Tag Archives: Woody Harrelson

187. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

“The ancients had visions, we have television.”–Octavio Paz (quote cited by Oliver Stone as one of his inspirations for making Natural Born Killers)

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DIRECTED BY: Oliver Stone

FEATURING: , , Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield

PLOT: Mass murderers (and lovers) Mickey and Mallory stalk the Southwestern U.S., slaughtering innocents who cross their path but always leaving one victim alive to spread their legend. The television show “American Maniacs” tracks their adventures, and they have a large cult of followers. The pair are finally apprehended, but a live television interview scheduled to air after the Super Bowl gives them a narrow window to escape.

Still from Natural Born Killers (1994)
BACKGROUND:

  • Natural Born Killers was based on a screenplay written by , who was an unknown when the script was optioned for $10,000. By the time Oliver Stone was finished rewriting the script, so little of his original concept remained that Tarantino disassociated himself from the project. In the original script, “American Maniacs” host Wayne Gale was the main character, not Mickey and Mallory. Tarantino publicly stated that he was not disappointed with the direction Stone took the script, but simply felt that the finished project represented the director’s vision rather than his own. According to Jane Hamsher’s tell-all book about the production, Tarantino was upset that he was not allowed to purchase the rights back after he became a hot Hollywood commodity and tried to get the project scuttled behind the scenes, going so far as to tell and Tim Roth that he would never cast them in anything again if they accepted a role in the film.
  • Stone originally conceived of the project as an action picture, a simple movie that he could produce as a break from his serious works of social realism, but the script turned much darker as he worked on it.
  • Shot in only 56 days, but editing took almost a year. The ultra-fast pacing required almost 3,000 edits.
  • According to Oliver Stone. 155 cuts were imposed on the movie by the MPAA in order to receive an “R” rating (a crucial imprimatur for commercial purposes, since many newspapers at the time would not advertise NC-17 or unrated movies). All of this material is restored in the director’s cut. Despite the large number of total cuts, the restored footage only amounts to about 3-4 minutes of screen time.
  • A number of murders, mostly committed by teenagers, were said to be inspired by the film. In 1995, convenience store clerk Patsy Byers, who was paralyzed for life after being shot by a pair of young lovers who had dropped acid and watched Natural Born Killers all night on a continuous loop, instigated a product liability lawsuit against distributor Time Warner and Oliver Stone on the grounds that they “knew, or should have known that the film would cause and inspire people […] to commit crimes…” After a series of court hearings, the case was finally disposed of in 2001 on First Amendment grounds.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Natural Born Killers is about the power of images, making isolating a single frame from this nonstop barrage of psychedelic American carnage quite the challenge. Nonetheless, we located one picture which encapsulates the movie’s theme perfectly. Since Oliver Stone is not exactly noted for his subtlety, he garishly splashes his key insights over his characters’ tight tank-tops when a Navajo shaman sees the pair through spiritual eyes: words appear on Harrelson’s torso announcing him as a “demon,” then, even more tellingly, reading “too much t.v.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As if the story was being viewed through a remote control with a stuck channel button where every station is fixated on telling the story of celebrity killers Mickey and Mallory, the visual style of Natural Born Killers changes every few seconds. Disorientation, the substituted and enhanced reality of manipulated images, is the baseline reality of this ever-shifting nightmare vision of an America trapped inside a banal, violence-obsessed TV tube.


Original trailer for Natural Born Killers

COMMENTS: There is no way to reasonably discuss Natural Born Continue reading 187. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

CAPSULE: BUNRAKU (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Guy Moshe

FEATURING: , Gackt, , Demi Moore, Ron Perlman

PLOT: Set in a post-apocalyptic future that outlaws guns but promotes copious amounts of sword-heavy battles, Bunraku follows two mysterious lone strangers—a card-playing cowboy (Hartnett) and a pacifistic Japanese warrior (Gackt)—as they strive to take down the all-powerful crime lord (Perlman) who controls the city.

Still from Bunraku (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The visuals are stunning and innovative and the effects are wildly impressive, but the cookie-cutter sci-fi/western tale and clumsy script hold it back from approaching true Weirdness.

COMMENTS: Introduced by a gorgeous animated sequence involving puppetry (which is also the only time the film’s title comes into play), Bunraku takes place in a type of future many films have already established. There was a world-wide nuclear war, everything was destroyed, and human beings build the world back up to create a lawless, decrepit landscape where everyone fights all the time.  The all-knowing, presumably winking narrator is upfront about what type of story this is, making cracks about the type of mysterious loners always found in places like these.  This self-awareness pervades the script and certainly makes the film more digestible.

The set-up and story don’t make a lot of sense, with bouts of under- and over-exposition that either confuse or bore.  Hartnett’s Drifter is stiff and stern, with no emotion and no reason for the audience to care about him.  Gackt’s Yoshi is likable enough (and magnetically androgynous), but like Drifter he’s so enigmatic there’s barely any character left for the actor to embody.  They’re one-dimensional archetypes to the fullest extent of the word, but Moshe seems fully aware of this. Woody Harrelson brings some levity and charisma to The Bartender, a friendly but heartbroken working man who doesn’t take sides but finds himself pulled into Drifter and Yoshi’s war against Nicola (Perlman), the vicious and world-weary “Woodcutter.”  Demi Moore is extremely out of place as the crime lord’s resentful woman, but her role is small enough.

Luckily there is plenty to distract from the weak characterization!  Bunraku is chock-full of fascinating visuals and downright exciting fight scenes.  The lighting is over-saturated and the locations are highly stylized, with cut-paper backgrounds and a few Caligari-esque sets.  A sizable chunk of the running time is devoted to intense action sequences, with an inexhaustible amount of literal Redshirts ready to be killed by our heroes (led by Kevin McKidd as Killer #2, easily the weirdest character in the film) in elaborate group scenes.  There are fistfights, swordfights, polefights, circusfights, axefights, and one cool car chase. The effects are excellent, transitioning from comic-book style animation to CG enhancements to miniatures with a believable flow.

For all its thrilling action and memorable visuals, Bunraku suffers from an overcomplicated yet under-explained plot and an inexcusably long running time.  It could easily have lost 30 minutes and become tighter, better paced, and more enjoyable.  The writing is hit and miss, with some really sly moments that show Moshe’s self-awareness and sense of fun, and others that are over-serious and dull.  Aside from its looks, the film doesn’t do anything different but it doesn’t mean to, so it’s forgivable.  It’s just a fantastical, stupid romp with the colors of a 1950’s musical and the stylized gore of a Frank Miller comic.  What’s not appealing about that?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Extremely cool-looking in the manner of ‘Sin City,’ but clumsily staged, slackly acted and mind-numbingly dull, Israeli director Guy Moshe’s English-language fantasy is set in a future when guns, and apparently coherent conversations, have been outlawed.”–Lou Lumenick, New York Post (contemporaneous)