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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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ALL COP: A Fan’s Journey by Kent Hill

photo-interview

How important are fans to the longevity of a movie? The truth is – extremely important. Fans are the reason films have survived long past their initial release life. Coming from the age of VHS, we were the generation of watchers that gave cult status to films that would have faded if not for the popularity of this new medium. Films that died even before their brief, bottled-rocket moment in theaters fell to the ground cold and lifeless under the weight of audience disinterest.

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A devoted fan is worth their weight in gold. They will stick with a film, a franchise, even through the worst of times. RoboCop is an undeniable classic. But, and it is just this man’s opinion, the continuing saga has suffered from the same strength that made the first film the glorious specimen it remains. Two wasn’t bad. Three, was stretching. I dug the animated series, even the live-action TV show. Then there was the recent reboot. I think the less said is the easiest mended and stand with many on this thinking – that the idea of remaking classic films is a colossal mistake. There was really nothing in this tepid attempt to re-invoke the wonders of past glory that are worthy of even the title.

Like Eva Rojano I saw RoboCop on video back in the day and was equally as awed by it. The fascinating thing though about Eva’s fandom is the empowering nature, the passion and exuberance she draws from the picture, and how it has helped shape her life and permeate her dreams and ambitions.

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Eva with Nancy Allen

Eva was so taken with the power of the character, and the story arc of Anne Lewis, portrayed by the wonderful Nancy Allen, that she eventually started corresponding with her idol, and finally, was able to meet her in person and further solidify the friendship.

The joyful nature of being utterly and completely taken by the subject and the morals amplified by popular and classic movies, is that it allows the fan to live vicariously through the characters they identify with and thus, giving one’s imagination fertile soil in which to plant the seeds for a harvest of success in whichever field of expertise one chooses  to explore in life.

Eva has taken the inspiration she receives from the likes of the empowered character of Anne Lewis and has turned all of her creativity and dedication to spreading and bringing together the talents and appreciation of RoboCop fandom world-wide. And, in the wake of the recent news of yet another cinematic entry into the RoboCop franchise, as well as, the fact that the talented Miss Allen has not, unlike the other member of her integral duo aka Peter Weller, been approached to be a part of this re-invigoration of such a beloved series; Eva has taken to the fandom at large and has created a petition to motivate the powers that be with the hopes of bringing back her treasured Officer Lewis.

Eva’s is a fascinating and passion-filled tale that I trust will inspire and delight. Please do, all you Robo-Fans, jump on the bandwagon and sign the petition (https://www.change.org/p/mgm-studios-inc-we-want-nancy-allen-to-play-a-role-in-robocop-returns) to get Nancy, along with Peter, back into the Robo-verse where together they belong. And also to, please follow the links below and experience the wonderful work Eva is doing – all to honor the movie she loves most dearly.

https://enhanced-reality.wixsite.com/robocoplewis

https://www.facebook.com/RoboCopLewis/

MORE ROBO-COLLABORATORS

Ed Neumeier

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PaulSammon1986

Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.

-Nate Hill

Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun


Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun is a high profile murder mystery set atop lofty political echelons, but it’s less about the murder itself and more doggedly focused on the culture clash between American and Japanese business factions, as well as the two detectives caught up in the whole hectic, East-scraps-West mess. A lot to cover in one film, but this one keeps its head afloat and then some, with a whip smart script based on a novel by Jurassic Park architect Michael Crichton that was libelled as ‘Japan bashing’ (this was in the 90’s, imagine the snowflake storm it’d garner in our day). It apparently toned down some aspects, but either way, it’s not only a searing detective story, but one set against a backdrop of fascinating urban and metropolitan anthropology. Sean Connery bites into one hell of a role as John Connor (not a T-1000 in sight asking his whereabouts, they’re slacking), a veteran legend of a cop with deep ties to Japanese culture, having spent many years there, married to a Japanese woman as well. He’s partnered with Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), lively enough to poke fun at Connor’s guru-esque patronizing, but with enough of a head on his shoulders to adapt in waters that are anything but calm or familiar to him. Their case? On the eve of a giant mega deal between two corporations representing both soil, a mysterious prostitute is found murdered in a Japanese high rise. Laser disc footage may yield the killer’s visage, and may not. A super racist LAPD detective (Harvey Keitel, volatile and riled up) is anything but help. The suspects? A sleazy US senator (Ray Wise), a Japanese mystery man (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa) with one foot in business and the other, suggestively, in organized crime. The list goes on, and doubles back on itself multiple times. Not only is the investigation riveting, the buddy cop banter between Snipes and Connery, both funny and grounded, is just so engagingly well drawn, and tense inter-company espionage thrills throughout all the acts. The cast deepens, with fine work from Steve Buscemi, stern Daniel Von Bargen, Tamara Tunie, Stan Shaw, Mako, Kevin Anderson and gorgeous Tia Carerre as a quick witted tech expert who assists the dynamic duo in deciphering that pesky 90’s laser disc, and the incriminating secrets therein. Not your garden variety police procedural, buddy cop flick or social commentary, but rather unique variations on all three, amalgamated into a film that demands patience and focus, but rewards with a great story. 

-Nate Hill

Disney’s The Journey Of Natty Gann


It’s neat to think that Disney would take a chance on something as grim and risky as The Journey Of Natty Gann, but they green-lit it and allowed a wonderful story to come alive. Set during the Great Depression and focusing on themes of abandonment and loss, it’s hardly the studio’s milieu, but they’ve proudly stamped their seal on it and I consider it to be one of the best amongst their live action output to date. Starring a terrific Meredith Salenger, it tells the tale of a young girl who’s separated from her father (Ray Wise, brilliant as ever) after he takes off to a logging job elsewhere in the country. Faced with life as an orphan or worse, Natty makes an epic trek across the dilapidated, economically gutted states to find him. It’s got all the trappings of a syrupy, run of the mill Disney outing: dog/wolf cross sidekick etc, but it really manages to find the danger, fear and loneliness she faces in a country that has gone to all hell everywhere she looks, and let the pathos come naturally out of how she fights her way through each new situation. John Cusack is great as a train hopping rambler who joins her here and there, his mopey doglike visage fitting right into the 30’s hobo shtick uncannily well. Salenger is a strong and fierce leading lady, the strife she sees around her echoed in her haunted face, emblazoned also with hope for the future. Filmed entirely in my home province of British Columbia, the film is beyond gorgeous to look at, the sooty grime of a looming industrial wave accented by the burnished greens and crystal waters of the region. This is sort of a forgotten Disney film, it wouldn’t be right up there on someone’s collection shelf or sitting near the front of the rental queue online, but it’s more than worth checking out, and considered a classic by me. 

-Nate Hill

Two Wolves, a snake eating its tail and a secret- A review of Twin Peaks: The Return by Nate Hill 


Twin Peaks: The Return has come full circle, and I mean that quite literally. Carefully, lovingly and maddeningly orchestrated by David Lynch, who has proven himself to be nothing short of a brilliant mad scientist of the cinematic arts, this is an endlessly deep, fiercely creative vision that refuses to compromise or meet anyone halfway, and it’s all the better for it. Showtime gave the man full and total control over every aspect, a decision they most likely didn’t fully understand at the time, but one which will have a beautiful ripple effect upon the landscape of serialized television and art itself in the decades to come, just as the original series did until now. 
  As the show unwinds in elliptical, rhythmic kaleidoscope fashion, it arrives at what can be called an ending only for the fact that there must be a last episode, but it’s not really an ending at all, there never was one in Twin Peaks, and likely never will be, a quality that has given it it’s vitality since day one. Many are having trouble accepting Lynch’s open ended, haunting finale, and that’s alright, considering human beings are simply wired to seek answers, and engineered to get frustrated, hostile even, when they aren’t provided. If one sits at a table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out, how would it be if the puzzle were quickly, neatly solved? The very quality that makes it a puzzle evaporates, the mystery gone, and one would simply lose interest, get up from the table and walk away. Now, if a handful of pieces are missing and never found, if the puzzle remains unsolved indefinitely, it feeds the observer with the fuel to pour thought, attention and care into continuously pondering how they might fit the pieces together, if ever at all. In short, the mystery lives on, and on. Lynch understands this, and it’s a wondrous gift to give fans, who no doubt will have Twin Peaks on the brain until the day they move on to the white lodge. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving. Like a snake eating it’s own tail, like the never ending, billowy curtains of the labyrinthine Red Room, like the portentous infinity symbol that the Philip Jeffries teapot warns Cooper with, this is a story that has ends, beginnings, middles, alternate timelines, repetition and, thanks to the intangible forces constantly at work, will never truly be at rest, at least not in any way that we can comprehend. 
  The themes which have fascinated Lynch his whole career are in full bloom here like never before, but one that takes centre stage after being deftly touched upon in the show and Fire Walk With Me is that of duality, light versus dark and the uneasy realization that the line between them isn’t as stark as we’d like it to be. Leland Palmer was always thought to be possessed by Bob, unbeknownst of his heinous atrocities, a babe in the very dark woods. Fire Walk With Me blew that comforting certainty right out of the water with some very dodgy scenes implicating Palmer himself, blurring the lines to show that although good and evil may indeed occupy opposite sides of the fence, they most certainly hop over and tread on each other’s lawn, a truth that has been shied away from in cinema quite often, but one which Lynch won’t let you tune out so easy. As we see a mullet adorned doppelgänger version of Cooper engage in a tirade of crime and violence across the states, the real Agent Cooper, or at least that part of his soul that’s trapped in the embryonic limbo of a pastel phantasmagoria Vegas, seems lost in a sea of characters we’ve never met before the Return. When it comes time for that inevitable showdown, it’s quick, and the surface level battle is skimmed over so Lynch can dive into a disorienting rabbit hole in which Cooper is stoic, uncharacteristically violent, a concentrated prism of all the qualities that were separate in the worlds that came before, his psyche in narrative nursery school until Lynch hurtles past that 430 mile marker into territories with ugly truths and revelations that are hard to swallow. Two wolves fight inside every one of us, one light and one dark, but they’re only two sides of the same coin, rival essences within a single beast, and although they run along side by side, tussle occasionally and appear to be separate entities, they’re one and the same when they look in each other’s eyes, as we see in the mirror, or when we come face to face with our doppelgänger against the backdrop of a shimmering red curtain. 
Twin Peaks has always been about secrets, from the very moment that Laura Palmer’s body washed up on those shores, wrapped in plastic (or did it?). Who killed her? That one secret lead to many, and as a story unfolds that’s scope vastly captures realms far beyond the sleepy little northwestern town it began in, we see a story at play that’s so much more, one that is very much filled with secrets, a motif we were warned about almost right off the bat. “She’s filled with secrets”, the Arm gleefully imparts to Cooper. That she is. The hollow screams of a shell shocked Sarah Palmer. The haunted, weary eyes of trailer park supervisor Carl (the beloved Harry Dean Stanton). Audrey Horne sharply awakening in the frightening unknown. Cooper and Laura being foiled yet again by the powers that be (those darn Chalfonts). An empty glass box that isn’t so empty. Coordinates that nestle between shrouded mountain glades. Heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies from the maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Pages from a secret diary that document horror, madness, joy, bravery, vulnerability and an odyssey through time, space, love, evil and of course good, the secrets that keep us coming back for more each time. Lynch has spun his magnum opus here, a tale where every piece is important, even the ones we may likely never find. A testament to the power of storytelling, a treatise on the mystery genre, everything I could have hoped for in a return to the town of coffee and cherry pie, and a full on bona-fide masterwork. See you in the trees, and whatever kingdoms lie beyond them in the glow of the red curtain, the purple seas, the hum of electricity in the dreams of a homecoming queen and a lone FBI Agent on a road trip to…

B Movie Glory: The Rift


The Rift is a nifty little underwater creature feature in the tradition of stuff like The Abyss and Leviathan, a low budget affait that uses neat practical model effects to churn out some gooey thrills, and a cool cast to run around being hunted by them. When an experimental submarine dubbed the ‘Siren II’ (after the disappearance of the Siren I, naturally) descends into a deep fissure in the ocean, things begin to pop up that shouldn’t be down there. By things I mean cleverly designed miniature models that are lit just right enough to fake us out into believing they are actually giant underwater behemoths from the darkest nightmares of marine cryptozoology. Captained by R. Lee Ermey, giving the character gravitas the film almost doesn’t deserve, it’s a doomed mission from the start, especially when you factor in the shady presence of first mate Ray ‘Leland Palmer’ Wise, who has a few tricks up the old sleeve. It’s up to man of the hour Jack Scalia to swagger their way out of danger, but the rift is deep, dark and pretty soon all kinds of gooey things find their way aboard the craft. It’s not half bad, at least nowhere near the second tier hack job some critics dubbed it as. Any effort that puts that much artisan ingenuity into deep sea monsters with as little money as they were given gets a handful of gold stars from me. Plus, you can’t go wrong with that cast. 

-Nate Hill