Tag Archives: Woody Harrelson

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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Problem Children with Big Eyes who make Biopics that’ll give you Goosebumps: An Interview with Larry Karaszewski by Kent Hill

As the child from a working class family in South Bend, Indiana, Larry was introduced to the movies by his father. He was not restricted as to what he could watch, so he watched it all. After high school he debated between pursuing either a career in comedy or a life in pictures.

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Larry opted for the movies, and soon found himself at USC. It was there that he would meet Scott Alexander, and together they would form not only a friendship, but also the foundation of a prolific career as a successful screenwriting duo.

After (and though it launched a trilogy of films and even an animated series) Problem Child, the screenwriters struggled to find work. It seemed as though they had been typecast buy their work and so looked to independently produce a biopic they were working on about the notoriously bad filmmaker Ed Wood.

As fate would have it, word of the project reached director Tim Burton. After expressing interest, the boys would have to hammer out a screenplay in double-quick fashion. They succeeded, and this, the first in a string of biographical efforts, would re-establish them in Hollywood and from it they would carve out their place in the genre and become, in many ways, its ‘go-to guys.’

Biopics of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman would follow, seeing the boys team up with Academy Award winner Milos Forman. They would go on to re-team with Tim Burton as well as dabble in a variety on different genres including everything from a kid-friendly version of James Bond to horrific hotel rooms were you’ll spend a night or perhaps even an eternity.

Larry and Scott have garnered the highest accolades the industry has to offer and continue to deliver. While trying to get a hold of Larry for this interview I caught him riding high on his recent wave of success, so I would just have to wait for the tide to turn. I am however, glad that I did. It was, as it is ever, a privilege to chat with a man whose work I heartily admire. I love the films he has written and I look forward to the projects that he and Scott have in the pipeline.

Without further ado I present, the award-winning screenwriter and all-round nice guy . . . the one, the only, Larry Karaszewski.

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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Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace 


While not quite in the pantheon of powerhouse that the filmmakers intended it to be, Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace is still a bleak, devastating picture. This is a film about endings, and not resolute, satisfactory ones either. Set in a borderline derelict mining town somewhere in the rust belt, industry has come to a grinding halt, giving way to the inevitable rise of rural crime, spreading like a cancer across land that once flourished and prospered. Every character in the film meets their bitter end somehow, and what’s fascinating is that earlier in life they all could have been more whole, and come from some other, brighter genre film, but the lives they’ve led set them on the same course as their county, and one by one we see them reach the last bend in the road, and the light in their life unceremoniously flicker out, leaving a cold shell. If I’m making this sound depressing, I’m doing my job well. This is a soul crushing film, with no light at either end of the tunnel and all glimmers of hope already extinguished before the opening titles even show up, so just make sure you have Finding Nemo or Wallace & Gromit queued up next in line if you give it a go. Opening with a prologue that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you know right off the bat what you’re in for, as we’re introduced to Woody Harrelson’s Harlan Groat, an absolute monster who runs everything from underground fight clubs to an intricate web of meth trade in the region. Groat is at odds with steelworker Russell Baze (An implosive Christian Bale), a hard man with anger issues just looking for an excuse to get fired up. Russell’s brother Rodney (Casey Affleck in the film’s best work) is a broken Iraqi war vet who got on the wrong side of Groat’s gang, and has since disappeared. Since the law won’t venture into the near mythic backwood hills where Groat skulks, Baze goes vigilante, waging personal war and raging against a light that has long since gone dead. This is a big cast we’re looking at here, and some of the subplots either distract from the main show or just seem like overkill, like Zoe Zaldana as Russell’s ex who has since shacked up with the local Sheriff (Forest Whitaker), or an underused Sam Shepherd as his uncle Red. Willem Dafoe has a nice bit as a seedy but sympathetic local gangster though, it’s always nice to see him, as well as Tom Bower as the salt of the earth bartender. It’s all about Woody and the danger he brings, he’s terrifying in the most mundane of exchanges, and lethal when he gets worked up. The feeling of economic decay follows him like a noxious cloud, his brittle ruthlessness a mascot for the hard times that many a town in the US has fallen on in recent years. One need only look at the poster to see the obvious and intentional shades of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, and though the film wears its influences on its heavy flannel sleeve, it finds its own dark, despairing poetry, and leaves you gutted in the final, anticlimactic frame. 

-Nate Hill

“You got a problem with me?” – A review of Out Of The Furnace by Josh Hains

Scott Cooper’s sophomore film Out Of The Furnace follows Russell Baze (Christian Bale) through the empty, broken down streets of Braddock Pennsylvania like a lonesome ghost. He works in the local steel mill where his slowly dying father once worked, using what little money he makes to pay off his brother Rodney Jr.’s (Casey Affleck) gambling debts to sleazy local bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe), all the while trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana). That all comes crashing down when Russell gets into trouble with the law and spends the next four years in prison, getting periodic visits from Rodney with updates on the state of their father’s health, Lena, and Rodney’s own exploits overseas in Iraq. Both men are broken and trying to keep it together for the sake of each other.

In due time Russell is released back into Braddock, the once thriving city on the verge of death with the mill soon to be closed. Things are different now for Russell, the times have changed, people have changed, and he has no other choice but to suck it up and trudge forward into the unforeseeable future. Rodney has picked up a deadly new habit, bare knuckle boxing, his way of violently paying off his debts to Petty before the stack gets too high. Russell tries talking him into a “normal” job to no avail; after multiple horrific tours of duty in Iraq, Rodney has been left shaken, twitchy, and is a mere shell of the man he once was. All that seems to be left is violence, anger, and undying love for Russell. Rodney begs John Petty to get him into bigger fights in backwoods New Jersey, dirtier, bloodier fights held under the watchful eye of local sociopathic hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

By this point in a standard issue revenge thriller, Rodney would have been long dead, but Cooper wisely makes the decision to give us time to settle into this world, and come to understand characters who feel like people, and not just cardboard cut outs. That the latter half of the movie devolves somewhat predictably into the same kind of movie it was previously avoiding replication of, is a disappointment. However, what does occur is given room to breathe. Cooper might be following the tropes of the genre, but he at least has the sense to let it unfold slowly and organically. Very little feels forced.

Things quickly turn ugly for Rodney and Petty, and when both go missing, the local law led by sheriff Wesley Barnes, exhausts all possible means in an attempt to find the pair, but can only go far because law enforcement lives in fear of DeGroat’s brutal reign of the area, and the fact that it’s outside of Braddock police’s jurisdiction doesn’t help matters either. So Russell and his uncle Red (Sam Shepard) cautiously take matters into their own hands the only way they know how.

Christian Bale delivers his most believable performance to date, fully embodying the heart and soul of Russell Baze, right down to the slightest nuances and subtleties of the man. He’s a truly masterful actor, strutting his stuff in such low-key fashion that because of the deep naturalism, rawness, and intense realism he imbues, within the first few minutes it stops feeling like a performance. It becomes, real, as Russell battles his inner demons and carries the weight of the world on his lean shoulders right up until the final frames fade to black.

Woody Harrelson knocks it out of the ball park as Jersey backwoods hillbilly sociopath Harlan DeGroat, topping his wildly over-the-top performance as Mickey in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. If you thought Mickey was a bad dude, wait until you watch DeGroat force a hot dog down the throat of a woman at a drive-in movie theatre in the films unnerving opening sequence. Harrelson has an uncanny ability of inhabiting even the most repulsive of villains with some semblance of humanity, and toward the end of the film does so with nothing more than an all-knowing expression upon his face and burning in his eyes as he delivers a couple heartfelt lines.

With this performance, Casey Affleck shed the boyish light his previous performances have always been garnished with, trading it in for a toned body and volatile outbursts of pent-up rage. He gives the more energetic performance of the two brothers, effortlessly capturing Rodney’s broken down mannerisms. Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard each provide the right amount of nuance and naturalism to their perfomances that blend evenly with their bleak surroundings and the trio of astounding lead performances.

In a scene near the midsection of the film, Russell and Lena have a conversation on a bridge about their future after Russell has been released from prison. Despite Russell’s plea to make things right between them, Lena cannot commit to him anymore because she’s carrying Barnes’ child. In a moment that ought to shatter even the hardest of hearts into a million pieces, Russell congratulates Lena, assuring her she’ll be a good mom amidst tears from both of them. This scene assuredly carries the finest moments of acting we’ve seen from Bale and Saldana to date. 

The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey) is impeccable, capturing beautifully and quite often starkly, the dreary and dirty grit of Braddock, the crispness of the violence, the cold bitterness of the dialogue dripping from the tongue of the people inhabiting the film. Scott Cooper directs this film with ease, honestly and authentically capturing the bleak essence of the dying town, the harsh realities of the effects the economy is having on the people, and the brutality that is the violence that twists their worlds upside down in the blink of an eye.

 

The Big White: A Review by Nate Hill 

Snowbound location. Pitch black comedy. A corpse that’s central to the plot. The Big White was obviously influenced by Fargo, the Pulp Fiction of wintry crime comedies, but holds its own fairly well thanks to solid acting and writing. It’s nothing new or incredible, but it’ll get you your perversely humerous noir fix, and who can say no to Robin Williams, playing a pitiable travel agent who spies a risky way to end his financial problems. Discovering a frozen corpse, he has the brilliant idea to pass it off as his deceased brother and collect the insurance money. A few problems lie ahead: a dogged insurance investigator (Giovanni Ribisi), two moronic hitmen (Tim Blake Nelson & W. Earl Brown) and the small detail that his brother isn’t actually dead, and comes waltzing back into his life in the form of a rampaging, unstable Woody Harrelson. William’s spitfire wife (Holly Hunter) looks on in exasperation as her husband turns their lives into disaster, while everyone is somewhat clueless and misinformed, leading to great amounts of hilarity. Sound chaotic? It is, sort of. It’s also kinda laid back and deadpan enough to make the Coen brothers proud. Harrelson and Williams both bring their very different brands of manic, Williams I’m a forlorn desperate sense, and Harrelson  just the unhinged wildcard. Alison Lohman is also running about, but it’s been so long since I saw it I can’t remember exactly who she plays. Fans of Fargo will be tickled, those with a weird sense of humour as well. Fun stuff. 

THE WALKER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After dabbling briefly with a major studio with Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), writer/director Paul Schrader returned to the relatively safe confines of the independent film scene with The Walker (2007). This film continued his fascination with loner protagonists ostracized by their profession as examined in American Gigolo (1980) and Light Sleeper (1992), or by their worldview as in Taxi Driver (1976).

Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) is a popular socialite who works as a confidant, companion, and card player to the wives of politicians in Washington, D.C. – a professional “walker,” a term coined for Nancy Reagan’s companion when she was First Lady. Carter is the epitome of the Southern gentleman. He plays a weekly card game with three women as they gossip and tell stories complete with salacious details about the denizens of Capitol Hill. Carter is finely groomed and impeccably dressed with only the finest suits, living in a beautifully furnished place.

With the stories Carter tells his dates, he hints at a rich backstory but he is careful not to reveal too much about himself. While waiting for Lynn Lockner (Kristin Scott Thomas), one of his dates, to meet up with her lover, she comes back in shock. Her lover is dead and she asks Carter to keep the incident quiet. Of course, he decides to get involved (he knew the victim). Carter used to trade in juicy gossip and now he has become the subject of it. It doesn’t help that he lost considerable money on an investment that the victim advised and this gives the socialite a motive. As a result, he decides to investigate the murder using his own insider contacts and uncover a few dirty secrets that people in positions of power don’t want revealed. His efforts to clear his name become more urgent once the Feds apply pressure thanks to a particular nasty agent (William Hope). Pretty soon, events conspire against him and Carter becomes the prime suspect.

Woody Harrelson disappears into the role affecting a flawless accent and does an excellent job with Schrader’s witty dialogue and distinctive cadence. Every few years between amiable comedies Harrelson gets a juicy dramatic role to sink his teeth into and showcase his acting chops: Natural Born Killers (1994), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), and now this film. Schrader’s screenplay, as you would expect, snaps and pops, especially the scenes where Carter and his companions banter and gossip. It doesn’t hurt that he has the likes of Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Kristin Scott Thomas delivering it. The Walker is a fascinating inside look at a subculture that exists in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of a murder mystery. It shows to what lengths politicians will go in order to protect themselves and their dirty secrets. Schrader has crafted a smart thriller with interesting characters that is driven by a well-plotted story and not a bunch of noisy, hastily edited action sequences.