and the scarily thin line that wavers between them. This film is many things: a psychedelic road flick, a blistering indictment of sensationalist American media and the decaying degeneracy it breeds, a hallucinatory mood piece, a severely expressionistic action film, a thriller, a chiller and the list goes on, but more important than all of those is the love story that ties it all together. Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson are sticks of poisoned dynamite as Mickey and Mallory Knox, two twisted up kids on the run from everyone and everything, products of the darkest bowers of bizarro world Americana, deeply scarred by their pasts, fully committed to the wanton murder spree they’ve engaged in and unapologetic about the wave of carnage they’ve left in their wake. Demonized at every turn by the powers that be and everyone else in between, it’s easy to see why a system feeds two sick souls like this with infamy and notoriety instead of helping them. Anything for that big ol’ dollar sign, or simply whatever fills the void. We see the sickness creep after them, ever present in creatures like Tommy Lee Jones’s fire and brimstone prison warden, Robert Downey Jr.’s manic, sickening enabler of a talk show host and Tom Sizemore’s psychotic, gung-ho detective Jack Scagnetti. There’s a saying out there that goes “animals are beasts, but men are monsters, a sentiment that Stone has taken and run right off the cliff with, blasting us in the face with humanity’s very worst for a solid two hours, until he’s damn sure we catch his drift. The film is a stylistic tornado, every kind of colour, lens, filter, soundscape, visual trick and style of editing used until we realize we’re watching something truly unlike anything before, and likely after as well. Mallory’s backstory is staged in a stinging sitcom format as she’s terrorized by her abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield, cast grotesquely against type). Mickey breaks out of prison in black and white Lone Ranger style. A drug store Mexican standoff is painted with swaths of neon vomit green. Shadowy title cards and striking lighting are used in a sequence where the pair visit the lonely desert hut of a prophetic Indian (Russell Means). Visions dance on walls like spectral tv screens, faces leer and loom out of shadows for no apparent reason other than to add to the beautiful commotion, characters skitter through frames looking for a moment like demons. There is no other film like this, no other experience rather, an animalistic treatise on primal human urges, societal constraints that bind them, loosely and laughably out of place when you consider the dark urges within everyone. Amidst all this chaos though, like two corrupted beacons, are Mickey and Mallory. This is their story, and despite being a chief cause of the chaos I just mentioned (the universe has a sense of irony), it’s a love story, they being the centrepiece and everyone else rushing past like dark passengers in a swirling sideshow to their main-tent event. They’re brutal serial killers, no question, but they’re tender and caring with each other, and we see hints at a collective sweet disposition hiding below all those years of built up scar tissue. It’s a gorgeous film, full of scream-at-the-heavens ugliness, imagery that burns a patchwork quilt of impressions straight into your soul, an angry satirical edge that cuts like a knife and so much overflowing style you could watch the thing a thousand times and still pick up on things you never saw before. From the first cacophonous diner slaughterhouse set piece, to the second half of the film that descends into a regular Dante’s Inferno of a prison riot, this film is truly something else, in my top ten of all time and a uniquely affecting experience that has shaped the way I’ve watched films ever since. Plus that soundtrack man.. the story is set to every kind of music out there including Trent Reznor, Lou Reed, Patsy Kline, Peter Gabriel, Dre, Mozart, Marilyn Manson and so many more, with a pair of perfectly nailed opening and closing numbers warbled by Leonard Cohen. Everyone and anyone has quick bits and cameos to support the titanic work of the main cast too, including Denis Leary, Ashley Judd, Arliss Howard, O Lan Jones, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jared Harris, Mark Harmon, Balthazar Getty, Marshall Bell, Louis Lombardi, Steven Wright, Rachel Ticotin, James Gammon and more. What more can be said about this film? It’s a natural born classic.

-Nate Hill

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SEAN STONE: An Interview with Kent Hill

Many of us can only imagine what it must be like to grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are people of extraordinary ability. We can only muse further what it must be like if that said parent were internationally recognized in their chosen field of expertise.

On the other hand, when we are young, we don’t really question such things. They are the ‘norm’, the everyday, and our parents are simply Mum and Dad. They do what they do and we are none the wiser. Then of course we reach an age when that changes. We realize that there are differences, and our worlds shrink or growth according to the depth of that perception.

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So imagine growing up and one day the realization hits that your Dad is the acclaimed filmmaker Oliver Stone; on top of that you have essentially grown up in the movies your father has been making. Now you were unaware to the extent of just how different things at home where compared to other people. But, it’s just how things were, and it’s just how things were for Sean Stone.

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Being on the set was normal because making movies is what Dad did for a living. These famous actors were simply people that were helping Dad out. It all seems fine that is till, as Sean told me, the world opens up and your understanding of that which you have been exposed to becomes evident.

Being a lover of the work of Sean’s dad, I, like the rest of you, have seen him as a baby on the lap of Gordon Gekko, as a young Jim Morrison, as the brother of an eventual mass murderer and more. He is now, however, a storyteller in his own right. Beginning with the chronicling of the making of Alexander, Sean has emerged as a naturally talented filmmaker. He has continued exploring the documentary as well as genre filmmaking, and I eagerly anticipate his intended adaptation of his father’s book A Child’s Night Dream.

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It was a real treat to chat with him at the dawn of 2017 . . . ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Sean Stone.

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Top Ten Tommy Lee Jones Performances

Tommy Lee Jones has had a uniquely interesting career.  He’s made a career out of playing the authoritative Gary Cooper-esque strong silent types; yet Jones has embraced his stoic calling to cinema, freely admitting that some of his turns are because people pay him a lot of money.  Even when he’s walking through a role that he’s done before, like in CAPTAIN AMERICA, he’s always a joy to watch.  Jones is incredibly sharp; his IQ is astronomic.  He’s best friends with Cormac McCarthy, and spends his free time on his ranch in Texas.  Jones is also a PR nightmare.  He only does interviews because he is contracted to, and he makes it very apparent during them, and you can’t help but feel bad for the person who is interviewing him.   His career is has been split into three different factions: staple Tommy Lee Jones, wildly hammy and outrageous Tommy Lee Jones, and the quiet auteur behind the camera who has become one of cinema’s most quietly treasured filmmakers.

BATMAN FOREVER 1995 Dir. Joel Schumacher

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Cashing in on his recent Oscar win for THE FUGITIVE, Jones embarked on a crash course of over-the-top shtick.  In an interview, Jim Carrey recalled meeting Jones for the first time prior to filming.  Carrey was sitting at a bar excited to meet Jones.  Jones walked in, went up to Jim Carrey and looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “I hate you.  I really don’t like you.  I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”  As cold and outright awful a thing that is to say to someone, I can’t help but picture that situation in my mind and laugh.  Jones spent the entire production in ridiculous costumes and makeup, doing his absolute best to out Jim Carrey, Jim Carrey.  Whilst the film is a far cry from the Burton films, it is still a lot of fun.  The fun is attributed to the ironically great chemistry between Jones and Carrey.

COBB 1994 Dir. Ron Shelton

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COBB is a unique film.  It’s a very unorthodox sports biopic by Ron Shelton, yet it almost feels incomplete.  For any flaws this film has, it has nothing to do with Jones’ performance.  He is remarkable in this film.  Shelton did some of the best writing of his career with the overly colorful dialogue that he provides for Jones.   He blends his stoicism with a very hammy performance.  It is easily Jones’ most understated performance.  He plays two Ty Cobbs, the young and ruthless baseball player in flashbacks and then for a majority of the film, a mad old genius that is very reminiscent of Howard Hughes.  He’s brilliant, he’s crazy, he’s outrageous, and yet Jones shades this unlikable character with an amount of vulnerability that you cannot help but identify and sympathize with.

HEAVEN AND EARTH 1993 Dir. Oliver Stone

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In Jones’ second collaboration with Olive Stone, he portrays the most frightening character in his career, the affable Steve Butler who falls in love with a woman while serving in Vietnam.  Throughout the course of the film once he enters, Jones takes a back seat in more of a supporting role, but while watching the film unfold, you feel the pressure of his performance whenever he’s not on screen.  His character is brutal, a psychological villain that has nothing to give the world but overt brutality.

JFK 1991 Dir. Oliver Stone

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There is not enough that can be said about Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about obsession.  It is one of the most engrossing films ever made; it has the most unique ensemble ever.    The casting of Jones as a flamboyantly gay, ex CIA man who lives in the public of New Orleans as well as the dark shadow world of conspiracy, and underground sex parties is one of the most brilliant casting strokes ever.  Jones plays two characters in this film.  Clay Shaw, the upstanding citizen, business man, and community leader of New Orleans.  He’s the epitome of a straight man; he’s regarded and respected, he’s a class act.  And then.  And then we see him as Clay Bertrand, in all gold body paint, with a cap on making himself look like the Greek God Apollo, snapping poppers and inhaling excessive amounts of cocaine and acting in a way that is so repulsive, you are completely mesmerized by his performance.

LINCOLN 2012 Dir. Steven Spielberg

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Daniel Day-Lewis playing the most admired President in US history wrapped with Tommy Lee Jones’ turn as the civil rights champion Thaddeus Stevens is an absolute Godsend to cinema.  While Day-Lewis’ performance flat-out dwarfs everyone else in this film, Tommy Lee Jones goes toe to toe with him.  His screen time is smaller than it probably should have been, but Jones gives a standout performance not only in the film, but also of his career.  His apathy for anything other than what is right, is brutally honest in this film.  His sunken and worn down physicality only adds mileage to a performance, which if anyone else played could have most certainly been a one note role.

NATURAL BORN KILLERS 1994 Dir. Oliver Stone

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In their third and final collaboration Oliver Stone and Tommy Lee Jones brought to life one of the most excessively outrageous characters in a film that was already chalked full of excess.  In the third act of the film, we are introduced to the vile Warden Dwight McCluskey, and my God is the Warden a vile human being.  His greasy hair is perfectly slicked to the side, his crusty pencil thing moustache is all you can look at, and his zany attire is obnoxious.  Jones plays this part perfectly.  He outdoes anything he has ever done.  His performance is out so out of control it makes Mickey and Mallory look tame.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN 2007 Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

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No one could have played Sheriff Ed Tom Bell like Tommy Lee Jones.  The horror and cruelness of Cormac McCarthy’s world is in every crack and crevasse of this man’s face.  The brutality of it all has worn this man down, more so than almost any other character we have seen on the screen.  He’s a man who as seen it all, until the events of the film unfold, and his apathy is swiftly shaped into caution and disbelief.  His low key performance is criminally overshadowed by the flamboyance of Javier Bardem.  This performance remains on the highest tier of his filmography and is one of his most underrated.

THE SUNSET LIMITED 2011 Dir. Tommy Lee Jones

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HBO deserves all the credit in the world for allowing Tommy Lee Jones to adapt Cormac McCarthy’s brutally heavy two man play for a Saturday night premier.   It is one of the most emotionally draining experiences anyone can endure.  The dark philosophy of life is on full display in a two hour conversation between a suicidal intellectual played by Jones and a killer turned born again savior played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson.  McCarthy’s razor sharp dialogue is made even more protruding by Jones’ linguistic abilities as well as his physical acting.

THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA 2005 Dir. Tommy Lee Jones

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The honestly of Jones’ performance in this film is absolutely haunting.  The hardened vulnerability of his performance is what won him Best Actor at Cannes, and it is a performance that will always stick with you after seeing it.  Out of his entire filmography, his performance in this film is the one that is criminally underseen, underrated, and understated.  I implore anyone and everyone to seek this unique film out and watch it.  This is the film that put Jones on the map as a not only a brilliant filmmaker, but in that unique class of actor/filmmaker that rarely works to the degree that it does with this gut-wrenching film.

UNDER SIEGE 1992 Dir. Andrew Davis

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Whoever was behind casting Tommy Lee Jones against Steven Seagal is a genius.  Jones capitalizes on his quick wit and intellect and amazingly holds his own against Seagal in their blistering knife fight during the climax of the film.  Jones is at his absolute finest in this film, delivering darkly humorous dialogue that is strangely understandable.  Not only is Jones on fire in this film, he also gives us one cinema’s best villains.  What makes his performance so great in this film, is how much fun he’s having.

Honorable mentions: THE FUGITIVE/US MARSHALS, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, THE HUNTED, BLOWN AWAY, SPACE COWBOYS, LONESOME DOVE, BLUE SKY, THE CLIENT, ROLLING THUNDER.