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Tag Archive: Fargo


Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This is what I was hoping for in Jonas Åkerlund’s movie Polar, the brutal Mads Mikkelsen dark action movie that was more wannabe Zack Snyder than anything interesting, fun, or thought-provoking.  Cold Pursuit is something like Polar.  You’ll feel the cold, sure.  But director Hans Petter Molland′s take on dark comedy is a little more subtle, less “look at me and all the carnage I can fit on a screen and have my characters laugh about.”  But Cold Pursuit is also not the Coen Brothers’ Fargo.  And that’s a good thing if you don’t worship Coen Brothers movies.  It’s also a good thing if you like Fargo only a little bit.

What the heck am I talking about?  Unlike a lot of films that go direct to streaming services, this was a theatrical release.  You can tell the difference.  So it beats out most direct-to-Netflix, Amazon, etc. fare.  But Cold Pursuit was marketed and billed more like a dark comedy.  Only it’s not very funny.  But it’s an enjoyable, satisfying revenge flick.  So blame the marketing.  Cold Pursuit is a steady, measured drama about a resourceful snowplow driver near Denver, played by Liam Neeson (sporting a Han Solo at Hoth parka), who is successful at his job, but less successful with his family relationships, including communicating with his wife, played rather blandly by Laura Dern (it’s the part, not the performer).  When their son is murdered by a low-level member of the local drug community, Neeson’s character, Nels Coxman, first tries to kill himself.  When he learns his kid wasn’t really involved in drugs he begins relentlessly pursuing everyone involved in the world that killed his son, aiming for the top, which reaches back to an anal-retentive, self-absorbed, young, wealthy kingpin called Viking back in the city, played expertly vile by Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express).  This is when the movie takes the action turn.  Bateman plays that villain you love to hate and really want to see get a comeuppance.

Dozens of named characters get killed in different ways throughout the picture (I thought about counting the bodies but didn’t).  Each cleverly gets their own pre-sound era cinema “tombstone” as they are marked off the list (including their religion–oddly irrelevant but humorous).  Even if it’s a little spoliery (yes, that’s the correct spelling) to know it, if it helps get people to see the movie then it’s worth knowing that Neeson’s character is not a criminal type or tough guy, but calls forth that familiar guy from the Taken movies to open ample six-packs (several) of whoop-ass on the bad guys.

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The movie-going world first met Anna Paquin when she co-starred in Jane Campion’s The Piano, which earned her the Academy Award for her supporting role at age 11–the second youngest Oscar winner in history.  As the New Zealand actress gained experience in her craft she went on to star in True Blood, which earned her a Golden Globe Award.  These days she’s best known as Rogue in the X-Men series, appearing in four X-Men movies so far.  This past fall she starred as a murder victim in Netflix’s 19th century historical drama series Alias Grace, and this month U.S. audiences were introduced to her performance as a cop in one of the better episodes of season one of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.  This week she returns to television in a starring role again as a cop in the new series Bellevue on WGN America.

Paquin continues to show her Oscar and Golden Globe wins were deserved.  The actor has a command of the stage, and consistently her presence in a scene brings authority to her characters.  In Bellevue we meet a down-to-Earth side of Paquin as she plays Detective Annie Ryder, a local institution in her small town, whose brash personality and working class roots put her at odds with other officers in her department and every other faction in the town of Bellevue.  Her new case is locating a missing young man, a local hockey player and celebrity of sorts who we learn had a transgendered lifestyle and possibly was being counseled by a priest at a local church.  Paquin’s Ryder has her own odd sense of humor as she makes the best of handling a daughter, a sad sack ex-husband, and the residents of a mining town with a newly closed mine and a newly opened brewery.  The first episode really kicks in as we watch Ryder find a connection between the recent crime and strange messages left to her after her father’s suicide when she was a child.

You can see bits and pieces of a myriad of dark-murder-mystery genre TV and film in Bellevue, everything from the dark creepy vibe of Haven, Grimm, Twin Peaks, The Returned, The X-Files, and Wayward Pines–minus the supernatural elements–along with the serious crime material of Broadchurch, Fargo, and Thirteen.  As for its pacing, this Canada production for WGN America is presented like many British mystery series–there seems to be more time spent in study of each scene, as found in better mysteries like Shetland or Hinterlands.  One episode in and it already is more compelling than The Killing.  For current audiences Bellevue may feel more like Riverdale–the series pilot even has Ryder’s daughter recounting a past murder in the small town as Jughead often narrates in Riverdale.

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hell-or-high-water

Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of the traditional Western, Hell or High Water is a Western in name only.  Sure, it has the hallmarks:  Frank and Jesse James-inspired bank robbers, it takes place in a Western enough locale, and there’s plenty of cowboy hats and even horses and cattle.  But it’s something very different, and reviewers calling it a Western are setting the wrong expectations.  Yes, it’s closer to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than your typical fare, but not that close.  A nontraditional Western?  Barely, maybe.  Better described it’s a drama in Western dress.  It’s also a look at a place and time: West Texas, today.  Which makes it in other ways a West Texas version of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo.  You’ll see plenty of life reflected with a Texas cultural twist.  Good and bad.  Strangely enough, if life is indeed reflected in the cinema each year, Hell or High Water is the best reflection of America to hit theaters in 2016.

In addition to the perfect Western title, Hell or High Water has the perfect imperfect hangman sheriff in its Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges in what is yet another brilliant supporting character role.  If he hadn’t landed the Oscar for True Grit, he’d have it for this.  Bridges plays another crotchety old man, he’s days from retirement, and all soaked in his own blissful ignorance of his racism, much like Clint Eastwood’s old man in Gran Torino and Eastwood’s own take on the Texas Ranger in pursuit in the 1993 “modern Western” A Perfect World.  Bridges’ partner is the put-upon Comanche Ranger Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham, an actor of actual Comanche lineage who has guest starred on numerous genre classic series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Veronica Mars, Castle, and even Riptide.  At times Birmingham gets his Oscar-worthy moments, too, especially when he fires back at Hamilton with equally biting quips.

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The Rangers are hunting down two brothers, played by Star Trek and Wonder Woman’s Chris Pine and 3:10 to Yuma and X: Men: The Last Stand’s Ben Foster, who have a strange plan to rob a Midland Texas chain of banks because they learned the banks’ network of video recording hardware is being updated, with the added bonus of being able to launder the money through an Oklahoma casino.  The movie trailers laid out every aspect of the plot–why they need the money–more concisely than its laid out in the film, but the film is really part character study of the brothers, part indictment of the banking system, and the destruction of the family unit, and everything else wrong in the world.  To that end this is a typical drama, but it has its moments, including a quality bank robber story.

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Martin Freeman in Fargo

Did you hear the one about the British actor who played a guy from Minnesooootah?

Following in the footsteps of the dark 1970 Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould comedy flick M*A*S*H, the Coen Brothers are taking their Oscar-winning script from their movie Fargo to the small screen, turning the setting into a new series on the FX Network.  An all-star cast will make TV viewers who might not have liked the Coen Brothers humor in the film give the idea another chance.

With an all-new “true crime” story with a new case and new characters, and that far-North Central U.S. accent that drifts from Wisconsin to Minnesota, The Hobbit and Sherlock star Martin Freeman will play a put-upon local who encounters a troublemaking outsider played by Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade).  Orange County star Colin Hanks plays a Duluth police deputy.  Other cast includes Allison Tolman, Oliver Platt (A Time to Kill, Beethoven), Keith Carradine (The Long Riders), Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Nebraska), Brian Markinson (Arrow, Continuum), Kate Walsh (The Drew Carey Show), and Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused, Zodiac).

Here’s the first seven minutes of the new series, Fargo:

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Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers have never made a movie on my favorites list since Raising Arizona, although No Country for Old Men had a lot going for it with great acting by Josh Brolin and Kelly MacDonald.  And I’m probably the only person on earth that isn’t a fan of Fargo.  But a story about the 1960s New York folk music scene might entice me to check out the Coens’ new StudioCanal period flick Inside Llewyn Davis.

The Coens are great at selecting key character actresses and using genre favorite Carey Mulligan in another period film seems to be a great choice as the love interest of what seems to be the stereotypical brooding, misunderstood musician, the title character played by Oscar Isaac.  Isaac has appeared in Robin Hood and The Bourne Legacy, but this is clearly his big leading man break.  Who doesn’t want to be in a movie with Bob Dylan singing the background music?

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Fargo, Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? fans (you know who you are) will be happy to know a new Coen Brothers flick is coming to theaters before year end.  Written by the Coens and directed by Michael Hoffman (Restoration, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Gambit stars big names Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, and Cameron Diaz along with Stanley Tucci.

Firth drops the dashing and charming for befuddled and put upon as Harry Deane, a British art curator working for an eccentric and abusive billionaire named Lionel Shahbandar, played by Rickman in his first starring post-Harry Potter film role.  Firth decides to take revenge on his boss by duping him into buying a fake Monet.  But it all requires the efforts of… an odd Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) and her mom, played by an even stranger grandmother, played by Cloris Leachman.

On paper that actually doesn’t sound so bad.  But the trailer is completely over the top, and Coen Brother fans will gravitate toward it, and everyone else… might get dragged along by their Coen Brothers-fan friends.

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Hype schmype

We’ve all been there… your friends, co-workers, boss, agent, and big brother can’t stop talking about some hot new “must watch” (or read) film, TV show, book, whatever.  They are aghast, sympathetic, and even evangelical when you admit you’ve never seen Highlander or read Harry Potter.  Thus convinced by people whose opinion you respect, you jump on the bandwagon, eager for a great ride.  When the ride comes to a stop, however, you wander off, vaguely nonplussed.  Did I see the same movie?  Is my brother on drugs?  What’s happening here?  Yep: You’ve become the victim of hype that fell flat.

With the theory that intelligent pop culture consumers can have different but equally valid opinions, we’ve asked the borg.com contributors to sound off about their single biggest hype failures.  What highly-anticipated, universally-praised properties didn’t work for us, at all?

Elizabeth Bunce:  This one was easy: The Matrix.  I consider myself an intelligent fan of intelligent science fiction (Gattaca, The Adjustment Bureau), and can appreciate the fun the genre has to offer, too (who doesn’t love Total Recall or Tron?).  Heck, I even thought  Inception was OK!  But, man, did I ever miss the boat on The Matrix.  Admittedly, I was handicapped coming in, as I’m not usually a big Keanu Reeves fan, although I thought he was perfectly cast in Bill & Ted and Speed.  I know the super-slow-mo, bullet-dodging SFX are much admired (not to mention imitated), but I found them just plain silly.  Any minute, I expected them to start spouting stilted, dubbed-in English like some vintage Kung-fu send-up.  But my biggest problem with the film is a thematic one.  I just can’t get behind the premise.

Ok, I can believe that our world is just a virtual reality recreation foisted upon us by energy-hungry robots.  That’s not my problem.  What I can’t get around is everyone’s eagerness to shed that illusion and return to the drudgery of real life.  Sure, freedom fighting is all very noble, and 150 years of fantasy have convinced us there’s no place like home, but come on!  If I have to choose between riding a motorcycle with Carrie Ann Moss or slurping rations in some dingy 23rd century version of your mom’s basement, along with the other gamer geeks who haven’t showered in three days… Yeah.  I’m gonna let those metal squids suck out my brain.

Art Schmidt:  The first thing that popped into my head was a movie I saw last year.  I had been reading about this movie for a year.  The director had directed three of my favorite movies from the last ten years, and this time he was writing the screenplay, too!  Bonus!!!  The early hype on this movie was phenomenal, and the trailers that trickled out onto Facebook were mind-blowing.  This movie was going to absolutely R-U-L-E!!!  And then it didn’t rule.  In fact, the movie was a certifiable train wreck.  The director was Zack Snyder, and the movie was, of course, Sucker Punch.  However, I can’t list this as my pick for the thing that I hated that everyone else liked, because no one liked it.  The studio “suckered” me into giving them my money, so I have no close friends to conveniently lay the blame for that lost ten dollars on.  Now for my real pick.  The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels).

Critics said it was cutting-edge, gritty and brilliant.  My neighbors who read it said it was awesome (I have one neighbor who is from Ireland, and he said they were “brilliant”).  My favorite entertainment magazine said the novels were better than anything being written out there.  They were going to make a movie out of them, even though movies had already been made out of them in Europe.  I read all three, and I’m still confused about why everyone is so gaga over them.  I mean, all I really got from those books was that men are pigs, Europeans think women cheating on their husbands is just fine, and Swedes drink a lot of coffee.  I mean, really, what’s with all the coffee?  I like coffee, I drink coffee every day, but seriously, all anyone ever drinks in those novels is coffee (okay, twice someone drank mineral water and I think I recall a couple of scenes where someone had a beer but wished they were drinking coffee).  The majority of scenes are literally defined by the presence or lack of a coffee maker, whether someone turns it off when they leave the room, and by what type of coffee cup the people in the scene are drinking their coffee out of.  And the first book, seriously?  The climax is the discovery that the ‘murder’ being investigated never actually happened, but no worries, there is a murderer to be apprehended anyway.  I give up.

Jason McClain:  I have to agree with Elizabeth: hype is the most dangerous thing to my possible enjoyment of a movie. I often wonder how my opinion of The Blair Witch Project would have changed if I would have seen it three weeks later.  It goes beyond hype, though. If I know I want to see a movie, I avoid everything about it.  I learned this trait from Entertainment Weekly when Seven came out. I had no clue Kevin Spacey was going to be in the movie until I read an Entertainment Weekly article.  I still remember how upset I was when he came on the screen and that moment of surprise had been ruined.  So, I avoid trailers. (Yes, I will put my head down and hum to myself while in a theater.)  I avoid commercials.  I avoid everything if it is a movie that I know I want to see.  If it isn’t, I don’t care.  If it isn’t, I will listen to people, watch all the funny moments in a trailer, get excited when a commercial comes on the TV and probably try to go opening weekend.  I may as well cover the movie in bacon grease and throw it in a pen of tigers, because at that point the movie is doomed to fail in my eyes.  When I started to think about the movies I remember being ruined by hype, I thought about movies that I don’t find funny (Shrek 2, Old School or The Hangover) but comedy is subjective and it is possible I was in a bad mood the day I saw these.  (A bad mood, after hype, is the second most dangerous filter with which to view a movie.)  I could mention an overly long nature documentary that anthropomorphizes animals that live in the furthest south region possible, but these aquatic birds can’t defend themselves.  Only one movie made me throw things in anger and yell at the TV screen during the Academy Awards, Gladiator.

That movie still makes me angry to this day.  Sure, it was a crappy year for movies when it won (except for Almost Famous), but that doesn’t excuse it.  I have no clue how anyone ever in the history of all recorded time found this movie to be anything but awful.  Because my jaw is clenching right now and I want to punch a CGI tiger in the mouth, I think I’m going to sign off.  I’ll just say this one last thing: Gladiator made me laugh more than Shrek 2, Old School and The Hangover combined.  I’m not too sure which side that reflects poorly on (or if it is on me) but only one of those things won Best Freaking Picture of the year.

C.J. Bunce:  There are so many over-hyped films that grate on me to this day that I’ve mentioned here before, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), then there are so-so movies that critics rave about, like almost all the Coen Brothers movies (Raising Arizona excluded).  I have wanted to like The Big Lebowski, but I don’t know what it is supposed to be.  Funny?  Nope.  Serious?  Nope.   But to force myself to choose one big hit that everyone liked except me–I ultimately land at the Coen Brothers’ Fargo as my biggest hype disappointment.  Why?  Some background on how I think:  Part of the test the U.S. courts used to determine whether something qualified as obscene included a test referred to as the Miller test.  Basically, the work would be shown to have no socially redeeming value if it lacked “any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” (I’m leaving out a bit but this is the main part).  Fargo has none of this, at least for me.

Is it supposed to be funny?  I’ve known people from Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Dakotas and they never talked with such an overdone, obnoxious accent as the actors in this movie.  Innocent people in a wood chipper as entertaining?  Bad acting, bad story, absurd antics, preposterous murder plot, a film that left me wanting my money back.  And the movie claims it is based on a true story, but that’s nonsense other than a guy once really put his his wife in a woodchipper.  Macy and McDormand have done better.  Seven Academy Award nominations and a win for McDormand for her acting in this film?  The National Film Registry and American Film Institute Lists?  Oh, Coen Brothers, make a film I like, please.  At least Wes Anderson had The Fantastic Mr. Fox.