Natural Born Killers (1994) Blind Spot Review

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Story by Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
A satirical black comedy crime film that tells the story of two victims of traumatic childhoods who became lovers and mass murderers, and are irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.

My Opinion:

Here we are with movie number three of my 2016 Blind Spot picks. I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to review one each month so far! (the previous two were An Education & Summer Wars). Other than The Doors & Platoon, I can’t say I’ve really liked any Oliver Stone films all that much so I went into this one with fairly low expectations. Plus, I’ve never exactly loved either Woody Harrelson or Juliette Lewis. Well, I have to say that I liked this one quite a bit and both those actors have gone up a little in my estimation (22 years later!).

I suppose it helps that Quentin Tarantino wrote the story? He wasn’t involved with the actual screenplay (I read that they changed his story quite a lot) but this movie has the overall vibe of the films he directed – not just in the extreme violence, of course, but also in the rich characters & dialogue.

I think it’s difficult to make a satire on our obsession with violence that then uses excessive violence to get its point across. Does this movie glorify violence just as much as it claims the media does, thanks to shows such as the film’s American Maniacs as hosted by Robert Downey Jr’s character? I read that, at first, this movie was going to be a straight-up action film before Stone decided to turn it into a satirical black comedy. I think changing the direction of the movie was a very wise decision. Actually, this is what I read at Wikipedia – I can see why he changed his mind:

“As the project developed however, incidents such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Menendez brothers case, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident, the Rodney King incident, and the Federal assault of the Branch Davidian sect all took place. Stone came to feel that the media was heavily involved in the outcome of all of these cases, and that the media had become an all-pervasive entity which marketed violence and suffering for the good of ratings. As such, he changed the tone of the movie from one of simple action to a satirical critique of the media in general.”

I think the movie very much gets its point across and is even more relevant today as violence seems to be at an all-time high but, also, scenes of graphic violence are even more immediately accessible now than in 1994 thanks to the explosion of the Internet. It’s not some true-crime TV show (hosted by Downey Jr with, I gotta say, a really annoying fake Australian accent) that we have to worry about these days. Hell, American Maniacs looks like a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon compared to today’s video games & torture porn films never mind the disturbing clips of real-life violence which are far too readily available online thanks to everyone having their own damn video cameras in their phones. (Off Topic Rant: Man, I love my phone but wish I could time travel back to 1985 when peoples’ private lives weren’t being constantly recorded & uploaded for all to see. Kardashian-free 1980’s life sounds like a damn utopia now! Rant Over). So, Natural Born Killers is more relevant today but also wouldn’t actually work if made now as it’s no longer satire. Watching it now was quite scary, in a way, as I imagine it felt far-fetched in 1994? Now it just feels like one of those Making A Murderer type of true story documentaries that are so popular on Netflix.

I’m actually a huge wuss when it comes to violence in movies (I watch Tarantino’s with my hands over my face half the time) but am more accepting when the movie has a message like I feel this one does. There’s lots of blood in this but I was able to watch it all as it’s not as “gory” as Tarantino-directed films (which do glorify violence but are so cleverly written that I can’t help but love them anyway as a fan of film). Will someone go on a murder spree after watching this? Maybe. But someone who does that would’ve done that anyway whether or not they’d watched a violent movie or played a violent video game.

Oh crap – I really didn’t want to get into a deep discussion about the film’s message and about whether the media has a responsibility to humanity to not glorify violence and blah blah blah. That’s one of those arguments that can go around in circles for an eternity. All I’ll say is: Society is fucked. The media – including movies, TV, video games, websites – is just a reflection of society. It gives us what we seem to want based on our behavior. I think Natural Born Killers displays that logic perfectly but it’s a shame that its message, although extremely blatant, seemed to not be fully grasped by everyone at the time.

I think what worked for me with this movie besides the film’s message was its style. I loved the psychedelic scenes and Stone’s use of different colors. I thought the I Love Lucy sitcom-style scenes involving Rodney Dangerfield as the abusive father of Juliette Lewis were very inventive and the scene in the rattlesnake-filled desert was trippy. Hell, I even found the “marriage on the bridge” scene oddly romantic in a messed-up way. That’s the thing – I think most people watching this movie find themselves liking Lewis’ & Harrelson’s Mickey & Mallory despite the fact that they’re psychotic killers with no remorse. But that’s the whole point, of course. The media in the movie makes them stars and the movie itself has made their fictional characters stars. By the end, you want Mickey & Mallory to live happily ever after and THAT is truly fucked-up. That’s how good the movie is, though – it turns us into the Mickey & Mallory-worshipping audience of American Maniacs.

My Rating: 8/10

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Saving Private Ryan (1998) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Rob of MovieRob. Thanks for being a part of this, Rob! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Saving Private Ryan, IMDB rank 39 out of 250… (as of 01/01/2013)

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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Thanks again to Ms. Mutant for giving us all a chance to review our favorite movies that are part of the IMDB Top 250!

Certain movies fade within your memory not long after you see them and then there are others that remain engraved in your mind for years, if not decades afterwards.

Saving Private Ryan is a movie that fits into the latter category in my mind.

I recall seeing it in the theater during the Fall of 1998 and being mesmerized and riveted for the close to 3 hours running time.

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Steven Spielberg had given us all so many iconic movies over the years up to that point that spanned the whole gamut of Genres. From Jaws to Close Encounters to E.T. to The Indiana Jones trilogy to The Goonies to Jurassic Park and ultimately to his masterpiece Schindler’s List.

Few suspected that he would find a way to even top THAT endeavor, but he did. (or at least matched it)

Saving Private Ryan is truly a companion piece to Schindler’s List because they both deal with different aspects of the horrors of World War II. One deals with the inhabitants of Europe and how they had to deal with the cruelty of the Nazi’s, some due to their heritage and others due to their will to stop injustice from continuing. The other deals with the thousands of American soldiers who traveled far from home to help bring about the downfall of that cruel dictator and his nation that attempted to stop freedom and democracy from spreading.

In both of these movies, Spielberg didn’t hesitate to show the horrific face of war and in some instances strived so hard to show us the hurtful, but truthful shock and awe of those events in history.

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I cannot think of any other movie that opens as this one did. To have close to 30 minutes devoted to carnage, despair, fear, trepidation, blood and guts (literally), action, and lots of other very descriptive and poignant moments has been unprecedented in film history, let alone during the first 30 minutes.

Basically this movie charges right in, showing us that war truly is hell. By the time the shit hits the fan, we don’t know any of the characters and (at least back in 1998), we only could recognize Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore. The disorientation that the viewer was hit in the face with from the start was even greater because of the ‘shaky’ camera work that was purposely used to give us the feeling that we are within that very dangerous situation along with the soldiers themselves.

The rest of this movie follows suit and is amazingly done. The story is interesting, the characters are not just ‘stock’ soldiers like in many war movies, the dialogue between the characters and the action all add up to a movie worth seeing over and over again.

I don’t like spoiling movies, so I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot itself because I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few of you out there who have yet to see this.

Basically, like many ‘war’ films, this is an anti-war movie trying to show the futility of war and the importance of every person individually making whatever they do in life and in war count for something.

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Once the story gets going, we get to know the characters quite well and each one is developed well enough that we care what will happen to them.

Spielberg purposely chose unknown actors so we wouldn’t be distracted by stars. Ironically, just about all of his “unknown” choices became very popular afterwards. Who doesn’t know the names of Ed Burns, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel and Jeremy Davies?

Shockingly, this movie lost the best picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love which in my book is the biggest mistake ever made by Oscar voters. As much as Shakespeare was a fun movie, this one is clearly better in every aspect besides comedy (DUH!!). Spielberg himself was awarded the best director Oscar which was extremely rare 16 years ago to have a split between Picture and Director.

This is a movie that is best if watched on the big screen. I personally saw this twice in the theater and am grateful that I did so. Certain films are even more powerful on the big screen and this is one of them even if it’s also quite enjoyable at home.

I’m actually quite surprised that this movie is so low on the IMDB Top 250. I mean c’mon 35!!!!. How is that even possible?

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Heat (1995) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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For today’s IMDB Top 250 guest review, we have the Scottish (Scottish accents are the BEST!) Mark of the brilliant Marked Movies site. Mark has awesome hair (although he apparently no longer has that hairdo in his pic here) and has boat drinks (I still have no idea what that means) and writes wonderful movie reviews. He also has GREAT taste in movies (as in, we seem to like a lot of the same types of films and I have really cool taste). Well, he likes Raging Bull a hell of a lot more than I did… Anyway – he’s a popular blogger that everyone wants to have a drink with so check out his site if, for some odd reason, you haven’t already.

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list HERE.

Now onto Mark for his thoughts on the movie Heat, IMDB rank 119 out of 250…

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Director: Michael Mann.
Screenplay: Michael Mann.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Kevin Gage, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, Martin Ferrero, Bud Cort.

When this was released in 1995, most people believed it to be an original idea. It wasn’t. It was actually a more fleshed out and elborate version of Michael Mann’s 80′s TV movie “L.A. Takedown“. He obviously didn’t have the budget or the actors, to realise his vision at this time, so with a second chance, Mann grabs it with both hands and both of the best actors in the business.

Professional and precise thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) lives by a strict code and doesn’t take chances. He has a tight-knit crew that takedown big jobs for big money but he ends up drawing the attention of determined and obsessive robbery/homicide cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). The two of them have more in common than one might think and as their worlds draw closer, they are led to an inevitable confrontation.

At it’s core, “Heat” can be viewed as an old fashioned cops-and-robbers tale but it’s done with such vastness and great attention to detail that it rises above most, if not all, of the genre. It not only focuses on the the lives of the two main characters – at opposite ends of the moral scale – but it pays attention to the city and environment in which they operate. What almost overshadowed the storyline, was the anticipation of seeing DeNiro and Pacino share the screen for the first time (They were both in “The Godfather part II” but never had any scenes together). Comparisons between their acting styles will obviously be made and without focusing too much on their different approaches, I found DeNiro’s more subtle, calculating delivery far more convincing than Pacino’s tendency to overact with random, explosive outbursts, bellowing at everyone he meets. There, I said it. However, the film is far more than just these two great actors. It’s a multi-layered character study and the supporting roles, particularly Sizemore and Kilmer (in a role originally intended for Keanu Reeves) are given a substantial amount of work and the female parts of Venora, Brenneman and Judd play a massive part in shaping the leads also. We are given a glimpse into their home lives and the struggle they all face in maintaining a ‘normal’ life – when it goes against their nature. The actors are all given roles to work with, allowing us to identify and care about them. It’s because of this, that when the action is delivered, it’s edge of your seat stuff. There are three great ‘Getaway’ scenes from movies that I found particularly powerful; Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” had Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (on foot) running through suburban houses and backyards; The opening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” had Ryan Gosling (in a car) careening and speeding through a darkened urban jungle and this… the major characters (with weapons) shooting it out through a busy congested Los Angeles street. As much as this isn’t just about the two leads, it’s not just about the action either. It’s more about the city itself and it’s inhabitants. The refined dialogue allows these inhabitants to come alive and Mann’s meticulous, hypnotic direction and ethereal choice of music breathes life into the city as well.

An exciting and methodical piece of work from a highly accomplished cast and director. A near masterpiece of modern cinema.

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Mark Walker

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