Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

The Light, The Dark & the souls in between: A review of FX’s Fargo by Nate Hill

Series creator Noah Hawley had the daunting task of taking Fargo, one of the most iconic Coen Brothers films, and turning it into a long form piece of television storytelling for FX. That’s the nutshell version anyways, what he was really up against was a gaggle of rabid Coen acolytes who wanted networks nowhere near the shining legacy of the film, which has gone platinum as a highlight in the Brother’s career. How did he and his team do? Well, better than the Coens themselves did, which may stand as a controversial opinion, but if you’re as big a fan of the show’s brilliant three season run as I am then you’ll agree.

The Coen’s designed the blueprint, if you will, while Hawley & Co. take that template and positively run wild with it. It’s an anthology piece where each season focuses on another bunch of ne’er do well characters who are connected sometimes loosely and sometimes in ways that floor you later on. Yes, all the tropes we love are there: thick blizzards of blinding snow, murder most foul, dark comedy and those hysterically quaint Minnesota accents that seem to be pulled right out of Tolkien’s The Shire in some odd way. But Hawley digs deeper, and for all it’s grounded noir, homicidal schemes and materialistic flash, his Fargo mines for esoteric gold and to me ultimately is about beings of light and dark waging war over human souls on our plane. This is of course my own intuitive theory and is evident sometimes more often than others within the show, but it’s hard not to see when you look at both how cheerfully angelic some of the good, kind folks are here and how fitfully, deliciously self aware the evil ones are, like it’s less their nature to be despicably destructive as much as it is simply their job.

The first and strongest season sees Billy Bob Thornton’s sagely psychopath Lorne Malvo blow into town on a whim and stir up a brew of horrors almost by accident or out of sheer boredom, pushing the already unstable nebbish Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) to ongoing acts of unspeakable destruction. A smart cop (Allison Tolman), another slightly less smart cop (Colin Hanks) and others fight the good fight to root out evil and stop Malvo’s unholy snowball effect of mayhem and restore order. This one works the best as a stand-alone, wraps up the loose ends most satisfyingly and holds as the showcase chunk the show has to offer. The second season is brilliant but less focused, flashing back to the snowy 70’s to chronicle Sheriff Lou Solverson’s (Patrick Wilson, also played by a stoic Keith Carradine in S1) battle against the brutal Gerhardt crime family when they’re turf skirmish with a big city syndicate erupts into all out warfare and the bodies begin piling up. What this season lacks in pacing and a clearly painted main villain it makes up for in spectacle, there’s a vast ensemble cast and lush period production design for a visual element that won’t quit. Zahn Mclarnon excels as Hanzee Dent, a troubled First Nations assassin who struggles with being a lone outsider and feels a moral crisis at the penultimate moment, Jeffrey Donovan is enthusiastically nasty as Dodd, the misogynistic elder brother of the Gerhardt clan, while Bokeem Woodbine is the slick city slicker encroaching on his territory. Season 3 unfolds on a smaller scale, back to the grassroots procedural drama that leads to heinous unlawful doings. Ewan McGregor does double duties as two twin brothers in a hateful feud, one of which finds himself in the ravenous maw of terrifying V.M. Varga (David Thewlis in a career best), a demonic opportunist out to cause bureaucratic anarchy within the ranks with his army of underworld goons. Local cop Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) tries to fit the pieces together and a mysterious messianic nomad (Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise) presides over the whole debacle with laconic benevolence. That’s the tip of the iceberg really, and vivid impressions are made by a beautifully chosen, star studded cast that includes Oliver Platt, Adam Goldberg, Stephen Root, Bob Odenkirk, Shawn Doyle, Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, Jean Smart, Kieran Culkin, Michael Hogan, Jennifer Copping, Brad Garrett, Russell Harvard, Scott Hylands, Frances Fisher, Francesca Eastwood, Fred Melamed, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cristin Milioti, Angus Sampson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Goran Bogdan, Shea Wigham, Mary McDonnell, Key & Peele, DJ Qualls, Scoot Mcnairy, Mackenzie Grey, Wayne Duvall and Bruce Campbell in a cameo as Ronald Reagan.

Each of the three seasons is a dense, meticulously woven patchwork quilt of violence, mistaken identity, literary references, surreal allegorical imagery, unpredictable plot turns, monsters, and mayhem, each with its own unmistakable style and atmosphere. Much of the storytelling is filled with things that seem like planted arbitration, like UFO sightings or cutaways to other vignettes, but they’re there to gild the tales with further eccentricity and for you to make of them what you will, as much of it is never explained or totally elaborated on, which I appreciate. With each episode there’s a lot more going on than what’s in the main arc, these are stories to be savoured and scrutinized for clues and references, of which there are many subtle callbacks to the Coen’s other work, it’s fun to notice and tally them up. The themes of light and dark are ever present through the entire run though, as if we’re privy to a never ending battle of forces wrapped in a cluster of crime stories centred around snowy Minnesota and surrounding areas. I’m not sure whether they plan to go ahead with a fourth season and I’d welcome it, but as it stands this is a beautifully made trilogy, with fantastic writing that practically feeds the brain like prosaic protein, a cast that’s to die for and narratives that truly take you on harrowing, hilarious adventures. You betcha.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: Into The Grizzly Maze

I’ve never seen potential, cast and atmosphere so wasted like I did in Into The Grizzly Maze, there’s just no excuse for dicking up such a great premise like they did here. Originally titled Red Machine, which is way better anyways, it concerns various characters chasing down a monstrous rogue grizzly bear somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (actually Vancouver, naturally). These folks include ex con James Marsden, his park ranger brother Thomas Jane, Sheriff Scott Glenn, poacher Adam Beach and miscast Billy Bob Thornton as some sort of guru bear hunter. The character and writing are almost all flat, which amazes me because I’d be hard pressed not to write at least some engaging dialogue for a cast this badass, but nope. Marsden is as bland as sandpaper, Jane seems bored to tears, Thornton is so misplaced even his coat looks uncomfortable, Glenn is more grizzly than the bear but is underwritten, while Piper Perabo has a classic thankless chick role that’s beneath her talents. Seemingly immortal actor Bart The Bear is used effectively here but he can’t carry a film on his own and as a result the only truly memorable things are the beautiful locations and a particularly gruesome bit of makeup where half of Thornton’s face is literally slashed to ribbons, nice touch that. This seems to be a vague rehash of a 70’s bear flick that, from the looks of it, is probably eons better than this TV movie level garbage. Shame, as we’ll probably never see this cast together again. Avoid.

-Nate Hill

Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

Continue reading Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

Amazon Studio’s GOLIATH

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Amazon Studios quietly released a new series in October called GOLIATH from creators David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro.  It stars Billy Bob Thornton in his Golden Globe winning turn as Billy McBride.  Thronton is his seminal drunk, lovable loser role but with a twist; he’s a brilliant (defrocked) lawyer.  Thornton reluctantly gets lured into a case against a weapons contractor that is represented by a gigantic law firm that he helped created and no longer is a part of.

The casting of the series is wonderfully rounded out by Maria Bello who is Thornton’s ex-wife, Molly Parker as a cut throat lawyer working for Thornton’s former film, Harold Perrineau as the judge overseeing the case, Dwight Yoakam as the CEO of the weapons contractor Borns Tech, and William Hurt in a beautiful showboat of a performance as Donald Cooperman, Thornton’s former partner.

This show has a very complex structure.  It is equal parts CALIFORNICATION with Thornton in an apathetic daze, where he spends his days drinking and co-parenting his daughter with Bello – yet it is steeped heavily in dark LA noir.  Just when you forget about how transgressive and dangerous the show is while watching Thornton bumble through a scene with his trademark zeal – we get quickly reminded of the dangers of the show by a cut to William Hurt who is always seated in his dark office, face half covered in burn scars, listening as his gaggle of lawyers discuss their best course of action against Thornton, as he answers their questions with a paratrooper signalling clicker.

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The affability of Thornton is starkly contrasted by the overbearing menace of Hurt.  He’s the big bad of series, and his danger and power is very much akin to a Blofeld esque villain of importance and stature.  Hurt’s brilliant performance is a reminder that he hasn’t faded as an actor, but that he is constantly able to turn out remarkable work decade after decade, never allowing himself to disappear as time carries on.

It hasn’t been announced if there will be a second season of GOLIATH, whispers are that the show will not continue; which comes as bittersweet news.  The series wrapped itself up brilliantly, without the finale hinging upon a second season.  Much like HBO’s LUCK or AMC’s LOW WINTER SUN, the series contains and closes its taut narrative within a singular season, yet the characters are so rich and developed with complexity and care that it truly would be a shame to let them go so quickly.  Whatever the fate of GOLIATH may be, it stands tall and even superior to most of Netflix and HBO’s original programming.

GOLIATH is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan: A Review by Nate Hill 

Crime doesn’t pay, and money is the root of all evil. There are countless stories of people who forsake such principles and venture down a dark, destructive path, but none quite so biting and tragic as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. What haunts the viewer so much is not the fact that these characters suffer through horrific turmoil resulting from the promise of money, it’s that these are nice, good natured, everyday folks. These are the people next door, the blue collar, salt of the earth Americans, and it’s harrowing to see the downward spiral they fall headlong into. Bill Paxton is the mild mannered hardware store owner, Billy Bob Thornton his unemployed, dimwitted brother and Bridget Fonda his wife. Three regular people who could be any of us, until they find the money. Out in a snowy rural landscape, millions of dollars in cash is discovered by them, and that’s where the trouble begins. The three go to great lengths to keep their secret hidden from the local authorities, and eventually become paranoid, deceitful and hostile towards each other, leading to some truly heartbreaking outcomes. It’s not enjoyable watching these poor people go through this, because this isn’t some exploititive crime genre exercise. Although shades of noir are present, this film is set in the real world where human beings are neither good nor bad as a template, but have complex capacity for great evil or compassion. When something like the money gets in the way, though, that potential for malicious behaviour is dialed up considerably, and the resulting calamity looks something like what we see here. What’s scary about the whole thing is that it’s essentially their own fault; yes, the money turned up, and yes, its presence is what drives this wedge among them, but the money isn’t sentient, it doesn’t wish ill will, it’s simply *there*, leaving the characters to make decisions regarding it, decisions which in this case lead to their despairing downfall. What’s more, money is our own creation, not some outside influence eating away at them. This is surprising output for Raimi, who is the guy we know for rambunctious horror and genre pulp, but he shows a skilled and subtle hand with the down to earth material, letting his story be a window into a cold world of feverish greed, a world where plans are, in fact, anything but simple. 

Bad Santa 2: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The holiday season’s best role model for children and adults alike makes a triumphantly sleazy comeback in Bad Santa 2, and I can honestly say this is one of those rare anomalous occurrences where the sequel outdoes its predecessor in almost every way. Where the first film was scummy, this one is scummier, the profanity nearly tripled and all manner of disgusting debauchery and deplorable behaviour dialled way past what we’re used to. Now a lot of folks will claim overkill, but honestly what’s the point in making a film like this if you don’t go for broke and puke up every last little cuss word and anal joke that comes to mind, particularly when it’s the sequel we’re talking about here. Billy Bob Thornton reprises what feels like his signature role, a piss poor excuse for a human named Willie Stoke, lowlife alcoholic dirtbag safecracker who masquerades as a department store Santa to rob malls blind, along with his flippant midget partner Marcus (ebony Oompa Loompa Tony Cox). This year they’ve taken a pickaxe to rock bottom and sunk even lower, aiming for a children’s charity reputed to rake in the Yuletide dough. Willie gets a surprise visit from his Ma though, an equally bitter, reprehensible diesel dyke piece of work played by Kathy Bates. You gotta hand it to the Bates-ter; this could have easily been a glorified cameo amped up just for trailers, but no, she goes all in and the extra mile to create a truly rotten bitch who almost…almost makes Willie the slightest bit sympathetic. This is one dirty, dirty film, one that milks it’s R rating like a two dollar hooker’s teat, so much so that it garnered the coveted 18a rating here in Canadian theatres, a medal not given out too lightly these days by our alarmingly lenient government. Nothing is sacred here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way in a film called Bad Santa. Christina Hendricks shits all over her classy image as the head of the charity, a slut in prudes clothing who just can’t help but play it dirty with Willie. The aptly named Thurman Murman (Vancouver’s own Brett Kelly) also makes a return, his stairs even farther away from the attic as he gets older. Replace holiday cheer with delightfully deviant black comedy, and loads of it, and you get a nasty, hedonistic little stocking stuffer like this. Just tread lightly if you can’t handle this type of humour, because it will tear you a new one.

Faster: A Review by Nate Hill

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Faster is an action film with an eerie aura and a darkly unnerving bite to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s action through and through, a genre effort right to its marrow. And yet, there’s something oddly esoteric about it, an obvious extra effort put in by the filmmakers, namely first time action director George Tillman, to give every character an off kilter, bizarre cadence to ensure we won’t forget them. There’s clichés, no doubt, but they’re eclipsed by the strange, full moon weirdness of the rogues running about the film’s story. Dwayne Johnson fires up a furious protagonist in his first action role after a long and ridiculous stint in insufferable family comedies. He plays a quiet, hulking dude known only as Driver, reluctantly released from prison by a watchful Warden (Tom Berenger). Upon exiting the gate, he runs. And runs. And runs. He arrives at a small town junkyard where he tears a tarp of a vintage Chevelle which seems to be left there for him like a care package. From there he launches a bloody crusade of revenge that knows neither mercy nor discretion, and whose reasons we are only slowly allowed to know. He’s a one man wrecking ball, the murders piling up before we really have any idea what this guy is about. He’s been greatly wronged in the past, the culprits of which should all be running scared, as he comes looking for them one by one and with the juggernaut pace of a boulder tumbling down a mountain. Pretty soon there’s two cops on his trail, intrepid Cicero (Carla Gugino) and mopey sleazeball ‘Cop’ (Billy Bob Thornton), a dilapidated piece of work who mainlines heroin and clearly has a murky past. Soon there’s one hell of a hitman (Oliver Jackson Cohen) skulking around looking for Driver, an extreme sports enthusiast who has ‘beaten yoga’ and is avidly looking for the next big thrill. Johnson jumps from one ultra violent encounter to the next with all the corrosive ferocity of the grim reaper, tallying up the corpses until we’re all but sure he’s an inhuman elimination machine. Then.. the film curveballs us and throws a glint of humanity into the mix with some late third act emotion that only goes to show the filmmakers set out with more than a one track mind. Driver has been unspeakably betrayed, and his rampage is undeniably justified, but there’s a complexity to his quest that he didn’t see coming, and neither did those of us who expected pure action without a moral conundrum in sight. I say good on it for grasping something besides the thrills. A terrific cast populates the almost Oliver Stone – esque proceedings, including Maggie Grace, Moon Bloodgood, Mike Epps, Jennifer Carpenter  (always superb), Matt Gerald, Xander Berkeley, Buzz Belmondo, Courtney Gains and more. It’s got the depth of a well written graphic novel and a level of thought out characterization that heaps of stale action entries wish they possessed.