Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Predators (2010)

Also known as: Predator 3 (working title)
Release Date: July 7th, 2010 (Austin premiere)
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Written by: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Based on: characters by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershala Ali, Danny Trejo, Derek Mears

Davis Entertainment Company, Troublemaker Studios, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Media, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“We’re being hunted. The cages. The soldier. All of us. All brought here for the same purpose. This planet is a game preserve. And we’re the game. In case you didn’t notice, we just got flushed out. They sent the dogs in, just like you if you were stalking boar or shooting quail. They split us apart and they watched. Testing us.” – Royce

I threw this on because I wanted to refresh my memory with the quality of this film before watching the more recent sequel, 2018’s The Predator.

This has held up well after eight or so years. I still really liked it, it’s far better than either AvP film and it is the best Predator picture after the original two from 1987 and 1990.

Adrien Brody was already an accomplished and impressive actor before this but this is where he convinced me that he can also be a great action star. In fact, I really loved this version of Adrien Brody and would love to see him team up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch from the original Predator for a future film. That probably won’t happen but fanboys can dream and sometimes dreams do come true.

What’s great about this movie is that Brody could have carried it on his own but he didn’t have to because the ensemble cast was pretty fantastic, as well.

Alice Braga, now a well-known actress thanks to her show Queen of the South, was a damn good female lead and a total badass. Topher Grace was a character with an interesting twist. Then you have Laurence Fishburne as a great mad man, Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo and Mahershala Ali before his Oscar winning fame. Plus, Walton Goggins is also in this and if you’ve been reading Talking Pulp for awhile, you should know how much I love Goggins in anything.

One really cool thing about this movie, is that it is a good sequel and a fantastic homage to the original. It recreates some of the iconic moments of the first picture without being ham-fisted or cheesy. And the average person might not notice these subtle homages unless they’ve seen the original ten dozen times like I have.

I also like that they add some new elements to the Predator mythos. It introduces a new type of Predator alien and hints at a sort of civil war between the two types.

This movie has great action, a perfect pace, some solid mystery and marvelous performances with some good twists.

This is how you make a good Predator film. Keep it simple, keep it action heavy and just go balls out.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predator 2.

Film Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

Release Date: August 31st, 2006 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brad William Henke

Focus Features, Miramax Films, Back Lot Pictures, Universal Studios, Buena Vista International, 127 Minutes

Review:

“[about the bullet holes in George Reeves’ floor] Since when do suicides miss twice and start over?” – Louis Simo

This film really grabbed me immediately with the opening theme, which set the tone perfectly for this film-noir styled biopic about the death of George Reeves, the actor who was most famous for playing television’s Superman in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays the legendary George Reeves but he is not the main character. Adrien Brody gets the big spotlight in this one, as he plays a private investigator hired to uncover the truth surrounding George Reeves apparent suicide.

This is a very layered film, in the same vein as a classic film-noir, and it features a large cast of characters.

Brody commands your attention as Louis Simo. He exudes charisma and weaves his way through this tapestry with ease and a real air of confidence missing by most actors these days. Brody, as well as Affleck, almost feel overpowered though by the performance of veteran Bob Hoskins, who enters each scene with an aura of intimidation like a massive storm cloud ready to strike out with booming thunder.

Diane Lane puts in a solid performance as well, as do most of the ladies here. It was cool seeing Molly Parker banter with Brody. Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson both brought their A-game performances, as well. I wish we got to see more of Robertson, as she’s never quite broken out as a leading lady. Here, she shows that she has got more to offer than just being one of Ian Ziering’s girlfriends from the original Beverly Hills, 90210.

While this wasn’t an exceptional film, it did paint an intimate portrait and it handled the George Reeves situation with care and grace. There were a lot of shady things that happened in his life but the film felt honest and respected the man, even while displaying those flaws. Superman isn’t real and the man was just as human as all of us.

The film feels like it is missing something though. Maybe it’s the fact that it built up towards a resolution but we never really got there. Not in a proper narrative sense, anyway. By the time the credits roll, you’ve been taken on a ride but it just feels like a collection of scenes that don’t reach a solid conclusion.

I like Hollywoodland despite its flaws, in the same way I appreciate George Reeves despite his. It doesn’t fully hit the mark but it does connect with you emotionally and then lingers long after the final scene. In that sense, it is an effective movie.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: King Kong (2005)

Release Date: December 5th, 2005 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Andy Serkis

WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 187 Minutes (theatrical), 200 Minutes (extended)

king-kong-2005Review:

What a disappointment this was. I never wanted to watch it but I did in an effort to review it, as I am revisiting all the King Kong films before the new one is released in a few weeks.

I was a big Peter Jackson fan when this came out and I had always loved King Kong movies. However, when seeing the trailer for this in 2005, I just wasn’t interested in it. Watching it now, I found it incredibly hard to sit through the 200 minute mess. Yes!… 200 minutes!

Coming off of the heels of his great adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson had Hollywood in the palm of his hand. His special effects studio also proved that Lucasfilm wasn’t the only kid on the block, anymore.

To put it bluntly, this film is awful. The story is a rehash of what we’ve already seen in two better King Kong films. There really is nothing new to this movie, compared to the previous 1976 remake or the 1933 original, except some characters have altered because even though this is a film that takes place in the 1930s, it has to placate to the overabundance of animal rights activists in the world today.

The character of Ann Darrow had to love Kong, right? She couldn’t just flat out be terrified of the beast like she was in 1933, correct? I mean, the most hardcore animal rights activist would be shitting their pants in the clutches of Kong. But this change in the Darrow character, I guess, somehow justified this movie being well over three hours long. Had she just screamed and Kong just grunted, we would have had another Kong film that ran around two hours. Peter Jackson can’t have that! Hell, he turned each Lord of the Rings book into four hour epics and one Hobbit book into three four hour epics.

I remember not being blown away by the special effects when I saw footage of this in 2005. At this point, they look really outdated. The Lord of the Rings films, which predate this, still look really solid for the most part. King Kong, especially the island stuff, looks terrible. It is a fast-paced visual mess. It looks like a bunch of CGI creatures were thrown into a blender while action figures of our heroes dance in front of the high speed churning concoction.

Most of the action is nonsensical and just stupid. For an example of this, look at the scene where Adrien Brody is covered in bugs and Jamie Bell assists him by firing a machine gun at him. Also, the film completely disregards basic biology and physics. I get that you have to suspend disbelief for a film like this to work but King Kong asks you to completely suspend logic and accept stupidity.

The special effects sequences were too abundant. They all just blend together in a horrid mess. Also, the heroes don’t even get to the island for 45 minutes or so. If they shaved off a lot of unimportant things in the long intro and then scaled back on the action stuff, the film could have reasonably been a two hour movie, which it should have been.

Also, the tribal people in this picture are way too terrifying. They were literally a tribe from a horror movie and were definitely too scary for a movie that should have been family friendly and was marketed as such. The tribe also didn’t have a look and feel consistent with the already well established King Kong mythos.

I also hated Naomi Watts’ screaming. It was awful and never seemed to stop.

There are a few positives, though.

The first was Jack Black. I thought he did a tremendously good job as Carl Denham, my favorite character from the original 1933 version.

Also, Andy Serkis was great as Kong. Then again, when isn’t he stellar at playing motion capture characters? He’s the reason why an Oscar should be created for motion capture acting.

Another positive was the last twenty minutes of the film. The finale was pretty great, even if you had to painfully sit through the first three hours. The sequence of Kong on top of the Empire State Building fighting for his survival was pretty heart-wrenching. In fact, I was surprised that I was so taken aback by it, considering the awfulness of the preceding three hours. I credit that to the greatness that is Andy Serkis.

As bad as 1986’s King Kong Lives is considered to be, I think it is better than this film. Sure, that is a bold statement but it at least felt more plausible and it wasn’t a 200 minute bore.

I really have no urge to ever watch this again, where I revisit the other Kong films every few years.

Rating: 2/10

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Release Date: February 6th, 2014 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, Scott Rudin Productions, TSG Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 100 Minutes

the_grand_budapest_hotelReview:

The Grand Budapest Hotel did the unthinkable, it became the highest rated film on IMDb of Wes Anderson’s career, despite the director making countless classics before it. It cracked the top 200 films of all-time and currently sits at 204 on IMDb’s well-known and highly referenced Top 250 list. That’s pretty impressive considering The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Royal TenenbaumsRushmoreMoonrise Kingdom and others came out before it.

Let me get into the fantastic cast, which is huge.

In somewhat of a small role, never has F. Murray Abraham been better. That is a big statement to make, as he has been an actor featured in countless films over the last several decades but his ability to pull the filmgoer in, as he did, is a gift bestowed upon very few. This also brought out amazing performances by the rest of the cast, which isn’t just a who’s who of those cemented in Wes Anderson lore, it is a who’s who of Hollywood’s most talented crop.

You get Bill Murray in a small but amusing role, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in an amazing sequence, Adrien Brody as a fantastic asshole, not to mention Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric and Tom Wilkinson.

The bulk of the acting duties are split between the pair of the spectacular Ralph Fiennes and his perfect sidekick Tony Revolori. Saoirse Ronan, who is becoming a favorite of mine, was near perfection as the apple of the young Revolori’s eye. Léa Seydoux also shows up and she is alluring as ever, even as a maid in the hotel.

As a director, Wes Anderson never disappoints, at least in my experiences with his work. This was another gem to add to his seemingly flawless resume but going beyond that, one could argue that this was Anderson’s magnum opus. The high accolades and ratings for this film probably reflect that.

With this picture, Anderson broke his own mold and took some chances that he never has before, which paid off tremendously. For instance, there was a level of violence in this film that one wouldn’t expect from him. Yet, such changes in Anderson’s narrative tone were only enhanced by his crisp and colorful style, thus bringing a new layer to his methodical visual technique that added some depth to his artistic repertoire.

Wes Anderson found a way to reinvent himself and still stay true to his craft and style, giving his few critics something new to chew on and dissect that should thwart the naysayers who relish in the countless parodies of Anderson’s work.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy the parodies myself but Anderson proved that his quirkiness and visual approach aren’t predictable and mundane but that they work exceptionally well and are still presented in new ways: refreshing and enjoyable as the first time one experienced his style. For a filmmaker with such a specific visual aesthetic, such a feat is unheard of after having this much longevity.

Rating: 8.5/10