Posts Tagged ‘the coen brothers’

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “The Law of Non-Contradiction”

May 8, 2017

Hawley tapped John Cameron, a longtime collaborator of both the Coens and their old friend Sam Raimi, to helm one of the series most Coen-esque installments ever, which is really saying something. (Un)comfortably ensconced in Los Angeles rather than the upper midwest, Fargo could really bring its Barton Fink/Big Lewbowski A-game, with some of its most explicit shout-outs and hat-tips yet. For example, the “ring for service” bell that never seems to stop ringing, the shot of Gloria reclining on the beach looking out into the sea, the mysterious shoes and the equally mysterious box, the screening room lit by the hazy light of the projector, Tad’s role as a screenwriter whose success in another medium leads him to get in over his head in Hollywood: That’s that Barton Fink feeling, baby, brought to you by filmmakers who understand the feelings of alienation and insecurity they’re supposed to engender in you, not just by people who are trying to coast on the residual goodwill of previous work with throwaway references.

In some places the allusions seem to fold endlessly into one another — Gloria’s motel simultaneously evokes Barton Fink’s hotel, the motel that figures prominently in No Country for Old Men, and the site of the Sioux Falls Massacre from the show’s previous season — to say nothing of cinema’s ur-motel, run by one Norman Bates and his mother. The emotional resonance here is dense, is what I’m saying; unlike some shows I could mention — fuck it, I mean Stranger Things — it’s designed to last beyond the mere fact of recognition. In other words, to paraphrase Barton Fink, it will show you the life of the mind.

Despite not caring fro two prominent aspects of last week’s Fargo, I liked the overall thing quite a bit, and explained why at Decider. (That cameo from you-know-who!)

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “Waiting for Dutch”

October 13, 2015

How did they ever make a TV show of Fargo? The answer: Quite well indeed, surprisingly. At first, second, and even third glance, novelist Noah Hawley’s attempt to translate Joel & Ethan Coen’s Oscar-nominated Minnesota murder-comedy into an anthology series seemed like a frozen folly to rival Seward’s, no matter what the smash Season One success of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective augured for another author-helmed cable crime series with a fresh cast and story ever season. Even if Fargowasn’t a straightforward adaptation/expansion of the original, the unique Coen Brothers blend of small-town dorkiness, splatstick comedy, and unsparing despair could perhaps be imitated, but never duplicated, no?

Oh, yeah. Hawley wisely took the Rumsfeldian approach to the seemingly impossible task, solving the problem by making it bigger. Yes, his all-new story borrowed all the familiar elements from the original: the snowy setting, the North Central accents, the pregnant policewoman, the milquetoast murderer, the Mutt-and-Jeff hitmen, the escalating calamities, even little details like an awkward reunion over dinner, a chase over thin ice, and (in the show’s one true link to the movie) a hidden suitcase of loot marked with an ice scraper. But it also made a magpie-like raid on the Coens’ entire oeuvre: a hotel corridor from Barton Fink here, a parable-dispensing rabbi from A Serious Man there, and, in the form of Billy Bob Thornton’s hellaciously awful contract killer Lorne Malvo, a living embodiment of predatory evil out of No Country for Old Men everywhere. (Even composer Jeff Russo’s extraordinary score paid homage to a variety of Carter Burwell’s Coen-movie musical contributions.) The result was less a riff on the Brothers’ 1996 classic and more “Songs in the Key of Coen”—a tribute to the writer-directors’ unflagging ability to playfully puncture the thin ice of human decency and find the deadly cold beneath that may well have surpassed the original.*

All of which makes the show’s Emmy Award–winning first season (technically miniseries, but only the network and the Academy care) a tough act to follow. Not only does the show have to maintain that level of care and quality, it must do so with no Billy Bob, no Bilbo Baggins, and no out-of-nowhere star turn from Allison Tolman as an underappreciated master investigator with a bun in the oven. The sad fate that can befall an anthology series’ sophomore season is as plain as the mustache on Ray Velcoro’s face.

Fortunately, “Waiting for Dutch,” Fargo’s Season Two premiere, is no Redux Detective.

I reviewed the season premiere of Fargo, and talked a lot about its excellent first season too, for the New York Observer, where I’ll be covering the show this season.

Movie Time: Inside Llewyn Davis

December 28, 2013

Or Introducing Bruno Delbonnel, stepping in for MIA cinematographer/genius Roger Deakins and (re)creating the grey winter awfulness of New York City so convincingly it felt less like a lighting scheme and more like a ceiling you might bump your head on. Inside Llewyn Davis, for all its subwaying and roadtripping and general peripateticism, is a claustrophobic film, a film about how having no commitments can root you to the spot just as surely as a square life. It can be seen as the third film in the Coen Brothers’ Trilogy of Calamity, with Barton Fink and A Serious Man, but here the calamity is ongoing, not a new thing that starts with a move to Hollywood or the sudden caprice of Hashem. (I suppose you could even squeeze No Country for Old Men in there too if you want, but again, no stumbling across drug money.) Llewyn Davis has been in a folk-scene funk for some time, a depression he shows no signs of exiting. Indeed, a clever bit of editing that could be taken as showing us a pivotal sequence out of order is ever so slightly recut so that we could simply be witnessing subtle variations on the same unending cycle — Sisyphus, Groundhog Day, the Möbius. Certainly the presence of a key figure at film’s end indicates Llewyn’s career will only go so far. The funny thing, the different thing, is that he’d more or less resigned himself to it by that point anyway. He’s not a delusional man, nor does he react to his plight with especially outstanding rage. He’s difficult but not impossible, cruel at times but only when driven to exhaustion by the failure of kindness to produce amicable results. He’s neither a delusional hack nor a tortured genius — he’s a talented guy who knows the limits of his talent but hopes to catch a lucky break. None is forthcoming. Joel and Ethan Coen have made much blacker movies than this one; Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers at their greyest.