Tag Archives: comedy

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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The Independents need to Fly by Kent Hill

Well I’ve been working on this one for a while now. A collection, a tribute to the wondrous array of talents out there doing exactly what they want to do. Godard famously once said: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” That may have been the case for him, but I like my movies with a few more ingredients. Werewolves, giant snakes, sharks – it’s all part of my complete breakfast so, I endeavored to get in contact with those few, those happy few, this band of indie auteurs who don’t need permission or studio backing to do what they love to do – which is make movies.

Perhaps it is fortuitous regarding the timing of the release of this piece that all of the films here mentioned are now out there and available for your enjoyment. Mr. Bonk’s ‘Jaws Indoors’ sharksploitation offering, House Shark, Mr. Braxtan’s urban anaconda comedic actioner, Snake Outta Compton, Mr. Sheets Werewolf O’ glorious Werewolf killing by night picture, Bonehill Road and finally, Mr. Dean brings us his second installment of justice wreaking havoc by the full moon with his part man, part wolf, all cop, Another WolfCop.

We need these independents now more than ever ladies and gentlemen. Hollywood at large has become a cookie-cutter industry were everything is either a remake, a sequel or an adaptation. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something boring. It is and has degenerated into a vicious cycle that sees the movie business in the safest place it has been in decades. And why? Because dear reader, there is no gambling on a property that doesn’t already carry a built-in audience. No risk versus reward. It’s the same old shit – just in a different box.

So thank God for the Independents. Robert Rodriguez once said, “Don’t give me any money, don’t give me any people, but give me freedom, and I’ll give you a movie that looks gigantic.” Hollywood has long forgotten that the size of the budget does not equal the size of a film’s success. It is the films that defy convention, that resist formula, that are at play in the fields of freedom and creativity and not those designed and dictated via a committee in some corporate office that are still exciting audiences.

The studios may have the guns, but we got the numbers. We have the power now to embrace these magnificent artists. Together we can bring them in from the fringes and with all the social media tools at our command, we can use our influence to elevate these men and their glorious pictures to ever greater heights, instead of perpetuating the norm which sees us elevating fools into rich heroes.

Yes dear reader, today is the day. The day on which we can declare in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night – we will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate, The Independent’s Day.

RON BONK

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(DUE TO A BAD CONNECTION, SOME OF MY INTERVIEW WITH RON WAS LOST - BUT PLENTY REMAINS - I TRUST YOU'LL STILL ENJOY)

Ron Bonk is a producer and writer, known for Clay (2007), Night of Something Strange (2016) Strawberry Estates (2001) and She Kills 2016. He was born in Cicero N.Y. and attended Cicero, North Syracuse H.S. Then he graduated from M.V.C.C. , and Utica College. He is the president of S.R.S. Cinema L.L.C. in Central New York.

HANK BRAXTAN

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Hank was born and raised in Grand Junction, Colorado; this would be his greatest accomplishment until dropping out of film school at age 26. Even from a very early age, Hank showed a genuine interest in being entertained. In 1998, he put his lack of ambition on hold and joined the US Army as an Intelligence Analyst. After his discharge for honorable behavior in 2004, Hank attended film school for a short while, and made a bunch of nonsense about Ghostbusters fighting Freddy Krueger and other copyrighted materials. In the days before YouTube, that was kind of a big deal.

Hank has since gone on to work in the same town as many famous filmmakers. He currently has several projects in several stages of development, etc.

TODD SHEETS

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Todd Sheets is a writer and director, known for Bonehill Road (2017), Dreaming Purple Neon (2016) and Grindsploitation (2016).

LOWELL DEAN

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Lowell Dean was born on January 17, 1979. He is a director and writer, known for WolfCop (2014), Another WolfCop (2017) and 13 Eerie (2013).

 

 

 

 

 

Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopath

No other film has grown on me quite the way Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopaths has. Initially disarming in expectations versus result, this isn’t just your average black comedy, there’s wonderfully subversive meta-narrative twists and it has something subtly acidic to say about the development and treatment of genre screenplays in the Hollywood of today, which wasn’t the approach I was expecting prior to seeing it for the first time. That and it’s straight up one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Less serious and emotional than McDonough’s masterpiece of a debut In Bruges, the tone here is about as deadpan as it gets, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as Billy and Hans, two LA oddballs who make a living snatching people’s dogs and collecting the reward money later. Inevitably they grab the wrong guy’s dog who just happens to be unhinged gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), sparking a brutally violent wild goose chase all over LA and the surrounding area. It sounds like you know what you’re gonna get, right? Not really, for you see they’re joined by boozy, neurotic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who is trying to pen a script of his own titled ‘7 Psychopaths’, which not only becomes a running joke, but also provides aside vignettes and even heavily influences the plight of our three heroes in the ‘real world.’ Hans is a quiet, compassionate pacifist and Walken plays him against type, very understated. Farrell’s Marty is a hilarious, anxious wreck who orders six beers at noon and tears his hair out both from writer’s block and the unpredictable behaviour of Rockwell’s Billy, who is a blisteringly funny, antagonistic weirdo that should be on medication but has instead been let off the leash for what is probably the best and definitely the funniest performance the actor has ever given. Harrelson plays it loopy as a guy who’ll blow your head off without twitching an eye but bawls like a toddler when no one can find his silly shit-zu for him. They’re joined by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko who don’t have much to do (also a meta joke later on) as well as Zeljiko Ivanek, Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Michael Stuhlburg, Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton, all giving lovely work. Tom Waits is as great as you’d expect Tom Waits to be as ex-serial killer Zachariah, who carries his pet bunny rabbit around and tells harrowing tales from years before. The real hero here is McDonough’s brilliant script, and I love how it ducks the limbo bar of Hollywood writing standards and aims for something just left of left field. Farrell says it best himself when he laments “I don’t want it to be all violence and action though, it should be a set up for an out and out revenge flick and the heroes should just drive off into the desert and talk for the rest of the movie…” then he, Rockwell and Walken do just exactly that, for a time anyways until Harrelson catches up with them and the final confrontation gets skewered by McDonough and his refusal to play it straight too. We need more writers like him in Tinseltown, and although I wasn’t so much a fan of his newest Three Billboards one, Bruges and Psychopaths have already been minted as classics for me, two of the best this century.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt

I will never not rave about Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt. Although built around a concept that’s clearly meant to be a kids movie, Gorebinski is a stylistic maverick who whips it up into something weird, warped and at times definitely in the realm of adult humour. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans channel Laurel and Hardy as the Smuntz brothers, two severely idiotic brothers who inherent a creaky old mansion from their deceased father (A spooky William Hickey, literally looking like he has both feet, both arms and several other appendages already in the grave). When the two of them find themselves homeless and the manor turns out to be worth a fortune, luck seems to favour them. Only problem is, the house has one very stubborn tenant, a four inch mouse who not only refuses to leave, but royally fucks up their renovation plans at every turn in a dizzying parade of slapstick mayhem that would have Kevin from Home Alone Running the other way. The concept may seem dumb, but there’s just no denying that this is a smartly written, deftly comedic film laced with all kinds of verbal gags, visual grandeur and wit, disguised as a children’s screwball comedy. All kinds of oddball actors show up including scene stealing Maury Chaykin as a bratty real estate mogul, Michael Jeter, Ian Abercrombie, Vicki Lewis, Ernie Sabella, Debra Christofferson and more. My favourite has to be Christopher Walken as an exterminator who takes his job hysterically seriously, it’s like the twilight zone watching his mental state unravel as the mouse constantly one ups him and he loses his shit. This isn’t your average fast paced comedy either, where every set piece is geared towards specific dialogue and visual details aren’t important. Production designer Linda DeScenna has outdone herself in creating a gorgeous, lived in atmosphere and burnished 1930’s palette full of subtle gimmicks and menacing, almost Tim Burton style visuals, while writer Adam Rifkin fires off wry satirical jokes and jabs every other line and creates a wonderfully off colour, unique script. Some of the set pieces get so raucous you feel like you’re in a Looney Toons vignette, stuff like flying bathtubs, a psychotic cat, a flea bomb with near nuclear capabilities, a vacuum cleaner filled with explosive poo, a room filled with hundreds of mouse traps (done practically without CGI, I might add), an auction that quite literally brings down the house and so much more. Far fetched, you might say? Definitely, but that’s the film’s magic, and it pays off to just go with it’s crazy vibe. It kills me that this wasn’t received well critically, because it’s something fresh, something smart in the comedy genre that doesn’t insult its audience and so much more than just ‘that mouse movie.’ A classic in my book.

-Nate Hill

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

Rob Schneider’s Big Stan

You’d hardly ever catch me giving praise to a Rob Schneider movie as he’s usually intolerable, but Big Stan deserves a shout out, both because it’s almost quality comedy and it has gotten less than half of the publicity given to other Rob flicks, which are all just terrible (remember The Hot Chick? Ew). Schneider is probably the least appealing, most irritating little mole rat out there, so you have to kind of grin and bear it here, but the comedy itself is kind of worth it. As Stan, Rob is a selfish, fraudulent little bastard real estate salesman who is busted selling faulty deals and given a three to five year in prison. When an ex-con bar patron (Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggarty looks like he can’t believe he agreed to say the dialogue in his script) scares him with tales of rampant rape in the joint, Stan sets out to become ‘un-rapeable’ before his sentence, with a little help from King fu guru The Master, played by a chain smoking, growly David Carradine in a parody of his former career. Armed with skills and sweet karate moves, Stan gets processed and pretty much almost incites a riot the first day, until the prisoners realize there’s no fighting him and he’s pretty much big boss. Abolishing prison rape, setting some new ground rules around violence and introducing salsa dancing are just a few of the changes brought on by him, and the prison sequences are the best of the film. Stan has a sidekick in Henry Gibson, locks horns with the obligatory evil Warden (the great Scott Wilson) and it all parades by with necessary silliness and some semblance of a life lesson that ultimately gets lost in aforementioned silliness. As you can probably surmise, it’s about the farthest thing from politically correct humour as well and very much milks its R rating, so put your thick skin on if you give it a go. Also starring the likes of Jennifer Morrison as Stan’s wife, M. Emmett Walsh as an enthusiastically crooked lawyer, Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage as the head guard, Randy Couture and others, it’s surprisingly well casted for a such a small movie that almost feels like it was funded by Schneider himself, as he directed it too. Usually I’d be the first to just rip into this guy and his awful, near self destructive output (remember The Animal? Or the Deuce Bigelow sequel?? Fuck), but this one really isn’t all that pitiable, but you’ve been warned, it’s cheerfully in bad taste and if you’re easily offended by off colour humour, steer clear.

-Nate Hill

Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far

I love Colin Firth very much as an actor, I think there’s a wealth of intensity and charisma behind that befuddled, cute British persona, and I love how in recent years he’s branched off and started trying out all sorts of roles and genres he hasn’t done yet, he’s really underrated in terms of versatility. I also love delving back into the last few decades with actors and perhaps finding hidden gems I never thought of or didn’t notice before. (Every time someone calls me out on being lost in my phone or texting some girl it’s usually because I’m just intently perusing an actor’s IMDb for titles I’ve missed). Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far is one such gem, a lovely, charming piece based on the memoir of Dennis Forman, a man who grew up in a great manor in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by friends, family and nestled in that calm period between World War One and two, where life seemed idyllic. Young Fraser (Robert Norman) lives an eclectic life out there that’s the perfect setting for a poignant memoir. His loving father (Firth) strives to be a strong disciplinarian but has a tender heart and a playful disposition, his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, gorgeous as ever) is the same. The conflict arises with the arrival of a beautiful distant relative (Kelly MacDonald) who gets everyone a little hot and bothered and awakens the first hints of sexual desire in Fraser. The grandparents hover in and out of their lives too, played by Rosemary Harris and a gruff, hilarious and compassionate Malcolm McDowell. Life gets topsy turvy in all sorts of ways, especially when an aviator from royal descent (Tchecky Karyo) crash lands his plane directly on their property and immediately tries to woo MacDonald. It’s one of those slice of life comedy dramas that doesn’t strive to say something lofty about the big picture of humanity or plumb for subtext beneath, but simply exists to enjoy as the recalling of one person’s life, or rather a piece of it. A lovely one.

-Nate Hill