'Natural Born Killers' is one of the only films I've ever watched where I am generally uncertain as to what I feel. Never before have I had such a mixed reaction to such a Marmite style picture, and I probably won't have a similar reaction ever again.
The film directed by one of my new favourites, Oliver Stone, tells the story of Mickey and Mallory, played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis respectively. M and M are two psychopathic serial killers, actually they prefer mass murderers, who we follow through life with all their bloodbaths along the way.
Stone however is less interested in the violence, but the causes of their violence. Through a combination of drugged up sequences, flashbacks in the style of 70s sitcoms and the strangest combination of storytelling I've ever seen.
Putting aside the content for a moment, the acting alone on 'Natural Born Killers' stands out as some of the finest, in an extremely over the top way. Stone breaks with his serious masterpieces such as 'Platoon' and 'Wall Street', choosing cheesy, yet powerful over the top acting. Harrelson and Lewis perform admirably, but it's Robert Downey Junior's turn as Australian TV host Wayne Gale, and Tommy Lee Jones role as the prison warden which really take the cake. Both Downey Jr and Jones create the strangest characters with layers overlapping and breaking through the surface. They make you laugh, they make you cry.
But aside from the acting the rest of the film gives me mixed impressions. The cinematography is impressive but constructed in such a deliberately comic fashion that it gets on my nerves eventually. The storyline seems to be ever so slightly pointless and the message blurred by the violence.
I expected a more hardened opinion a few days after I watched it and the film earned perspective. Instead I am left unsure what to think and for that reason I give it two and a half stars, halfway good, halfway bad, unsure whether 'Natural Born Killers' is the masterpiece many make it out to be or just a plain disappointment.
Most thrillers maybe entertaining but 'No Country For Old Men' invites its audiences right into the story, creating an incredibly tense, clever piece topped with black humour on the side.
The film follows, in essence, a bag full of two million dollars after it is taken by a Vietnam veteran, played by Josh Brolin in what must surely rank as his greatest role. He is tracked down by Anton Chigurh, a psychotic hired killer across Texas as the chain reaction escalates.
Adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel, fast becoming a Coen favourite, the brother directors take on a classic crime style story but add their own fantastical style.
Javier Bardem is almost perfect in the film, playing opposite the brilliant Brolin, whilst Tommy Lee Jones strange part in the story is carefully and gently crafted by an excellent performance from Jones.
But every component of the film is mastered to a particular thriller style, in a very Coen way. The normalities of any Coen piece are there, with the memorable storyline, complicated twists and turns and well above average cinematography. However the enticing poetic nature of the film is what makes it stand above the rest and pull you ever deeper into the character's lives, both normal and abnormal.
And what to say of the action sequences themselves? Superb, as well as never losing sight of the basic plot and using wonderful characterisation.
The plot itself is complicated and the end of the film, whilst panned by some, is actually devilishly clever and a fantastic ending. Its supposed ambiguity may frustrate some, although when you watch for a second time the majority of the ambiguity washes away.
The Coen's brother collection of films make it hard to point definitely to just one as their unchallenged masterpiece, but in the ranks of their greatest films, as well as some of the finest cinema to come out of America in years, 'No Country For Old Men' ranks at the top.
Rotoscoping is not a technique I had come across before, or since, so I have nothing to compare it to when reviewing 'A Scanner Darkly'. What can be said for certain however is that the film is beyond anything else beautifully made, and whilst a few shaky performances let it down at times, the underlying message of the film is injected right into the viewer's skulls.
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick, his most personal work, examining drug abuse and the way society treats drug addicts, 'A Scanner Darkly' tells the story of undercover cop Keanu Reeves, (hold on hasn't he done this before), as he infiltrates a 'substance D' group, a new drug everyone is addicted to. However as Reeves does so he himself becomes addicted to the drug and begins developing a split personality, forgetting who he really is. Linklater has always and will always remain an indie filmmaker, so its no surprise that 'A Scanner Darkly' did not deliver the goods at the box office, picking up little over five million pounds.
But more people need to know about this film and dig it out at their local independent dvd shop, for it is the only place you'll find it, because it is deserving of a viewing for both its visual and storytelling capabilities.
Whilst Keanu Reeves plays himself again, this time he does it quite well, whilst Robert Downey Junior and Woody Harrelson bring on the best performances to the piece. The story is difficult to follow, not of course helped by mind bending rotoscoping and confusing sci-fi items such as the suits the undercover police officers wear. However it is a terrific story, like all K. Dick material, which shocks you into considering the big questions in a dystopian yet highly relatable setting.
The issues of powerful totalitarian states, drug abuse, drug treatment and general paranoia are examined, never in too much detail, but with the right balance of black humour and seriousness.
Whilst I would perhaps like to see this story adapted in real life motion, the rotoscoping does more to add than take away from the material and viewing experience, creating an enjoyable film which hits higher than the average indie drama flick.
The action sequences and set pieces are undeniably impressive and by far better than the average blockbuster. But the cliched, cheesy beyond belief, poor acting and excruciatingly painful plot make 'Point Break' overall a dour affair.
The film tells the story of FBI agent, wait for it, Johnny Utah, played by Keanu Reeves, who has to go undercover as a surfer to infiltrate a team of bank robbers. One of the surfers happens to be Patrick Swayze who offers up one of the most hair pulling performances of his career, whilst Utah is joined by his partner Gary Busey, by far the best thing in it.
The idea of a conflicted cop, forced to choose between his friends and 'true calling', and his job as an enforcer of the law has been done far too many times. Perhaps 'Point Break' was one too many. But more importantly than that, the plot, whilst full of memorable action scenes, does not really progress beyond the first half hour of the film where everything becomes apparent to any audience member.
Of course one thing, as I have said already, that does not fail to impress and even inspire is the action. Bigelow's well crafted and put together sequences, especially those of the chase through the houses between Reeves and ex-President Reagan, is exciting and even summons up a brief moment of real emotional connections with the characters.
However beyond that Utah, and Bodhi, Swayze, remain distant characters. It's no secret to my friends that Keanu Reeves is one of my least favourite actors, capable of only playing one character and one emotion. The same one he plays in 'Point Break'. However when he fails to even play that well you really do start to worry.
Overall whilst fun, 'Point Break' should have been a much better film than it is. It's a disappointing thrill, but little more than a poor blockbuster with great action scenes.