Fargo – The New TV Series on FX

Lorne Malvo: Your problem is that you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t.

So says Billy Bob Thornton as the latest version of a killing machine, unlike The Terminator, this one is human and not only answers to the name of Lorne Malvo, but also answers questions in the same way we all do. He is a character you won’t admire, yet he’s one that you can’t help but love. I’m talking about the brand spanking new TV series called Fargo that premiered on the FX channel last night.

In case you are wondering, this series, which will run 10 episodes, is an adoption of the famed Coen Brothers film from 1996 called Fargo. In fact, the actual Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, are on board as Executive Producers of this series. They’ve adopted the same format as we’ve seen in True Detective – a one and done season with new characters or cases next year.

But while the TV series has definite reminders as well as something of the style of the film, this is more of a filtered reflection than any thing else. The characters are not the same – though the weather is. For example, the pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in the film) is now the not pregnant Molly Solverson (played by Allison Tolman). And the manic car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in the film, is now an insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (played by Martin Freeman).

The aforementioned Lorne Malvo is on hand to do some of the wet-work for the series.

Fargo may be the title but the show is set in Bemidji, MN – with Calgary and environs serving as the location of the production.

Like Fargo, the film, Fargo the TV Series. has its assortment of peculiar people, some as dumb as door knobs, and others not too far above that. We are also ‘treated’ to some unusual violence.

Why just in the first episode, a man was frozen to death while fleeing a captor, another was stabbed in the back of head while enjoying the services of a hooker,

yet another was bludgeoned to death with a hammer,

and lest I forget, a sheriff was shot down with a double-barrelled shotgun.

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The Lunch Box

In Mumbai, India, there’s a system of delivering lunches that are picked up from home kitchens and restaurants then delivered to workers in their offices (right to their desk) via bikes, trains, and pushcarts with errors only being the remotest of possibilities. After the lunch breaks are over, the tiffins (lunch boxes) are picked up, then transported back to the exact point of origin. Every day, nearly 175,000 such lunch boxes are picked up, delivered, and returned. The rate of error for lunches either being lost or delivered incorrectly, is so low that once in a million deliveries applies. This system has been in use since the latter part of the 19th century.

This film is about one such lunchbox and it is no surprise that film is entitled The Lunch Box. This lovely film was written and directed by Ritesh Batra in his first ever work on a feature film and has won awards at film festivals from Reykjavik to Sao Paulo, from such diverse places like Oslo, London, Ghent, and from Tribeca to Telluride to Dubai. Just a few days ago, The Lunch Box opened at Sarasota’s indie/art/foreign theater, the Burns Court Cinema.

Batra is only 35 years old and studied film in New York. But his touch is fine. He knows his craft, and the film flows by in a brief 104 minutes. This is an Indian film that has made the box offices light up all over the world.

Nosheen Iqbal, writing for The Guardian newspaper in the UK has noted that the film reflects India’s new taste for realism. It’s not really new, as years back, in the 60′s and 70′s, this style of film making was called India’s Parallel Cinema. In that era, those practitioners made films with serious content, naturalism, and an eye on realism rather than commercialism. So the Parallel Cinema has been around for a while.

Here’s the story of The Lunch Box, condensed of course.

Nimrat Kaur plays the housewife Ila. Her husband commutes to work each day from a Mumbai suburb, and Ila gets her young daughter off to school in the morning. She loves her husband, and tries hard to please him. But he doesn’t notice or care. So Ila enlists the help of a neighbor upstairs, called Auntie, whom we hear, but never see. An extra special lunch is prepared. The door bell rings, and there’s the dabbawallah to pick up the lunch. She watches as he loads the lunch box on to his bike, and rides off the train station where the lunches are organized and sorted before being sent to the city for delivery.

Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) plays Saajan Fernandes. He is an older man, a widower who is approaching his retirement from his job as an accountant in the Claims Department of a large insurance company. He too receives his lunches on a regular basis via the same system, only his lunches are prepared by a restaurant.

On this particular day something is different.

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The One I Love – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

The Closing Night Feature Film at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival was The One I Love. Directed by first-timer Charlie McDowell, and written by feature film first timer Justin Lader, the film is basically a two-hander starring Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake, Mad Men, Darling Companion) and Mark Duplass (The Mindy Project, Zero Dark Thirty, Darling Companion & Your Sister’s Sister). Acting vet Ted Danson has a small role as a marriage therapist.

Now this is a very, very new film. There’s not a poster, nor a trailer to be found. But there is a clip out there. Prior to Sarasota, the film has screened only at Sundance this past January. Further festivals on the horizon include Newport Beach, Tribeca, Montclair, and San Francisco. So the film makers will be on the move.

By the way, all the images that you’ll see in this review, with the exception of the two above this line – are stills pulled from the clip.

ZZZ - ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

ZZZ – ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

Here’s the skinny. Moss as Sophia, and Duplass as Ethan, play thirty-somethings. They’ve been married long enough for Ethan to have strayed, and so their marriage is on the rocks, at a crossroad, about to hemorrhage, or burst at the seams. Pick one or all of the above as all apply. So they’ve chosen to consult with a marriage counselor, played by Danson.

Danson elects to send them off on a weekend retreat – away from their familiar surroundings, a place where they can just concentrate on finding the spark they once had. Or as Streisand and Redford once called it – The Way We Were. But this new film isn’t anything like that one. It all takes place over one weekend. Years don’t fly by. There’s just one brief flashback and it basically opens the film.

Good Morning, handsome

Good Morning, handsome

So off they go, to an unnamed in the film, location which turns out to be up in the hills above Ojai, California. You won’t find that fact on IMDB, but McDowell, Lader, and Moss were on hand at the SFF for a post-screening Q & A, and that’s how I know. More on the Q & A later.

Suffice it to say, things go smoothly for a while. It’s a lovely home – fully stocked, fully equipped, and it even has its own separate guest house which is slightly smaller than the main house, but as fully loaded as it needs to be. They have the whole place to themselves.

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The Heart Machine – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

[Some SPOILERS AHEAD] The Heart Machine is fresh off its world Premier at SXSW a few weeks ago. The film is so new, that at this time, there’s not even a film poster available, so pardon the make-do image on the right used for this piece.

The Heart Machine isn’t about new medical machinery or bio-tech. Rather it is about love in the digital age. These days, one asks for a way in by saying, What’s your Skype address?

It’s still the same as can I call you, only the hardware/software is different. The Heart Machine was screened at the Sarasota Film Festival today, and yours truly was in attendance. Starring John Gallagher Jr (The Newsroom) and Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards), this film wasn’t the comedy, the romance, or even the rom-com I was expecting and hoping for.

Rather it is a look at one-night stands, e-stalking, angst, skypurbation, and hovering over all of it, is the hollowness and fleeting (over just after it begins) of today’s relationships. The onscreen version is the relationship began and end as easily as opening a wrapped bit of chocolate then tossing the wrapper into the trash bin.

Gallagher plays Cody. He lives in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. Sheil plays Virginia Walker. They met on line and communicate via Skype. For some reason (she’s somewhat insecure which may be the case but isn’t clearly apparent), Virginia tells Cody that she lives in Berlin, Germany. We soon learn otherwise, as she really lives on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. Or as she describes it – ‘really way east of the Lower Eastside’.

But as these things go, the internet allows for an intimacy that an old-fangled telephone does not. So things progress. But Gallagher’s Cody is not just a guy looking for love. We soon find out that he may be paranoid and that he’s definitely obsessional. He takes screen captures of the Skype talks, and then starts blowing up the backgrounds in these images – is he just inquisitive, or what exactly does he expect to see? What is he looking for why is he looking so far beneath the surface are the questions that will come to you.

Then he starts listening to background sounds on the recorded Skype calls. He looks at the audio graphics of dog’s barking, and what he calls German sirens. This is not good. We begin to be concerned for Virginia. Because we know she’s in the city.

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God’s Pocket with Philip Seymour Hoffman – Day Eight at the Sarasota Film Festival

Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks are the big names who go small town and small time with in God’s Pocket – the debut feature film directorial effort by John Slattery (Mad Men, The Adjustment Bureau). God’s Pocket is not really a small town. Rather it is just a rundown and ugly section of mean streets in Philadelphia which can be more accurately be described as a neighborhood.

Richard Jenkins portrays the newspaper columnist Richard Shelburn in the local paper, and we open with him doing a voice over at a funeral. We get a look at the townsfolk, a sorry-looking bunch,  attending said funeral, and, as they are exiting, a fight breaks out. The screen flashes a text: Three Days Earlier – so we know we are heading for a lengthy flashback of the events leading up to the funeral.

The deceased is one Leon Scarpato, the son of Jeannie Scarpato (Hendricks) who is the wife of Mickey Scarpato (Hoffman). He’s a low-level crook who will soon be participating in a small time heist of a meat delivery truck with his pal Arthur (Turturro) who needs to steal the truck to sell the meat as he’s 20K in debt to Sal – the local bully, goon, and loan shark.

They pay off the driver of the meat truck – Here’s your money, go have a nice breakfast, and come back in not less than an hour. When the truck driver asks one too many questions he gets a punch in the gut which sends him to the ground. Then he gets a warning.

You have your job, and we have our job. Now take the money and go have breakfast.

Meanwhile, Leon, on the job at a construction site, runs his foul mouth, flashes a knife far too often, and eventually nicks some one with it. Moments later his head and a piece of pipe wielded by the man Leon nicked, and called the N-word, collide, and Leon will soon be pronounced dead at the scene by the medics.

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Wild Canaries – Day Seven at the Sarasota Film Festival

Back in the 30′s and 40′s a very popular film series called The Thin Man became a favorite of film goers. Starring Hollywood legends William Powell and Myrna Loy, the original which was titled The Thin Man was shot in 12 days in 1934, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture. This film spawned five sequels. While I am uncertain about The Thin Man being the first screwball comedy, I am fairly certain that it was the first screwball comedy murder mystery.

Between 1957 and 1959, The Thin Man was a successful TV series and starred Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. The screwball element was still present as was the sophisticated repartee and dialogues. In all 72 episodes aired.

In the 1970′s we had McMillan & Wife on our TVs. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, the series played 40 episodes over the period of 1971 to 1976. The episodes were 90 minutes each. We still had the man and woman solving murders, except this time he wasn’t a retired private detective – he was the Commissioner of the San Francisco Police Department. St.James kept the role of the kooky wife created by Myrna Loy in play.

Which brings us to 2014. Arriving at the Sarasota Film Festival tonight was Wild Canaries. Yes, going in, this film could be called a screwball comedy/murder mystery, and it has definitely been updated for the times. Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, who co-stars with Sophia Takal as his fiancé, the film is set in a Park Slope Brooklyn brownstone building. Noah (Levine) and Barri (Takal) share an apartment. Also on board in the same apartment is their friend Jean (Alia Shawkat).

There’s a couple who live on the ground and second floor; a guy named Damien and his wife and child. A nice old lady Sylvia lives on the 3rd floor and Barri is friends with her – is discovered by Barri dead on the floor of her bedroom. The Emergency Medics are summoned and it is ruled a death by heart attack. But Barri doesn’t quite believe that an 80 year woman who had a triple by-pass heart surgery, and a hip replacement – could be in bad enough shape to suddenly succumb to a heart attack, she believes it must be foul play. See, here we are barely seven minutes in, and already we have a screwball theory.

She goes on to pester Noah and Jean endlessly about this. The dynamic is such that we aren’t particularly displeased by Barri’s notions, but rather we begin to seriously dislike the constant bickering that we are a witness to. Noah doesn’t seem all that invested in his engagement – there’s the all night poker games with weed and booze in Damien’s apartment downstairs which Noah uses as a refuge from Barri, and this seems to attract him more than the whining Barri.

Lawrence Michael Levine wrote the film, directed the film, starred in the film, and appeared in Sarasota for a Q & A

Lawrence Michael Levine wrote the film, directed the film, starred in the film, and appeared in Sarasota for a Q & A

Noah is also in business with an ex-gf named Eleanor played by Annie Parisse who appeared in many episodes of Law & Order as A.D.A. Alexandra Borgia. As to what kind of business they do – it isn’t clear, and at the moment – despite their past involvement, Eleanor is now a lesbian.

Jean is in business with Barri – and together they have an idea to buy a failed Catskills resort and restore it. They even raise a half million in seed money from a friend of Jean’s. Jean says, We probably got the money because I gave this guy a blowjob once. Also worthy of mention is that Jean now is also a lesbian, and she tells us that she hasn’t had sex in more than year.

Just another day in the paradise known as Park Slope. Barri has nothing else to do than try to solve a possible murder.

Just another day in the paradise known as Park Slope. Sophia Takal as Barri has nothing else to do than try to solve a possible murder.

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Words and Pictures – Day Six at the Sarasota Film Festival

Students – and viewers – pick a side. Actually we viewers don’t have to pick a side (we root for both of them) in the battle between an English Honors teacher Jack Markus (Academy Award Nominee Clive Owens) and the Arts Honors teacher Dina Delsanto (Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche). The film is the Fred Schepisi helmed Words and Pictures.

Now no one is going to claim that Owens and Binoche are up there with the legendary film combos like Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn, or Rosalind Russell/Cary Grant, or even Julia Roberts/Richard Gere. But there’s definitely some major chemistry between them and you’re going to like what you see.

Jack Marcus is a published author and poet now teaching at an upscale school called The Croydon Preparatory Academy or Croydon Prep. The location is supposed to New England, but Vancouver is where the film was shot.

Jack’s got issues like writers block, lack of inspiration, and the school’s Headmaster and President of the Board (played by Amy Brennerman) think that Jack has been mailing it in rather than inspiring his students.

After all, he’s chronically late, is behind in grading the students’ papers, and has not put out a new issue of the school’s literary magazine in some time. You see, Jack is aware of his failings which has led to him having a drinking problem.

Enter Binoche as Dina Delsanto, a world-class painter . Here’s how their initial meeting went:

Jack: What do you teach? Dina; Honors, Art Jack: Hence the scarf Dina: You? Jack: Honors, English Dina: Hence the... hence

Jack: What do you teach?
Dina: Honors, Art
Jack: Hence the scarf
Dina: You?
Jack: Honors, English
Dina: Hence the… hence

She is suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis – a death knell for an artist’s hands. Yet later we find that she paints with mechanical aids, or tools, even a mop. Her fine art has become the broad-stroked based abstract rather than impressionist. But even if she has trouble dressing, she is not giving up.

So we have two damaged people. As this is a romantic comedy drama, of course they will fall in love, only it won’t come easy. Because first, they have to go to war. Not with stick and stones to break bones, but with an intellectual battle royal over which is more important – the word or the picture.

They duel in words as Jack likes playing a game:

Markus: I say a five syllable word that starts with ‘A’. You say a five syllable word that starts with ‘B’. We go on until some one is stumped. An-ti-his-ta-mine.

Delsanto: blah blah, blah-blah…

Markus: Only four syllables – my point.

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