FARGO Season 2: The Coen brothers universe keeps expanding with the Sioux Falls case.

Fargo Season2

Fargo Season 2 is set in  1979, 27 years prior to the storyline in Season 1 and although the storyline is different and so are the main characters you will gradually notice some characters from Season 1 feature prominently in Season 2; be it they are 27 years younger. The way the makers are interweaving the original Coen brothers film (and give numerous nods to movies throughout their career) and the different seasons will delight the fans and spark further interest.

A darkly funny shootout in a Waffle Hut in Sioux Falls will yet again set of a chain of dramatic events that involve a major crime syndicate, a local mob family, the neighbouring police departments (Patrick Wilson playing police officer Lou Solverson, played by Keith Carradine in Season 1) and a young couple: a local butcher played by Jesse Plemons and his wife a beautician, a role for Kirsten Dunst.
The wife happens to drive by the Waffle Hut shortly after the killings have taken place and runs over the shooter who’s distracted by a UFO (!?!?). She drives home with the body of the killer still on the hood with his face through the windshield, parks her car in the garage and prepares dinner for her husband. A situation not to dissimilar to Stuart Gordon’s excellent but sadly somewhat overlooked (or unnoticed) film Stuck (2007).

As the film takes place in 1979 the writers have introduced a funny Ronald Reagan (played by Bruce Campbell) subplot who was on his Presidential campaign tour at the time. Especially his ‘alien threat’speech -prefiguring his future Star Wars plans and in keeping with the UFO sightings that are spread throughout Season 2- is significant. There’s also a heavy usage of split screens, a popular device in the sixties and seventies film and TV shows, but went out of vogue in the late seventies.

If you’re a Joel and Ethan Coen fan you’ll have fun spotting references to Fargo but also to the rest of their body of work. Some examples:
Spread throughout Season 2 you’ll hear cover versions by Texas bands of songs which will sound familiar. Most noticably Let’s Find Each Other Tonight performed in the original Fargo by José Feliciano, A Man of Constant Sorrow and Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby from O’ Brother Where art Thou?, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) from The Big Lebowski and Danny Boy from Miller’s Crossing.

Some dialogues like “Just for a little money” and ‘We’re going crazy out there at the lake” and the physicality of certain characters echo does of the original Fargo film. There’s a TV set not functioning properly in a cabin that’s being hit frequently, a woodchipper in the film becomes a meat grinder in Season 2
The ‘looking further in the future’ dream sequence at the end of Raising Arizona is referenced in the final episode of season 2 which gives way the Solverson family connecting with Season 1 in case you’ve not spotted it by then. (They final episode reveals some more character links between Season 1 and 2 which are harder to spot and which may need a 2nd viewing of Season 1. If you do, you may notice that the Sioux Falls incident is mentioned on several occasions in Season 1)
Besides using the song Danny Boy there’s a further reference to Miller’s Crossing in that sequence as a character is being brought into the woods to be assassinated shot in a manor very similar to the way the Coen brothers filmed their scene. The main (deliberated) difference: Miller’s Crossing has shots looking up at trees on several occasions (including the opening title sequence) whereas the TV episode has top shots of trees in a snow landscape, propbably filmed with a drone.
The scene where highrise window washers shoot up an office and the 3 people in it has a nod to The Hudsucker Proxy: the papers of a contract fly through the air in the exact same way as the ‘Bumstead contract’ does in The Hudsucker Proxy due to a window being broken.
The repeated UFO sightings are a nod to The Man Who Wasn’t There, Ed Crane (played by Billy Bob Thornthon, baddie in Season 1) has some similar flying saucers bathing him in light. And so on, and so on.

In summation, Season 2 repeats the miracle that Season 1 was, the makers have captured all the great elements of the original film, made it their own, it features great writing, acting and directing. Can’t wait for Season 3 which allegedly will take place in 2010 but we’ll have to wait till 2017 as writing is still underway. No need for them to rush, just keep up the high quality I’d say.

Jan Bollen

 

FARGO Season 1: The only way to ensure A White Christmas (+ Offscreen Shootouts)

If you wish to ensure a white christmas for you and your family the only sure way to go is to watch the FARGO TV series. If you liked the film you’ll be bound to like the TV series as well. When I first heard they were going to make a TV show out of Fargo I thought, really (???), but honestly the result could hardly have worked out better.

The film plays in the same universe as the film but in a different time. The events in the film took place in 1987 whereas Season 1 is set in 2006, therefore in correspondance with the Coen brothers movie every episode starts with the onscreen wording: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
Season 1 has new characters and a new story line. Besides the tone, the setting, atmosphere, midwestern accents there’s no direct link between the film and the TV Series, except for the briefcase full of money that was buried by Carl Showalter (the character played by Steve Buscemi) in the snow. You will however constantly be reminded of the film via similar situations or lines of dialogue such as “Hiya Hon!” answered by “In the kitchen.”

An insurance agent Lester Nygaard -Martin Freeman of The Hobbit and the The Office (UK) fame- has an encounter with a former high school bully who hasn’t lost his old ways yet resulting in a hospital visit. There Lester meets Lorne Malvo (Bill Bob Thornton already part of the Coen brothers universe due to his roles in The Man Who Wasn’t There and Intolerable Cruelty and to some extent due to Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan) to whom he’jokingly suggests’ he should kill the bully for him. Malvo however is the kind of man who only needs one word to go ahead with such a ‘command’. This sets of a chain of events that will change the life of many people indefinitely. Amongst them police officers Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks, Tom Hanks’son).

In the next post I’ll be discussing Season 2 including some links with Season 1 and references to other Coen brothers films.
In the meantime enjoy the below video I’ve prepared entitled Offscreen Shootouts showcasing James Cagney in William A. Wellman’s classic gangster film The Public Enemy, a clip from Brother (Aniki) by Takashi Kitano and from episode 7 of Season 1 of Fargo, all 3 scenes feature a cinematically interesting (you’ve guessed it) offscreen shootout.

Jan Bollen

The holy grail for FARGO fans: the 1997 T.V. pilot starring Edie Falco.

Before the great FARGO TV series created by Noah Hawley there was another failed attempt to bring the Coen brothers Fargo (1996) to the little screen. Just a year later in 1997 a TV pilot was shot based upon a script by Bruce Paltrow (father of Gwyneth Paltrow) and Robert Palm but was never never picked up to become a TV series. It aired in 2003 as a curiosum on Trio in a series dedicated to ‘Brilliant but Cancelled’ pilot episodes.

Bruce Bohne who played police officer Lou in the original film is the only actor who reprises his role in the pilot. Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano in The Sopranos, 1999-2007) takes over the role of Marge Gunderson from Frances McDormand and Matt Malloy plays her husband Norm Gunderson, previously played by John Carroll Lynch. All other characters are new.

Marge is still pregnant (“Four more weeks”), Norm is still painting Ducks and Lou is still not the brightest element in the Brainerd police department. The episode revolves around the killing of a pharmacist on a parking lot and a family that wishing to give theri father a proper burial ‘viking style’. The pilot is directed by the famous actress Kathy Bates, oscar winner for Misery (1990).

After Shep Proudfoot in the film, there are also a couple of Indians (as in native Americans) that show up in the Fargo universe, for those familiar with the recent TV series (mainly season 2) not an unimportant element in the future continuation of the storyline. I’ll be discussing Season 1 & 2 of Fargo in the coming days, in the meantime enjoy the pilot on YouTube which is something of a rarity.

Jan Bollen

Classic of the week: FARGO or the Coen brothers’ For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Fargo

Jerry Lundegaard is in need of money and has set in motion a plan to let ‘two professionals’ kidnap his wife. His rich father in law will have to come up with the ransom money which Jerry can ‘divvy up’ with the kidnappers. At least, that’s the plan. Blood will be shed.
A pregnant police woman (a delightful Frances McDormand in an Oscarwinning role) will get on the snowy and bloody trail of the criminals at her own leisurely pace being as much occupied with finding food and hotel rooms at reasonable prices as with catching the bad guys.

Movie buffs will notice plenty of references to other movies such as to Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (the telephone cable being pulled underneath a door opening), Psycho (the ripping of the shower curtain), The Shining (the force opening of the bathroom door + the opening of the bathroom window), and to their very own film Blood Simple (the deserted highway at night with a character holding a dead body while suddenly in the distance a vehicle approaches) and so on.

I could go on forever discussing the different aspects of this film. The black humour, the great writing, the wonderful characters (e.g. the scene with former classmate Mike Yanagita), the acting, Roger Deakins’ photography trying to keep the snow landscapes interesting and at times deliberately creating confusioning shots that initially make it hard to determine if you’re looking up or down. The use of the Midwestern accent (good luck if you’re trying to count all the yah’s) and its distinct way of expressing accompanied with a particular sense of niceness.

I’ll just point out a couple of small details that exemplify The Coen brothers peculiar sense of humour which makes every repeat viewing of their films so worthwhile.
1) Every time somebody is about to die in the film you can hear some kind of a ringing or bell sound. E.g. the sound of a car door or trunk which is ajar just before someone gets shot or of the tiny bells on the edge of a woolen hat of a character just about to axe someone. For Whom the Bell Tolls?
2) The Coen brothers asked the props department to put little statuettes of pigs all over the house of the Lundegaard family. Why? To see if the critics would spot them and see if they would come up with some interesting theories as to why they did it. Have fun spotting the pig statuettes in the below clip.

Jan Bollen

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: The old magic strikes back.

The Force Awakens

I promise I won’t give away any plot points, I won’t even give away the names of the new characters, so no spoiler alert. I’ll just sum up the basic premise form the opening credit roll as short as possible. The new baddies are now part of the FIRST ORDER and everybody is looking for Luke Skywalker who has disappeared.

The film starts about 30 years later where the Return of the Jedi episode left off with introducing all the new characters and the new storyline and sporadically gives nods to the original trilogy. Certain images and situations will certainly have a familiar feel. For instance you’ll notice some familiar looking debris in the desert. It will be no surprise that the main characters of the original trilogy, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess (or now General) Leia, C3PO and R2D2 pop-up.

The Force Awakens goes back to the magic of the original trilogy and director J.J. Abrams does so very successfully. The main negative point is that the nods to the previous films start of subtle but they turn into big winks and the entire plot line becomes somewhat of a rehash of episodes IV to VI, mainly of episode IV A New Hope. But don’t be alarmed as you’ll have a great time watching episode VII as it’s as good as you can expect and it gives you everything you were hoping for and then some. And to be honest all the nods and winks are what make the film so enjoyable.

Visually the film cleary continuous using the Nazi iconography for the bad guys as it was introduced in the original film with the Darth Vader helmet and the lining up of the star troopers and now also adds the typical Nazi red, white and black colorscheme to the mix, most noticeably in the scene where the general -played by Domhall Gleeson- addresses the star troopers before initiating an intergalatic holocaust.

Fans of The Raid 1 & 2 will definitely appreciate the (all too brief) appearence of its stars Iko Uwais & Yayan Ruhian. Max von Sydow, the iconic Ingmar Bergman actor, also shows up briefly.

With actors such as Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver providing new blood and a bunch of the original cast and with directors Rian Johnson (Brick, 2005, Looper, 2012) and Colin Trevorrow (Safety not Gauranteed, 2012 and Jurassic World, 2015) in the wings to direct episodes VIII and IX Star Wars fans can sleep on both ears as the series are in good hands.
The new Disney produced Star Wars series is off to an great and entertaining start of the highest, or perhaps better, FIRST ORDER.

Jan Bollen

ABCs OF DEATH 2. Another 26 deaths one for each letter of the alphabet.

ABCs2

As was the case with the previous film we again get to see 26 short films by 26 directors from around the world. Each director was given a letter of the alphabet and asked to choose a word. They then created a short tale of death that related to their chosen word. They had complete artistic freedom regarding the content of their segments.
This time every segment starts and finishes with something black in the frame (as apposed to red in the first anthology).

All though the second ABCs of Death was better received I must admit I like the first one better. It had more completely outrageous segments, whereas the second compilation has too many tame or silly ones. Most of the directors are young, some have only made a few short films or have one or two features under their belt.
There are a couple of more seasoned directors such as the famous animator Bill Plympton (I Married a Strange Person!, 1997 and Hair High, 2004) and Larry Fessenden (an all rounder whose films No Telling, 1991 and Habit, 1995 can be seen regularly on Sundance Channel).

The first three short films Amateur, Badger and Capital Punishment are British segments, especially the first two are very funny and get the film of to a good start and Capital Punishment gets some first real horrific images on the screen.
My favourite segments were Equilibrium where 2 friends are stranded on a desert island when suddenly a beautiful woman washes ashore which results in some priorities that need to be set straight, and Xylophone that starts with a grandmother wathcing her granddaughter play the xylophone and ends with the grandmother playing a ‘similar instrument’.

A few of the directors have already made excellent features and are to be kept on eye in the future such as Kristina Buožytė whose Aurora (a.k.a. Vanishing Waves, 2012) was one of THE surprises of that year, and the Israeli duo Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado of the interesting Kalevet (a.k.a. Rabies, 2010) and Big Bad Wolves (2013) which was highly recommended by Quentin Tarantino.

Below you can find the full list of titles and directors of the second ABCs of Death anthology:

  • A is for Amateur (directed by E.L. Katz)
  • B is for Badger (directed by Jullian Barratt)
  • C is for Capital Punishment (directed by Julian Gilbey)
  • D is for Deloused (directed by Robert Morgan)
  • E is for Equilibrium (directed by Alejandro Brugués)
  • F is for Falling (directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado)
  • G is for Grandad (directed by Jim Hosting)
  • H is for Head Games (directed by Bill Plympton)
  • I is for Invincible (directed by Erik Matti)
  • J is for Jesus (directed by Dennison Ramalho)
  • K is for Knell (directed by Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper)
  • L is for Legacy (directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen)
  • M is for Masticate (directed by Robert Boocheck)
  • N is for Nexus (directed by Larry Fassenden)
  • O is for Ochlocracy (mob rule) (directed by Hajime Ohata)
  • P is for P-P-P-P SCARY! (directed by Todd Rohal )
  • Q is for Questionnaire (directed by Rodney Ascher)
  • R is for Roulette (directed by Marvin Kren)
  • S is for Split (directed by Juan Martinez Moreno)
  • T is for Torture Porn (directed by Jan and Sylvia Soska)
  • U is for Utopia (directed by Vincenzo Natali)
  • V is for Vacation (directed by Jerome Sable)
  • W is for Wish (directed by Steven Kostanski)
  • X is for Xylophone (directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)
  • Y is for Youth (directed by Soichi Umezawa)
  • Z is for Zygote (directed by Chris Nash)

Jan Bollen

THE ABCs OF DEATH. Horror anthology A-Z.

ABCs

This horror anthology starts of with an opening card stating: The following feature film was created by 26 directors from around the world. Each director was given a letter of the alphabet and asked to choose a word. They then created a short tale of death that related to their chosen word. They had complete artistic freedom regarding the content of their segments.
Since the film, including opening and closing credits, has a duration of 129 minutes the directors off course only had a limited amount of time to tell their story. Another constriction appears to be that the beginning and ending of every segment had to be filled with something red.

An anthology or omnibus film is a feature film that consists of a series of short films usually directed by different directors with a common theme (Les Sept péchés capitaux, 1962 & 1992), location (New York Stories ,1989, Four Rooms, 1995, Paris je t’aime, 2006, Tokyo!, 2008) or story as a framing device (Dead of Night, 1945).  The very nature of this type of film is that the segments tend to vary in quality and the tone shifts do not make it easy for the viewer to experience the result as a single film.

Discussing all 26 short films would take forever + would ruin most films due to the fact that the premise in most cases makes up for 99% of the film. The film starts of great with Apocalypse that succesfully plays with the audience’s expectations. There’s an excellent animation Klutz (Anders Morgenthaler, known for Princess 2006) and a great clay animation Toilet. My other favourite segments were Dogfight, Orgasm (in the typical pure cinema style and soundtrack from the couple Cattet & Forzani) and -perhaps my favourite of the bunch, the most voilent and poignant one- XXL dealing with our obsession with the perfect body and the negative influence of commercials to this effect.
Theres were some great, rather extreme chapters from asian directors Libido and  Zetsumetsu (Extinction). The latter is an outrageous homage to the sexual innuendos in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Below you can find the full list of titles and directors which includes some brilliant helmers such as Ben Wheatley (a.o. Sightseers, A Field in England) and Srđan Spasojević (known for the notorious Srpski film, a.k.a. A Serbian Film, 2010)

  • A is for Apocalypse (directed and written by Nacho Vigaldo)
  • B is for Bigfoot (directed and written by Adrian Garcia Bogliano)
  • C is for Cycle (directed and written by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)
  • D is for Dogfight (directed and written by Marcel Sarmiento)
  • E is for Exterminate (directed and written by Angela Bettis)
  • F is for Fart (directed and written by Noboru Iguchi)
  • G is for Gravity (directed and written by Andrew Traucki)
  • H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (directed and written by Thomas Malling)
  • I is for Ingrown (directed and written by Jorge Michel Grau).
  • J is for Jidai-geki (Samurai Movie) (directed and written by Yûdai Yamaguchi)
  • K is for Klutz (directed and written by Anders Morgenthaler)
  • L is for Libido (Directed and written by Timo Tjahjanto)
  • M is for Miscarriage (directed and written by Ti West)
  • N is for Nuptials (directed and written by Banjong Pisanthanakun)
  • O is for Orgasm (directed and written by Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet)
  • P is for Pressure (directed and written by Simon Rumley)
  • Q is for Quack (directed and written by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett)
  • R is for Removed (directed and written by Srđan Spasojević)
  • S is for Speed (directed and written by Jake West)
  • T is for Toilet (directed and written by Lee Hardcastle)
  • U is for Unearthed (directed and written by Ben Wheatley)
  • V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby) (directed and written by Kaare Andrews)
  • W is for WTF! (directed and written by Jon Schnepp)
  • X is for XXL (directed and written by Xavier Gens)
  • Y is for Youngbuck (directed and written by  Jason Eisener)
  • Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction) (directed and written by Yoshihiro Nishimura)

Jan Bollen