After a brilliant first season inspired by the Cohen brothers’ masterpiece, series creator Noah Hawley manages to outdo himself. Following the new fad in television of anthology series, this time around the story is set in 1979 between Luverne, Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota with a brand new cast and another “true crime” tale.
A young Lou Solverson (Wilson), State Patrol officer and Vietnam veteran, investigates a multiple homicide case involving a judge and the disappearance of Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), the youngest son of a local crime lord based in Fargo; helping him piece things together is his father-in-law, Hank Larsson (Danson), Sheriff of Luverne. The investigation will lead them to a colorful collection of characters that includes Ed (Plemons) and Peggy Blumquist (Dunst), a Luverne’s butcher and his wife, who are not exactly law-abiding citizens, and the Gerhardt family, kingpins of North and South Dakota. Led with iron fist by Otto (Michael Hogan) until his stroke and then by his wife Floyd (Jean Smart), they are ruthless and fearsome, in particular Dodd (Donovan), the eldest son, who has big dreams of building an empire and champs at the bit. However his big dream is thwarted by an encroaching criminal organisation from Kansas City with expanding ambitions of its own. When negotiations for a peaceful merger fail, Mike Milligan (Woodbine), is left to deal with the Gerhardt. He is skilled enforcer with plenty of street smarts, and aided by the Kitchen brothers (Todd and Brad Mann), slowly works toward his goal of wiping out the competition.
The stage is set for an interesting tale of intertwined stories with very engaging and well-rounded characters and it doesn’t disappoint. The vicious confrontation between the two criminal organisations is the perfect foil for the struggle of Lou and Hank, both decent reasonable men, to make sense of the blood trail they are following. Wilson and Danson have great chemistry and embody their characters wonderfully, giving them depth and humanity that make them very relatable. Durst and Plemons are equally great as Peggy and Ed, normal folk who are swept into a life-changing situation and become a little detached from reality. Special kudos go also to Nick Offerman as Karl Weathers, the town lawyer of Luverne, and Zahn McClarnon as Hanzee Dent, right-hand man of Dodd and enforcer of the Gerhardt clan. The script is strong and the few lulls in the pace are well repaid afterward. Moreover there are some very inspired cinematic choices that add charm to the already beautiful visuals. Engrossing —8/10
Hilarious and very original mockumentary about vampires living as flatmates in modern day Wellington (New Zealand). The audience is introduced to each character with a mix of direct interviews and everyday life scenes and getting to know Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Brugh) and Vladislav (Clement) is funny and highly entertaining. They have problems that are typical when sharing a house: paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, overcome conflicts and getting invited into nightclubs; they also have others issues due to being centuries-old vampires: avoiding sunlight, getting fresh human blood, hitting a main artery and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection. In the interviews you get pearls like these:
There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham) as forth flatmate, he’s the oldest and most ghoulish vampire of the lot and has a tendency to turn his victims instead of killing them. This is the reason why Nick (Gonzales-Macuer) becomes a vampire and, being new-made, gets to be a guide to his brethren, helping them to overcome modern society’s obstacles. Along with his best friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), who is still human but very understanding, Nick manages to teach Decon, Vlad and Viago to use a computer and internet with pretty interesting results such as dark bidding on Ebay or a Skype conversation with a former minion. They finally have no problem enjoying the nightlife and entering bars and clubs, with their great surprise and delight. In return, they mentor Nick in all-things vampiry: eating in a proper way, fly and turning into a bat, hypnotizing people, dealing with werewolves and so on.
The story flows nicely, it’s engaging and amusing and it’s served well by the documentary style of shooting and editing. The cast is brilliant, especially Waititi and Clement who are also the dark minds behind this film. This movie is a breath of fresh air in this stale genre, it’s unusual and up to the mark with another unconventional take, although very different, on vampire tales: Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Diverting —8/10
Tarantino’s latest effort is an unapologetic love letter to the western genre and an extremely self-indulgent exercise of cinematic talent. Overly long shots of stagecoach and horses in the snowy landscape of Wyoming, dragged-on banter between untrusting and untrustworthy characters are a few things that do not work as well as planned. The gist of the story is: eight strangers (more or less) are forced by a blizzard to spend a day together at Minnie’s Haberdashery (thanks Tarantino, that was my word of the day!) and bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth (Russell) worries that someone will try to free his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jason Leigh) before he can deliver her to the sheriff of Red Rock. At this point, the audience has already been introduced to John, Daisy, another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), the coach driver O.B. (James Parks) and Chris Mannix (Goggins) during the aforementioned stagecoach ride with some clever exchanges. At the haberdashery they find a peculiar gallery of characters: hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), retired confederate general Smithers (Dern), world-weary cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen) and Bob (Demian Bichir), who is looking after the place since Minnie and her husband are away. As a side note: the tally is up to nine not eight but I guess poor O.B. doesn’t really count.
The stage is set for the drama to unfold and the viewer is waiting for the explosion of violence in Tarantino’s style, although not before we are regaled with the background stories of most of the characters… or so we think. This western is suddenly turned into a murder mystery theatre piece, which is far from a bad thing as Tarantino already proved with Reservoir Dogs and the heist movie genre. It is however a little too slow-burning and at times you feel the lack of a more ruthless editing. With that said, all the actors but especially Russell, Jason Leigh and Jackson are a riot and a joy to watch, showing their acting chops (and having fun too!) and drawing the viewer in.
A minor quibble I have is about the soundtrack: Tarantino’s dream come true of having Ennio Morricone composing a score for one of his movies might not be all that great, it ended up being less personal and eclectic, I enjoyed Django’s music much more. As for the film as a whole, it is definitely not my favorite of Tarantino’s oeuvre, it doesn’t have enough bite and the pace is too slow. Barely up to par —7/10
Here’s my second post devoted to speedy reviews of films I watched on my comfy couch at home during the past month. It’s a very eclectic selection that well reflects the wide range of movies I end up seeing.
A.C.A.B (All Cops Are Bastards): tough and unflinching look at the life of four cops in Rome: three veterans and a rookie. They are part of a riot unit, usually deployed for security at the stadium during football matches, and their job ain’t pretty! Stefano Sollima doesn’t spare any detail in showing how these people live, think and react to various situations. The compelling performance of all the cast, especially Pierfrancesco Favino, carries the viewer along and sells the story effectively. Intense —7/10
Pawn sacrifice: the story of Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), wunderkind of the chess world, and his epic battle of wits with Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in 1972 for the title of world champion. Notwithstanding Maguire’s solid performance, this is a run of the mill drama, formulaic and with no bite or surprises. Fisher’s egotism and paranoia make it even harder for the viewer to root for him, which turns the whole story in a rather pointless exercise. Off-putting —5/10
Clueless: Emma meets Mean Girls with a very poor outcome! Popular and beautiful Cher (Alicia Silverstone) decides to help Tai (Brittany Murphy), a new and very naive student, to fit in and navigate the ups and downs of high school life. Her plan is a little too successful and has some unexpected and unwanted results. Of all the high school themed films I’ve seen, this is a real miss: no sass, no heart, no epic or quotable scenes. The characters are neither relatable nor endearing enough, even a very young Paul Rudd. Lame —4/10
Chasing mavericks: my soft spot for surfing flicks led me to watch this one. A scruffy-looking Gerard Butler plays Frosty Hesson, Santa Cruz surfing legend, who reluctantly become mentor and father-figure to young Jay Moriarity. The boy is a surf prodigy and wants, more than anything, to ride mavericks: the biggest waves on Earth. What immediately came to mind was this quote from Point Break: “Big-wave riding’s for macho assholes with a death wish.”, however this film is an inspirational tale of giving everything one’s got to realise one’s dreams (based on a true story). The surfing scenes are thrilling and brilliantly shot. Enthralling —6.5/10
Jane Eyre: to get my regular fix of period drama I’ve re-watched the 2011 adaptation of this classic novel, helmed and beautifully shot by Cary Fukunaga (before he went on and showed the world his mettle with True Detectives). Poor, plain Jane (skillfully played by Mia Wasikowska) finds home and love in the old manor of Mr. Rochester (Fassbender), only to have everything taken away by a cruel destiny and deceit. Fassbender fits well the shoes of the doomed, romantic hero and, of course, we know that there’s a happy ending to warm the cockles of our heart. Soothing —7/10
Narc: a dark and gritty tale of undercover cops in Detroit; Joe Carnahan does not pull punches and takes the viewer into a harsh world, aptly shot in hues of blue and gray. Jason Patric and Ray Liotta truly inhabit their characters and play off of each other very well. The adrenaline-fueled opening scene is a gem of camera work and perfect introduction to the story, that alone makes worth watching this film. Uncompromising —7.5/10
Death proof: I have finally sat down and watched the lesser film of Tarantino’s oeuvre from start to finish, having seen bits and pieces throughout the years. What can I say? It’s a self-indulgent homage to B-movie/horror flicks of the seventies, chock-full of pop culture references, muscle cars and foot fetish. As expected, there are some tough-as-nail ladies who will take matters in their own hands and then there’s Kurt Russell…who is having a blast as a sociopathic stuntman who stalks girls and takes them on their last ride. You need to be in the right mood for this one. Crackpot —6/10
Heartfelt and compelling story about a fight for fundamental rights (one of many in human history) seen through the eyes of Maud (Mulligan), who goes from downtrodden worker bee in a industrial laundry and submissive wife to staunch supporter and activist of the Women’s Social and Political Union at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mulligan’s character evolves slowly, spurred by another worker, Violet (Duff), recently arrived at the laundry, and then charmed by collected, singleminded Edith (Bonham Carter), a local medical doctor. Maud is capable and smart, hard worker and loving mother but she has been told all her life that she will never amount to anything (both with words and violence) and that made her submissive and scared. However, once Maud glimpses another way of approaching life, seeing women like her stand up for themselves and fight, she starts to find her inner strength and becomes an activist. Everything begins with a public hearing of a MP’s committee for women’s enfranchisement: Maud gives a matter-of-fact but convincing testimony of her life as worker. From that moment on, the audience dives, along with Maud, in the activities of the women’s movement that, incited by their charismatic leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep), are taken up a notch. What follows is a series of historical documented actions: firebombing of letterboxes, blowing up empty country estates, hunger strikes during imprisonment and Emily Davison’s martyrdom at the Epsom Derby. As we follow the struggle of these women to see recognised their right to vote, we get to know also the minds of the men. Unfortunately they aren’t portrayed in a positive light. Sonny (Whishaw) is Maud’s rather spineless husband, who kicks her out of their house because of peer-pressure from colleagues and acquaintances; inspector Steed (Gleeson) is the armed response of the Government, trained to deal with anarchists, bolsheviks and Irish insurgents, who treats these women as a dangerous threat to society. The supervisor at the laundry is downright vicious and the various Government’s officials are patronising, dismissive or out for blood and all very vague entities. The only redeeming male figure is Edith’s husband, who supports and protects her as much as possible. Unfortunately he’s a very marginal character in the story, which is a pity because it would have added an interesting point of view. Sarah Gavron’s film is engaging and show us historical events that are very seldom shown at the cinema. Carey Mulligan’s performance conveys both strength and vulnerability very effectively and she’s helped by a solid supporting cast. Illuminating —7.5/10
In a vain attempt to keep up with all the films I watch I came up with this new series of posts. The idea is to bundle up speedy reviews of the movies I saw at the cinema and at home for which I have neither the time nor the inclination to write a full critique. The posts will be distinguished in two types: “at the pictures” and “at home”. So, without further ado, here’s January selection of films:
The Lobster: intrigued by a quirky trailer and some good reviews, I went in with high expectations for a captivating indie movie with a great cast. I came out sorely disappointed and confused. The film starts with an engaging premise of a near future society with a little twist in its social mores but, then, it loses momentum making the plot more complicated and without a clear direction or thesis. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz gives solid performances but it’s not enough. Missed opportunity —4/10
Black Mass: it aspires to be a new Goodfellas but doesn’t have the guts to go all the way. Irish mob in the seventies fights the competition with the help of complacent FBI agents: it sounds good on paper but it doesn’t fully deliver. Johnny Depp’s chameleonic transformation into James “Whitey” Bulger, who ascends from petty criminal in South Boston to FBI’s most wanted status, is convincing but lacks bite. Notwithstanding the efforts of a great cast, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch in particular, the film has an uneven pace and not enough tension to win me over. I wonder what Scorsese would have done… oh wait, he made The Departed! No guts, no glory —6/10
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2: typing this long title makes me already weary! First off: splitting the last part of a trilogy in two just to milk every possible dime from the audience is not cool, especially when there’s no real need for it. The story picks up exactly where it left off but a year of waiting it’s way worse than commercial breaks to get back into the rhythm and care of the characters. So Katniss and her ragtag gang of heros need to kill President Snow to finally end the civil war in Panem and it seems that they go at it all the wrong ways; I haven’t seen so many useless deaths since George Clooney’s in Gravity. Anyway, the good guys wins but there’s a price to pay…duh! It felt flat and unengaging and the multiple endings do not help. Watch on TV —5/10
The Big Short: Adam McKay takes on the not easy task to explain the root causes of 2008 financial crisis using as a starting point the eponymous book wrote by Michael Lewis. He takes a few liberties with the source material but he succeeds in getting through the most important facts and information with clever and funny breaking-the-forth-wall speeches and using Ryan Gosling’s character as guide for the audience. With a stellar ensemble cast at his disposal, McKay skillfully tells the story of a few individuals who saw the end of the real estate bubble coming and all the problems connected with financial derivative products. Despite the complicated and, some might say, dull subject the film is well-paced and funny with convincing performances. Special kudos to Christian Bale! Relevant and entertaining —7.5/10
As my first entry of 2016 in my Sound & Motion Pictures series I decided to revisit great combination of music with duel/fighting scenes. Sometimes it is the music itself that make all the difference and changes a rather normal fight in something more, other times it just underline the tension of the images or the combination of the two is so perfect that you cannot really tell what makes the scene special. Here’s my list of favorites, hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
1) Colonel Mortimer vs. Indio – La Resa Dei Conti, Ennio Morricone (1965)
There are many great duels in Sergio Leone’s oeuvre but this is my all time favorite. The chime is so haunting and from a device of hideous sport becomes a means of retribution. Ennio Morricone strikes again!
2) The Bride vs. O-ren Ishii – Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Santa Esmeralda (1977)
This is Tarantino’s version of a Leone’s duel with oriental flavour, on the notes of a very up-beat cover of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood with a flamenco component… just perfect!
3) Neo vs. Morpheus – Leave You Far Behind, Lunatic Calm (1998)
Techno music as soundtrack for a kung fu showdown (even an amicable one) is a radical choice. The Wachowski siblings have changed the way we view things a lot with The Matrix.
4) Sherlock vs. hulking guy – Rocky Road To Dublin, The Dubliners (2006)
Guy Ritchie comes up with a lot of inspired ideas in his movies and this fight is a great example: slow-motion and regular speed to show a bare-knuckle boxing match with an Irish traditional song to keep the blood pumping!
5) Obi Wan & Qui Gon Ginn vs Darth Maul – Duel of the Fates, John Williams (1999)
Although The Phantom Menace is my least favorite movie of the Star Wars saga, this duel is pretty awesome mostly because of Darth Maul, a pretty cool but very underutilised villain. John Williams’s score is effective and stirring.
Greg (Mann) has successfully navigated the treacherous waters of high school until his senior year by being a chameleon. He cleverly adapted to the social mores of each clique thus remaining virtually invisible and unscathed. His best and only friend since childhood, Earl (Cyler), is laid-back and unfazed by the high school life; they share a passion for movies, in particular classics, instilled by Greg’s father (Offerman), an eccentric professor of sociology. Their favorite pastime is to remake them or “swede” them (you should watch Be Kind Rewind, to understand this) with, of course, poor man’s methods and interesting results. Greg’s quiet life is forever changed when his mother (Britton) guilt-trips him into befriending Rachel (Cooke), a girl who attends his school and has been recently diagnosed with leukemia. What follows is a very authentic and captivating tale of friendship (no soppy, tear-jerker love story a la The Fault In Our Stars), that is, in turns, charming, funny, awkward and raw. Greg is forced out of his protective shell by hanging out with Rachel at school, learning to be part of its micro-society and experiencing the (most of the time) traumatic consequences of being noticed. Rachel, on the other hand, becomes part of Greg and Earl’s private world and enjoys watching their masterpieces while she has to endure cancer treatments. This film is a well-written, perfectly-casted coming-of-age story with a nice dose of sarcasm and humour that balances its darker and more gut-ranching moments. I haven’t seen a film about teenagers so insightful and charming in a while. The three young leads give very convincing performance and carry the film on their shoulders from start to finish. Among the adult cast special kudos should go to Nick Offerman as Greg’s oddball father, a joy to watch! Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s second time in the director’s chair is a success and well-worth your time. Beguiling —8/10
Television is indeed a cut-throat world. Network and corporate executives exploit the mental break-down of a veteran news anchorman for the sake of ratings and monetary return. Summarised in this way, the film sounds like a jaded, cynic view of TV news in the seventies but it is so much more! It manages to introduce some surreal elements into a serious and realistic narrative that becomes one of the harshest criticism of television, entertainment and business world. Furthermore it uncannily predicts what happens to television in the next forty years: reality shows, exploitation of the worst gory events to improve ratings and such. Faye Dunaway show a wonderful combination of fanatical glee, workaholism and sheer determination as Diana Christensen, the producer who takes the reins of the news section of the network. She replaces Max Shumacher (Holden), an old-timer with integrity and also personal friend of Howard Beale (Finch), the anchorman in question. Beale’s ravings are illuminating and still actual (and downright hilarious) and Finch is fantastic to watch, no wonder he has got an Oscar for this role. To add more quality to an already stellar cast there’s Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett, face of the corporation, that recently bought the network, and ultimate shot-caller. His character might come across as one-dimensional, only driven by quarterly returns and stockholders’ expectations but Duvall manages to imbue him with some vulnerability that makes him more credible. The heart of the film is Holden’s Max: a man who is going towards his twilight years and finds himself fired, rather unceremoniously. He is viewed by Hackett as the past in TV news and he is considered both expendable and a threat to the network. All of this because Max refuses to use his friend Howard as freak-show to be paraded in front of millions of people. Max is the only silver lining of the film: someone who clings to his humanity (both the good and the bad) and doesn’t surrender and turn into a humanoid like Diana. Lumet’s directing is flawless and inspired and Paddy Chayefsky’ s script is pure gold. My favorite scenes are: Arthur Jensen’s (Beatty) speech about the primal forces of Nature and the contract negotiation between the far-left-wing revolutionaries, the communist activist and the network representatives; both are hilarious and amazing. Riveting —9/10
This is my first entry to The Matinee‘s Blind Spot blogathon. So far so good!
As cinematic resolution for this year, I’ve decided to join the Blind Spot Series, a pretty nifty blogathon organised by Ryan@TheMatinee. The rules are quite simple: pick 12 films (one for each month) that you haven’t seen before and post a write-up about them. Easy, right?! Well, choosing the movies from my ever-growing to-watch list has been tough but I managed. So, without further ado, here’s my selection:
January: Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
February: Steamboy (Katsuhiro Otomo, 2004)
March: El Secreto de sus Ojos (Juan Jose Campanella, 2009)
April: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
May: Bande a Part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)
June: Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
July: Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010)
August: La Regle du Jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
September: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)
October: Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1970)
November: The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
December: Los Abrazos Rotos (Pedro Almodovar, 2009)