Tag Archives: Fargo

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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A Chat with Actor Mark Acheson: An Interview by Nate Hill 

  

Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Mark Acheson. Mark has played countless distinct characters in film, including the mailroom guy who befriends Buddy in Elf, the thug who attacks Rorschach in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, Moses Tripoli, the head of the North Dakota mob in FX’s Fargo, and more. He has also appeared in John Mctiernan’s The 13th Warrior, Reindeer Games, The Chronicles Of Riddick, Hot Rod, She’s The Man, 3000 Miles To Graceland, Crossfire Trail and more. Enjoy! 

Nate: When did you first know that you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
Mark: My first play I performed in grade 7 at age 11. My school loved the bad boy character and suddenly I was popular. I was hooked from then on.

Nate: Some actors/films/filmmakers who have inspired you in your own work?
Mark: I always loved movies and television and my idea of the perfect actor is Daniel Day Lewis who I think is unrecognizable from role to role. That to me is true acting.

Nate: Fargo: How was your experience with that show? Any stories from set?
Mark: Fargo was perfect. I remember the incredibly talented Noah Hawley who wrote the script always on set polishing constantly. I was very proud that our episodes won three Emmys including best miniseries and best casting by Jackie Lind who is truly a force of nature.
Nate: Watchmen: your experience working with Snyder, and on the film?
Mark: Zach was the youngest and possibly one of the most gifted directors I have ever had the pleasure to work for. He was relaxed and made the set even more so.

Nate: Some of your favourite roles you have played so far in your career?
Mark: So many great projects I have been lucky enough to be in but working with Will Farrell in Elf had to be the best. I have been recognized all over the world from that one small part. Director Jon Favreau let us ad lib everything. Will is a genius!!
Nate: You went to Langara College’s Studio 58. I myself went to their somewhat new subsidiary program called Film Arts. How do you find that theatre training has affected your work in film? Do you still do any stage work? 

Mark:  I entered theater school at age 15 and it changed my life. To play Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Gave me my start as a pro and my first agent. I miss the stage very much especially Shakespeare which I enjoyed so much. Sadly these days stage is too infrequent and too much of a time commitment.
Nate: The 13th Warrior: excellent, underrated film with a notoriously troubled production. How was your experience working on it?

Mark: This was originally titled Eaters of the Dead. Difficult set. Schwarzenegger was originally booked but fought the studio about shooting in Canada. He was getting ready to run for governor. Best part was to meet and work with Omar Sharif. Such a film legend and an even nicer man.
Nate: Your dream role?

Mark: After acting for almost 50 years my dream is just to keep working. I love it all especially the variety.
Nate: Any upcoming projects, cinematic or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to talk about?

Mark: I currently have 4 projects in the can including Lewis and Clark for HBO airing this Christmas but I am barred from any pics or descriptions until they air. July I will start another movie that looks like alot of fun but as usual I will be killed like I was on two shows last week. Just making a living dying.

Nate:  Thank you so much for your time, and the opportunity to chat. Best of luck in the future!
Mark:  Thanks again Nate. All the best. Your interest makes all the struggle and auditions I didn’t get worthwhile.

A chat with Actor Wayne Duvall: An interview by Nate Hill

Excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Wayne Duvall. Wayne has made awesome appearances in many films including O Brother Where Art Thou?, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Pride And Glory, Lincoln, Apollo 13, Edge Of Darkness, Duplicity, In The Valley Of Elah, Evolution, Hard Rain, Tony Scott’s The Fan, Baja, Disclosure, Falling Down and more. He’s also done stellar work in many TV shows including Fargo, Macguyver, Gotham, HBO’s The Leftovers, Elementary, He’ll On Wheels, Boardwalk Empire, Hawaii Five-0, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, The West Wing and done voice work for video games including Max Payne 3 and Hitman: Blood Money. Enjoy!

Nate:What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take you by surprise?
Wayne: When I was 5 years old I found out that I had a cousin who was a professional actor. I couldn’t believe that was a job. It just didn’t compute for me. My cousin’s mom used to call us when he was going to be on. We would gather around the TV and watch him. The shows were Combat!, The FBI, The Defenders. It was so cool. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Oh, my cousin, he did pretty well……Robert Duvall.
Nate: Some favourite actors/filmmakers/films who have inspired your work?

Wayne: The big influence was cousin Bobby. Others who inspire me for there truth are Sean Penn, Oscar Isaac, Gary Oldman, Kate Blanchett, Robin Wright. Directors Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Paul Haggis, George Clooney and most definitely The Coen Brothers. There are many others but these are the ones off the top of my head.
Nate: O Brother Where Art Thou: How Wayne experience for you working on that film, alongside the Coen Brothers, and creating that memorable Homer Stokes?

Wayne: That was a magical experience. My first day was the big scene where I get carried out on a rail. Every star was there that day and the main part was me! This was my biggest film part to date and I just remember thinking, “you can’t play it safe”. So I just jumped. I was so supported by everyone. The Coens were fantastic. I was very fortunate to have that as my first big gig.
Nate: Prisoners: Your experience on that film? Working with director Denis Villeneuve? Are you a fan of the film?

Wayne: I’m a huge fan of Prisoners! Denis was amazing as was Jake Gyllenhaal, who I definitely add to the list of influential actors. Denis let’s you improvise and it was so freeing. Jake is a master and will go down as one of the best we have. He’s so grounded in truth. He’s a master craftsman. Working with both Denis and Jake was such a wonderful experience
Nate: Some of your favourite characters you have played in your career so far?

Wayne: Homer Stokes was obviously a fav. I loved playing the Coach in Leatherheads. Lovably dim. That movie was a blast! Clooney is an amazing director. I just played a fun character in the movie Wolves coming out next year. It stars Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino. I played a basketball coach which was a dream role for me. The first 20 years of my life was more focused on playing basketball than anything else. It was so much fun taking that knowledge and using it in my current work. I been fortunate to have played some wonderful characters.
Nate: Do you enjoy doing voice work? How does it compare to live action film?

Wayne: The voice work I do is mostly for commercials. It’s fairly easy and is done mostly for the money. I’ve not done any animated films which I would love to get into. I’ve heard they are a blast.
Nate: Pride And Glory: A very underrated little cop thriller and one of my favourite films you have been in. How was that experience for you?

Wayne: Pride and Glory was great fun, but sadly a lot of my favorite stuff got cut. Gavin O’Connor is one of those uber talented artists who believes in collaboration. One of my favorite moments was when he felt a scene he wrote for Jon Voight and I wasn’t good enough and asked Jon and I to go off and see if we could come up with something. So there I am at about 2am on a Queens Street with the legendary Jon Voight, improv-ing a scene. It didn’t make it in. Jon and I had a whole story line of being good friends that was cut from the film. It was a good decision on Gavin’s part. It wasn’t needed. Loved that film.

Nate: I noticed your credits are all acting. Have you ever considered writing or directing your own material at all? Branching out?

Wayne: I’ve tried writing and it’s just too frustrating. I’m pretty good with characters and dialogue, but that whole plot thing keeps getting in the way. Directing is something I think I’d like to try. Thankfully, acting has been keeping me busy. Maybe one day. i wouldn’t want to direct and star in something that would be too much for me.

Nate: Thank you so much for chatting and for your time Wayne! Keep up the incredible work!

Episode 20: THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION with SPECIAL GUEST MELISSA MAERZ

EPISODE 20

We were joined by Entertainment Weekly television critic Melissa Maerz to discuss the continuation of the golden age of television.  Follow Melissa on Twitter, and check her podcast on Sirius/XM Women on Pop.

DAVID ZELLNER’S KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Inspired by the urban legend surrounding the real life suicide of Tokyo office worker Takako Konishi (go to Google…), David Zellner’s bizarre, enigmatic, and totally masterful oddity Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is easily one of the most spellbinding films of the year, a motion picture almost impossible to classify, and the very definition of a film where the less you know about it the better off you’ll be when you see it. This was my first Zellner Brothers experience and it won’t be the last; I’m stocking up my Netflix queue with whatever I can get my hands on, and I’ve discovered some funny short films online (Sasquatch Birth Journal #2 is priceless!) which seem to indicate a general level of cinematic idiocy that I can really get behind. I love it when a movie takes me totally by surprise, and when a filmmaker confidently mixes a variety of tones with the express goal of creating something wholly unique and startling. That’s what this film is – wildly original, deeply stylish, mentally stirring, and at times, thematically troubling when it isn’t being irreverently funny. And it’s yet another small movie from this year that trounces the big-budget competition; I’m finding it harder and harder to come up with any solid reasons to see whatever piece of uninspired nonsense that the studio system is hurling my way.

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Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which was co-written by David Zellner and his talented brother Nathan, stars the fascinating actress Rinko Kikuchi as a mentally ill Japanese office worker, “still” unmarried at 29 (much to the chagrin of her overbearing mother), who discovers a degraded VHS copy of Joel and Ethan Coen’s celebrated film Fargo. The narrative details, with much humor, painful sadness, and creepy unpredictability, how she misinterprets the film for real life, leading her on an asinine and quixotic quest to find the money that Steve Buscemi’s character had buried out in that snowy field near that wire fence before he got fed to the wood chipper. The film is all about Kumiko’s quest and the interesting people she meets along the way (a segment with a helpful cop played by David Zellner himself and some scenes with a widowed woman are particularly strong and affecting), and the way the Zellners have framed their story leaves little doubt in the viewer’s head that they’re dealing with a lead character who isn’t thinking clearly. And what’s more, the subtle ways that the filmmakers fill you in on this fact are awesome to notice and discover. The script is limited with its dialogue, as the Zellners prefer to tell their story with a focus on allowing their indelible images to propel to narrative forward, resulting in a work that feels dreamy and one that’s constantly challenging reality.

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The film has an amazing visual look, with the 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography by Sean Porter always putting something interesting in the frame, with Kumiko’s red hoodie cutting across the blown-out white expanses of the Minnesota winter landscape in extremely memorable fashion. Melba Jodorowsky’s fluid editing allows the film to move along at a brisk pace without ever feeling rushed, and the eclectic and offbeat musical score by The Octopus Project never leaves any doubt that you’re watching something willfully absurd yet sincerely heartfelt. The film is essentially about loneliness and isolation, and how one woman is committed to doing SOMETHING with her life, regardless if that something is rational or not. The Zellners have made an absurdist film to a certain degree, and yet, there’s emotional impact because of Kikuchi’s mesmerizing portrayal of a woman who has lost all sense of normalcy, desperate for this one thing to come to fruition. You never know where this movie is going, it’s impossible to guess how it will end, and I absolutely LOVED the final section, which will likely frustrate and annoy those who need everything spelled out for them in order to be satisfied with a movie. I’ve never seen anything that remotely comes close to resembling this bizarre and completely transfixing film, and it’s yet another indication of how there are some truly great movies out there to be seen if you’re willing to look a bit harder at all of the available selections.