From December 2015

The Magical Sci-Fi of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 1977. Directed & Written by George Lucas.
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Jack Purvis, and James Earl Jones. Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Rated PG. 121 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-fi

★★★★★
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Even though I do like certain novels and films in the science-fiction genre, mostly it isn’t one I’m huge on overall. Not knocking it. I prefer horror, of many kinds, dark dramas and thrillers. Yet that’s the thing about Star Wars, its appeal crosses over regular genre boundaries. It reaches out on many levels to different audiences and draws them together. People act like the franchise’s fans are strictly a ton of sci-fi nerds. Wrong. There are so many people who love Star Wars that come from different backgrounds, in terms of their genre preferences.
Above all else, George Lucas’ first Star Wars film, fourth in the timeline, A New Hope is an incredible achievement. It breaks us into a massive space opera story, throwing us into its middle in an ambitious move by a somewhat beginner filmmaker (yes I know he made films before but c’mon – this is way bigger than anything else he’d done before). The way Lucas fleshed out a massive franchise by putting us into Episode IV as the start of the films released, it’s pretty damn impressive. The ambition is strong in this one.
With a ton of interesting and innovative effects, alongside fun performances from relatively unknown actors at the time, and a truly interesting overarching story, Lucas was able to birth one of the most influential franchises in film history, as well as one nobody who’s a fan will or could ever forget.
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I won’t waste time explaining any of the plot, as I usually do with my reviews. If you haven’t seen this yet you probably already know a good deal, having heard much about Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and his often times pessimistic companion C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), as well as the handsome smuggler with an attitude Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Even those who’ve never seen a single film in the entire franchise know many of these names. Very hard not to, especially in today’s age of social media.
So instead of recounting the plot a little, I’ll dive in.
Immediately, the first few scenes of A New Hope always grab me. I particularly love the Stormtroopers and their gun fighting, lasers going everywhere, pew pew pew. But it’s the white, sterile sort of spaceship in which they’re fighting that grabs me, then in the middle of it all Darth Vader (played by David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) strolls past in his stark black costume, the iconic helmet shaped like an old Rolls Royce. There’s something about the visuals in the beginning which continually gets me. No matter how many times I see it, no matter that I know what’s coming, there’s a quality to the beginning of the film that catches me and from the start keeps me wanting more. Of course, more comes. Even better is the fact everything outside the spaceships looks so rustic, from the planet Tatooine itself with its desert feel to the cantina, to the Millenium Falcon with its lived-in sense of atmosphere, as if everything is old, used, and the battle between the Empire and the Rebels has decimated almost everything wherever anybody goes. So what really impresses me off the bat about Star Wars: A New Hope is the production and set design, the art department, and more. Once you get further into the story, the special effects impress. And after finding out the origins of the many iconic sounds – lightsabers in battle, the firing guns of the spaceship and so on – it’s all the more interesting because you can see the innovation it took on the part of Lucas and his entire team. They didn’t half-ass a single second.
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From the look of the film physically, in terms of set and design overall, we also need to remember the magic cinematography of Gilbert Taylor. His amazing credits include Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Roman Polanski’s harrowing Repulsion and his later film Cul-De-Sac, as well as The Omen, all of which saw him in the role of Director of Photography. And because of this, we have him to thank – as D.P. once more – for the gorgeous look of how A New Hope was filmed. Then, you add in the massively talented John Williams, whose score is one of the most iconic bits of film history; even if you don’t know the movies, you probably could recognize the theme and other portions of the music.
Moving on, the editing is also a large part of why the movie works, from its wonderful sideswiping transitions to the excellent cuts between the action. Several editors worked on the movie, including an uncredited bit of magic from Lucas himself. However, Paul Hirsch is the one I find myself most interested in, as his work spans many genres, many amazing filmmakers: several Brian De Palma masterpieces such as Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie and Blow Out; then there’s also his work on Creepshow (“The Crate”), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of the funniest films ever Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Falling Down, another excellent De Palma adaptation on Mission: Impossible, plus several more recent films that are pretty fun and interesting. So Hirsch brings all that talent to A New Hope – one of the first half dozen movies he worked on. Moving past his efforts for Lucas, which also include the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, he’s become a sought out editor having done one of the latest Mission: Impossible sequels, as well as the upcoming Warcraft movie. Most of all, you can tell even in this movie, at the early stages of his career, Hirsch was talented. The editing could’ve easily been shoddy in A New Hope, but his work, plus the work of the others involved in the editing room, makes this piece of science fiction a masterwork. The transitions between scenes has a remarkable feel, which makes you often forget you’re watching a supposed space opera. Instead, it feels like any other classic, well-made film of its era. Perhaps even better. All due to so much great technical work behind the scenes, elevating all the other work out front.


But without the power of the actors starring in A New Hope, even the most amazing work in terms of editing, cinematography and score would all fall short. Carrie Fisher plays Leia as both a strong yet still vulnerable person, as does Mark Hamill; the parallels between there characters exists in the fact they’re both natural leaders, however, they’ve not yet realized it in this first film. At the end of the movie, both Luke and Leia appear to us now more mature, changed, ready to take on whatever else comes.
Further than that, once Harrison Ford’s Han Solo comes on the scene there is an extra dimension of charisma and swagger not yet present in the filmic universe of Star Wars. Not only does Solo give us a bit of comedic relief at times, there’s also an intensity to his character, the rebel who is not actually a Rebel, if you get my drift. Him and Chewbacca are the two inseparable friends whose job takes them from one end of the galaxy to another. Moreover, Han plays the part of the disbeliever – the one whom Luke, mainly, must convert. So what I like is that Solo also brings in questions of faith, of belief, and this gives us a nice counterpoint to someone like Skywalker who believes deeply in the force, certainly once he starts to discover his Jedi connections. Truly, though, if Ford didn’t play the character, I’m not sure who could’ve done the job. Definitely sure there aren’t many, if any, who could have come into their own as Han Solo and look as good doing it as him. It’s hard now to imagine anyone playing either of these main parts, but seriously: these actors brought a ton of emotion and charisma to the entire movie. The most important of these elements? They bring heart and soul.
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This has always been a favourite of mine, specifically in the science fiction genre. While it’s not as leaned towards science as other movies, in regards to authenticity, that does not matter. You know, I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, but following along closely with actual science isn’t something I care about when watching films.
For a long time, I considered this a great film. Nowadays, after watching it more than several dozen times in my life, I consider A New Hope perfect. Not to say there aren’t any little mistakes or flubs along the way. But to me, personally, this is a 5-star film. This has a beauty and grace about it, and also contains work above and beyond the call of duty in terms of its technical aspects. Not to mention I still get chills now and then whenever I put the Blu ray on. The influence of A New Hope is vast, it will never ever die. And with Episode VII The Force Awakens recently rocking the box office, continuing to do so, the legacy of George Lucas and his original work from 1977 endures. Its light won’t ever, ever go out.

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Halloween: Resurrection – Rosenthal Does Nothing for the Series

Halloween: Resurrection. 2002. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay by Larry Brand & Sean Hood.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree, Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Sean Patrick Thomas, Daisy McCrackin, Katee Sackhoff, Luke Kirby, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, and Tyra Banks. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Trancas International Films. Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
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So at this point, the Halloween franchise has all but ran its course. Honestly, I do enjoy the previous film a bit. More than that I’m a fan of the entire series. Even the less than great entries can still be a lot of fun, as opposed to some of the later Friday the 13th entries which I find virtually unwatchable at times. But most of Halloween: Resurrection is just bad. Not everything is horrible, not at all. However, the lion’s share here goes to bad horror, forced comedy and not enough of the classic horror which makes Michael Myers so scary.
The effects in many scenes are well done, they’re also pretty gruesome and frightening. The acting is almost laughable in terms of the main cast – they’re almost upstaged by the rambling mental patient who rattles off serial killer trivia, from John Wayne Gacy to Ted Bundy, and so on. And too many times you’ll find yourself wondering how low the series will sink, starting with the opening sequence involving Laurie Strode and Michael in their final confrontation. Director Rick Rosenthal did an amazing job with the first sequel, Halloween II, but 21 years later he came back with a fistful of shit and did no justice to any of the other good movies throughout the franchise.
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Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) decapitated Michael Myers at the end of the last film. Turns out, Michael actually managed to switch his clothes with a paramedic. He made his way out and hid for three years, while Laurie rotted in a mental asylum. Although, she spent that time preparing for a showdown that had to be coming eventually. When it does finally, Michael ends up once and for all killing his long lost sister: what he always set out to do.
But evil never rests. Michael Myers goes back to the only place he ever knew outside of the walls of a psychiatric ward: home, Haddonfield. Only an internet show is being broadcast from the old Myers place. Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and Nora Winston (Tyra Banks) at DangerTainment have set the whole thing up, selecting six young people to spend a night in the “birthplace of evil in its purest form“. Things don’t go so well, once it’s clear Michael has more definitely come home.
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Usually, if anything, I’m able to find a few good kills in any of these films. This one is no exception. Even while almost everything else happening is total junk, there are some interesting and very brutish kills. For instance, what slasher horror is complete without a nice impaling? Well, some of them are, I suppose. But the bad slashers, such as this one, really need those sorts of kills. If not, everything gets stale. Here, we have a character impaled by Myers, which ups the gory ante. Earlier, someone gets stabbed viciously in the head. Later on, the strength of Myers is once more evident in all its savage glory, as Michael ends up crushing a guy’s head into bloody chunks. An homage to the original Halloween sees a victim pinned to a door, hung by kitchen knives, almost similar to one of the deaths in John Carpenter’s masterpiece. But best of all, I do dig how people watch on while the others die, live streaming into the house. And to think – this was 13 years ago now. Today, the bloodthirsty internet audience might actually love this sort of thing. So, despite all the shortcomings of this mostly unnecessary sequel in the franchise, I can find a few little things to enjoy here and there. But not too much.
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One thing several of the Halloween films have in common, and make them more enjoyable than their lesser counterparts, is there have been good, solid performances. I can’t say that, at all, about Halloween: Resurrection. While I have a love for Busta Rhymes and his music career, the sentiment does not extend to his acting abilities. All the same, he’s probably the most fun of all the actors because at least Busta seems into it. Otherwise, it’s a cast filled with pretty-to-look-at people who can’t exactly act up to the level they need to in order to make this sinking ship float. With American Pie alumni Thomas Ian Nicholas, the geek goddess Katee Sackhoff, a terribly miscast Tyra Banks and Ryan Merriman whose most well-known credit to date is either The Ring Two or Pretty Little Liars, the entire cast couldn’t save this abomination. Perhaps if better actors wanted to be in this sequel, it might be different. As it stands, the acting doesn’t do anything to push the film to higher heights. I don’t mean to disparage these actors, I’m sure they’ve all done decently in other work, but this movie falls apart quicker than it should due to the lack of much talent, or at least effort, in the respective performances.
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I can give this sequel a 2 star rating without feeling too bad about it. Definitely does not deserve any more. With a good deal of brutality and decent make-up effects, some of the slasher elements of Halloween: Resurrection are up to speed with certain other entries in the franchise. Though, this is where the goodness ends. Including too much laughable acting, a terrible and unjust opening sequence involving Laurie Strode, and overall a story that does nothing for the franchise other than try to milk more money out of hardcore fans (who’ll see anything with the name Halloween on it if involving Michael Myers), this really is an abysmal sequel. Not saying there aren’t others, but this is absolutely one of the worst in the entire series. You don’t need to see it for any other reason than to be a completist. I even own it on a collection including the last three movies of the franchise, on Blu ray no less. But only because I’m a collector, and because I love Myers; regardless of how the Hollywood machine decides to pimp him out.

Fargo – Season 1, Episode 10: “Morton’s Fork”

FX’s Fargo
Season 1, Episode 10: “Morton’s Fork”
Directed by Matt Shakman
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a review of the penultimate Season 1 episode, “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage” – click here
* For reviews of Fargo Season 2 starting with “Waiting for Dutch” – click here
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The finale of Fargo‘s amazing first season has come. Aw, geez.
“Morton’s Fork” commences where we last left Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), whose wide eyes and open mouth gape at Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) having just killed his new wife Linda (Susan Park) at the insurance office.
Now, we start to glimpse into the newly criminal mind of Lester. He’s become a ruthless, terrible man. Especially when compared to the meek and mild person he was at the beginning in “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”. Beginning to piece together an alibi in his head, Lester crafts things out of nothing. First, he places the car keys in Linda’s dead hand. Secondly, he goes over to the diner where Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine) receives him with a warm smile. He orders, for both himself and Linda, then rushes out to the bathroom, supposedly, making a call from a phone booth to report the shots fired. Slick? We’ll see.
Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is relaxing at home with her stepdaughter Greta (Joey King) and husband Gus (Colin Hanks). Then she gets a call about the murder: “The other one now?” asks Molly.
Meeting Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) at the crime scene, Molly goes over things as he keeps back, for fear of vomiting at the sight of more blood. Then Lester shows up, his grief coming through in “aw geez” over and over. Putting on a show for the officers, he pretends to start crying, wobbling and almost falling over. But sneaking one last moment with his wife’s body, Lester attempts to grab the airline tickets in her pocket. No such luck, buddy boy.


Gus: “Whats that now?”
Molly: “Someone killed the second Mrs. Nygaard.”


At a cabin in the woods, listening to his police scanner, Malvo cooks up a little food on the stove, as well as grabs hold of a few key materials: gun, jimmy stick to steal cars.
Meanwhile, FBI Agents Pepper and Budge (Keegan Michael Key & Jordan Peele) are waiting at the Bemidji Police Department. They’re getting ready to question Lester. However, Lou appears so he can tell Molly about the strange man he’d met at the diner – though he can’t be sure, the security footage picture she shows him looks like it could be Lorne. When Molly asks her father to check up on the family at home, he replies: “Screw that. Goinhome and gettinmy gun is what Im doing. Sit on the front porch. Make sure my granddaughters safe.” Love, love, love Keith Carradine as Lou Solverson. Amazing.
Outside the P.D., Malvo shows up and takes a little black notebook from the car which Pepper and Budge drive. Off he goes, as Lester is being questioned by Molly, Bill, and the two agents. Budge and Pepper want to know more about the wandering evil that is Lorne Malvo. Trying to gain more favour from Bill, Lester gets shut down; no more help from the bumbling chief. Once Nygaard lawyers up things shut down, but Molly warns him: “Hes not gonna stop. Yknow that right? A man like thatmaybe not even a man.”


Bill (to Molly): “I used to have positive opinions about the world, you know, about people. Used to think the best. Now Im looking over my shoulder. An unquiet mind, thats what the wife calls it. The job has got me staring into the fireplace, drinking. I never wanted to be the type to think big thoughts about the nature of things andall I ever wanted was a stack of pancakes and a V8.”
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Out on his own, Gus is determined to try and do right. Or at least prevent Molly from having to wade into the river of blood which Malvo always brings with him. Gus heads over to the cabin in the woods where he’d seen the red car parked – the one in which he was sure he’d seen Malvo. Then, from out the door comes the man himself. Lorne drives away with Gus sneaking around quietly.
Malvo is starting to put another plan into motion. He’s calling into the Bemidji P.D. to get the names of the FBI Agents Budge and Pepper. Then to the FBI Operations, cancelling any back-up and claiming things there are a “dead end“. What’s about to happen next? Well, Lorne goes to a car dealership and finds the exact same Ford model as the undercover FBI vehicles. He asks to test drive it, taking the owner with him.
When Agents Pepper and Budge pull out of the station, Lester in tow (being released though still watched), Malvo isn’t far behind in his identical car. Back at his place, Lester is sweating it out in nervousness, awaiting his own next move.


Lou: “What are you planninon doinwith that?”
Greta: “If he comes, Ill put his eye out. You can finish him off.”
Lou: “Thats my girl


At the Nygaard place, Agents Pepper and Budge sit waiting, watching. Out of nowhere, up pulls another car just like the one in which they’re sat. They’re not sure whether it’s backup or not. Guns drawn, they ask the driver to exit their vehicle. To no response. Coming up next to the window, realizing the man inside – the car dealer – is duct taped to the wheel, Budge and Pepper are both shot to death by Malvo, emerging from the snowy forest behind them.
Rifling through his suitcase and tossing things everywhere, Lester is trying to determine the next step. Just out the front door he spies trails of blood, an open empty FBI car. Panic sets in.
Malvo pushes his way into the house. In the bathroom upstairs he can hear a frantic Lester calling for help on the phone. A few more steps and – BAM – Lorne steps right into the bear trap Lester set on the floor, covered with all those clothes he tossed out of his luggage. What I love most? Lorne throws the Salesman of the Year award and breaks Lester’s nose; giving him an injury to match the one he had in the first episode, bringing things full circle. Except when the dust settles, Lorne is gone, having escaped from the trap in a bloody mess. The car outside is nowhere to be found. As Lester closes his front door, a look crosses his face, an almost grin, as if believing he’s finally run the wolf off his trail.


The episode’s final 15 minutes see Lorne heading back to the cabin in the woods. His leg is brutal, bleeding everywhere. He manages to pop some drugs via needle into his system, then sets the bone very craftily with a small length of rope. But when he begins to start tending to his wound, Lorne finds himself surprised by none other than Gus Grimly pointing a gun his way. Gus says he’s figured out the “shades of green” riddle. Then, when an angry Malvo insists on hearing what the answer is, Gus only fires on him, blowing a few holes through his chest. A couple more shots and then the wandering evil of Malvo has come to an end. A fitting finish for Lorne, but even more so Gus, whose earlier mistakes are finally cauterized by the shooting. He’s proved himself and made right what once went wrong. You betcha.
A great finish to the season includes Lester being finally caught, chased out onto the ice where he falls through into the dead cold waters, as well as the Solverson-Grimly family sitting together, watching television and letting their lives go back to normal.


This, along with Season 2, is some of the best television ever made. Some of my favourite, up there with The Shield, The Knick, and a handful of others.
Please, if you haven’t, check out my reviews for Season 2 and let me know your thoughts on all the episodes. And until 2017 brings us Season 3 of Noah Hawley’s intense, funny, and consistently fascinating series – enjoy.

Lucy: Half-Assed Besson

Lucy. 2014. Directed & Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroder, and Nicolas Phongpheth. Ciné+/Canal+/EuropaCorp/TF1 Films Production. Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★
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I’m a fan of Luc Besson. His first feature film, La dernier combat, is a tour-de-force in thinking outside the box and innovative storytelling. Afterwards, he put out other wonderful pieces of filmmaking such as The Big Blue, Nikita, LĂ©on: The Professional, The Fifth Element and more. While he tackles an array of subjects throughout his filmography as a director, as well as a writer, Besson usually does impressive work when it comes to science fiction and contract killing. Let’s face it: this is his niche. Nothing wrong with it either.
All that being said, Lucy is not one of his best films. It isn’t trash, though. It just doesn’t measure up to some of the aforementioned efforts with which he hit, in my mind, grand slams. Where Lucy falls short is mostly in the writing, not the execution. The premise of the movie is amazing, but plays on a well-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If Besson had whittled away a few bits of his screenplay, there may have been a chance for his ambitious story to fit well with his style of filmmaking. As it stands, this is a decent enough action thriller, albeit one that doesn’t use much of its own brain power. Still, the adrenaline flows from beginning to end in classic Besson style.
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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is American. She is 25, living in Taiwan. Succumbing to a dark request forced upon her by a recent boyfriend, Lucy is handcuffed to a briefcase full of drugs and made to deliver it for a villainous man named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik).
Only after meeting Jang, things turn into a terrifying nightmare. Lucy, along with several other unsuspecting individuals, has her abdomen cut open, and inside is placed hundreds of grams of a new experimental drug called CPH4, tucked in a plastic bag. Life gets even worse once Lucy ends up in a cell, chained to a wall. After being beaten by a guard and kicked in the stomach, the bag inside her breaks, leaking the CPH4 into her bloodstream. The drug is meant to expand the brain function of a human being from the supposed 10% we use regularly, to a whopping 100%.
On a rampage to both save her own life, as well as discover what’s happening to her, Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose studies happen to involve the expansion of the human brain’s functions. Along the way she is tested, both mentally and physically. But most of all, Lucy is becoming – something new, something extraordinary, and something very, very dangerous.
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At the start of the film, we’re introduced to an ape. Shortly afterwards, through dialogue, we discover it is Lucy – the first ever woman. This sets up an idea about evolution, biology, of science and the ways of the world. Although, most of this never really goes anywhere. It does, and it does not all the same. Part of what I mean is that it’s heavy handed. So much animal imagery in the first little while, and it was not needed. Whatsoever. I saw someone talk about this Besson film in the right way recently: it breaks too much a big rule of cinema, in that it tells us too much. Instead of showing things, letting the audience suss out the meaning, almost every aspect in the film’s initial quarter comes to us spelled out in great detail.
Something I did like, in that regard, is how Besson continually gave us the 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on. Not that we didn’t understand her brain power and function was increasing, it was simply an extra way for him to up the intensity. After each percentage update, you can almost feel your own adrenaline pumping, ready for the next big event, awaiting some kind of excitement about to drop on us.
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I can’t exactly say this movie is filled with good performances. Not to say Scarlett Johansson or anyone else in the picture does a bad job with their role. But here there is Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and a favourite of mine Min-sik Choi (his turns in films like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil and others are fantastic). Between them, there is incredible acting power. Except none of that really makes it across here. Especially Freeman who is vastly underused for the majority of the film, as well as Choi whose charisma and idiosyncrasies are not used appropriately either. Particularly, I love Johansson and she does not do much at all in this film. Contrasted with a recent film like the unbelievably incredible Under the Skin, the almost phoned-in performance here makes Johansson look bad – simply because I KNOW SHE CAN DO BETTER. With such an interesting script and characters you’d think these actors might knock this one out of the park, at least as far as their jobs go. Unfortunately, we’re not given any such performances and it’s a large part of why this movie doesn’t do any better than mediocre.
Even the action elements of Lucy don’t end up making things pay off. As opposed to Besson work like The Fifth Element and LĂ©on: The Professional, this one doesn’t pack as much oomph. There are moments of action and adventure. There are pieces of exciting fights. Ultimately, though, Besson opts to go more for telekinesis style fighting, shootouts, and flashy special effects work which does nothing for me. He claims wanting to make the first part similar to LĂ©on: The Professional, the second akin to Inception, and the final act he hoped would draw parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ambitious? Sure. Yet there’s not enough action and choreographed fight sequences in the entire film, at least not proper ones, for the whole premise to be fully realized. The trailer promised an almost non-stop thrill ride along with the titular character, but what we really get is a bit of action and lots of science fiction musing (misguided at that). Worst of all, the finale is packed with a huge gunfight, even a bazooka being fired. And wrapped up in there is a lackluster ending, leaving us with more questions than answers, as well as wondering how all the potential was squandered.
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I can give this a 3 star rating without feeling bad about it either way. Luc Besson is a fantastic filmmaker and, at times, he can truly be a visionary from his technique to the way in which he writes his stories. With all the hopefulness of its premise, Lucy just cannot deliver the appropriate goods. Boasting an impressive cast, a fun idea and the visual flair of Besson, this should have been more interesting than how it turned out. While not every last bit of the movie was bad, obviously, there are too many misfires for it to be anything better than average. Here’s to hoping Luc pulls up the bootstraps and hauls out something better next time.

Fargo – Season 1, Episode 9: “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage”

FX’s Fargo
Season 1, Episode 9: “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage”
Directed by Matt Shakman
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Heap” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Morton’s Fork” – click here
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After jumping a year down the line, Noah Hawley brings us into the penultimate Season 1 episode “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage”.
We begin on the new identity of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) as a dentist. He talks a patient through things while checking his teeth and finishing off a procedure. This new blonde-haired Malvo, obviously under a new pseudonym, is a slick one. Did he really go to dental school? Or what’s going on here? Either way, I love it. He and Burt Canton (Stephen Root) are friendly, so no matter what’s going on Lorne has carved out a nice little niche for himself in which to lounge.
For now.
Lorne still has his recordings, listening to them over and over. The evil in Malvo sits right below the surface. He relives his past transgressions, as if basking in them.
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Lorne: “Aces!”

 


Now, we end up back where we last saw Lorne, a woman next to him and across the table are Burt and his lady. Across the room sits Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) in the blurry periphery of the frame, as Lorne jokes and makes things light. While Burt talks about their upcoming excitement, Lester shows up to talk with Lorne who pretends they’ve never met before. An awkward moment ensues, but before Lorne leaves he tells Lester in a serious tone: “Walk away.”
Not satisfied with this slight, Lester heads into the elevator to confront Malvo. “The old Lester woulda let that slidenot this guy,” he tells Lorne and the others. But then an old Western style situation emerges: “Lester, is this what you want?” asks Lorne. Everyone seems confused. Once Lester replies yes, things change. Drastically. Out comes a silenced, silver pistol, and Lorne kills everyone in the elevator; except for Lester. “Thats on you,” says Lorne.
Turns out Malvo was looking for $100,000 bounty, working for a whole six months on Burt. Lorne tries to get Lester in on helping to hide the bodies, but Nygaard cracks him one in the back of the head with his Salesman of the Year award, running off into the dark basement of the hotel. Upstairs, he starts to pack things. Time to head back home, you betcha.

 


FBI Agents Pepper and Budge (Keegan Michael Key & Jordan Peele) are still wasting away in the file room. All of a sudden, someone comes looking for the Syndicate file regarding the Fargo mob. Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) in Bemidji says, naturally, she knows who did the deed.
In Bemidji, Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine) has his daughter, husband Gus (Colin Hanks) and new granddaughter Greta (Joey King) at the diner for a hearty breakfast. Nice to see this big family together: “Youre the granddaughter I always wanted but was afraid to buy online,” Lou tells Greta after she kisses him on the forehead.
Finishing her meal, Molly gets a call about the elevator murders, and then she asks what the witness’ name is – I’m sure the name must be Mr. Lester Nygaard.
Meanwhile, Lester’s rushing to get home, head on a swivel looking behind him for a car or any vehicle following him. The new Lester doesn’t seem present anymore. We’re back to the jittery, nervous Lester Nygaard, not the Insurance Salesman of the Year. He wants to go on a big vacation to make it up to Linda (Susan Park): immediately. Yet he can’t seem to move a step without looking every which way first. At home getting ready, Lester looks through some of his brother’s things, hunting gear and the like. The box also contains a gun. He picks up his old orange-red winter jacket from off a nearby rack. Molly shows up at the door to throw him off even further.

 


While out on his mail route, Gus sees a car drive by and the driver inside looks terribly familiar. Though, he shakes it off. In the car was, in fact, Lorne Malvo. He arrives at Lester’s old place where someone new is now living. Getting the new information on his old buddy Nygaard, the evil Lorne drops the history of the house on the new owners, his children. What a rough dude. At the same time, darkly hilarious.
There’s no rest for the wicked, and this certainly applies to Malvo. He is always doing something. Even if it’s making little kids scared, or killing people, there is constantly, consistently a malicious presence in him.
Deputy Molly talks over the night in question with Lester, about his supposed witnessing the elevator murders. Without being prompted, Linda helps Lester out with part of his alibi and their sudden switched flight.

 


A scene at the diner sees Lorne sit down across from Lou for coffee and a bit of pie. Although, Malvo tells him: “No good ever came from a piece of cherry pie.” They get into a talk about Lou’s history as a State Trooper for a couple decades. Malvo also asks about Lester, but Lou isn’t exactly keen on giving out another man’s home address and so on. The ever vigilant Lorne spies the Gus-Molly wedding picture, asking about them, making more observations as he so often does. There’s a bit of an ominous feel to the scene as it goes on, cutting occasionally to Molly, then back to Lorne across from Lou in a very stand-off-type way. Lou talks about a case “back in ’79” most likely the infamous Sioux Falls Massacre: “Id call it animal except animals only kill for food. This wasSioux Fallsever been?” Right as Deputy Molly comes into the diner, Lorne is leaving after making a wonderfully snaky comment. Perfect scene.
Molly meets Agents Pepper and Budge, who are more than excited to see her and hear about what she’s got to say re: the Syndicate shooting. She shows them the big whiteboard full of connections, faces, events and so on. Late to the meeting, Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) arrives and tries to apologize for Molly, as if there’s something for which to be sorry. Clearly there’s no sense in Bill, whose intelligence doesn’t exactly rival that of her own deputy. Nevertheless, Pepper and Budge want to stay in town, they’re impressed with Molly’s “tremendous work” and plan on moving ahead with questioning Lester some more.
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Lorne: “I havent had pie like that since the Garden of Eden
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At their home, Gus stares into the board of connections Molly made concerning the Nygaard case. We cut to the red car coming down the road, the BMW driven by Lorne, as Gus sees him from the mail truck. Poor Grimly is just constantly driven nuts by the entire situation, starting from his first mistake right to the present.
In other news, Lester is getting things ready to fly off and leave his problems behind. The tickets are ready, Acapulco apparently, and Lester is rushing Linda off into the car, whisking her towards the airport. Only there’s more trouble ahead.
Stopping in at Nygaard Insurance, inside the office Lester looks long and hard, wondering if Malvo might be lurking. He further gives Linda his distinctive winter jacket to put on. Is Lester sending her in there to die, possibly? Seems so, don’t ya think? He even asks her to put the hood up.
And when Linda goes inside, after a moment appears Lorne to make the kill with one silenced shot to her head. Lester watches on in semi-horror, semi-relief. Obviously, Lorne checks to see who it is and looks out the window, almost as if right at Lester.

 


Has everything come to bear finally on Lester Nygaard? The murder coming full circle? You can be sure.
Excited to review the final episode of Season 1, “Morton’s Fork”. Stay tuned and I’ll have another review/recap finished soon enough. Cheers.

Fargo – Season 1, Episode 8: “The Heap”

FX’s Fargo
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Heap”
Directed by Scott Winant
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a review of the previous episode, “Who Shaves the Barber?” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage” – click here
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This episode starts with Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) receiving a new improved washing machine. Might as well get rid of that old reminder, yah? The look on Lester’s face begins to make me wonder what sort of person he is truly. While he watches the machine wash away, the look just lingers.
Then he goes to see his sister-in-law Kitty (Rachel Blanchard). She’s ready to leave Chaz (Joshua Close) behind now, believing him to be a horrible man, an adulterer and a murderer. Poor little Gordo is having night terrors. Even some information that normally wouldn’t be suspicious about Chaz starts to slip out, such as his purchase of a timeshare and a boat – likely things his family would’ve used – and it makes the entire situation look all the worse for it.
At home, Lester begins to take down all his wife’s nonsense motivational posters, her commemorative spoon collection, her sewing station and clothes and everything possible. All the while, a steel drum version of “Ode to Joy” plays. Sort of oddly fitting.
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Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) heads to see her father Lou (Keith Carradine) at the diner. She gets a coffee fill-up, as well as flowers sent from Duluth; obviously care of Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). “A smarter man would say youre beinwooed,” Lou says on the sly.
Meanwhile, Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) just ate an omelette and doesn’t want to be disturbed before it digests. Only Deputy Knudsen (Gary Valentine) calls on him, saying Molly requests his presence in the boardroom. There, she has a whiteboard littered with different connections in the Nygaard case. Still, rightfully so, she’s convinced Bill and everyone else is wrong on pinning the thing on Chaz. But Oswalt is only concerned with cluing things up, moving on.

 


Bill: “Thats just how it is sometimes. Life. Ya go to bed unsatisfied.”

 


At work, Lester is having troubles with Gina Hess (Kate Walsh). Finally, she’s discovered her insurance claim is denied; there will be no money. “Ill make some calls,” says Lester. Except she suspects he knew the entire time, which of course… he did. She says at the end of the day he’s got to have $2-million. Or else. Then in a confrontation, he staples the two young Hess boys in their foreheads, telling Gina how things are going to go.
In Fargo, FBI Agents Pepper and Budge (Keegan Michael Key & Jordan Peele) are awaiting what will no doubt be a serious talking to, after the debacle which happened right under their noses. They don’t get yelled at. They’re escorted down floors and floors into a room full of files, as their boss closes the door on them explaining: “This is where you work now.” A punishment. Dull, but a punishment nonetheless. On the wall, though, Budge tapes a picture off the security camera of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) from side-on.
When a police officer takes his break for a leak at the hospital, Malvo shows up and strangles the man over his back. Cut to Lorne sitting next to Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) who wakes up soon enough. They have a casual, no nonsense sort of chat. The type Lorne traffics in regularly. Part of why I love Lorne as a character is because of his non-chalant nature, he talks to everyone in the same way. He isn’t indestructible, either. Just lucky. And regardless of how you feel about him, Billy Bob Thornton plays Malvo wonderfully, with an understated, subtle performance. Even better – Lorne leaves Wrench with a key to his handcuffs before walking out.

 


Lorne (to Mr. Wrench): “I watched a bear once. His leg was in a steel trap. It chewed through bloody bone to get free. It was in Alaska. Died about an hour later facedown in a stream. But it was on his own terms, you know? You got close. Closer than anybody else. I dont know if it was you or your partner, but look – if you still feel raw about things when you heal up, come see me.”

 


Molly won’t ever be able to let the Nygaard case and everything wrapped up in it go. Never. Not until things are settled and the whole case is laid to rest. If not, she’ll only circle around it until something breaks; either her job, her mind, or who knows. On the way home from their office party, Molly stops and sees Lester with his co-workers at Munk Insurance. The look on her face, watching him act normal as if nothing had ever happened – she knows something wrong went on, she just can’t connect all the dots quite yet. Soon.
Back to Gus Grimly, who can never seem to keep a drink from spilling. In his squad car having a cup of coffee, he checks the speeds of cars coming down the road; few and far between. So, he calls Deputy Molly for a chat. They both really like each other, it’s easy to tell. Even her eyes perk up a little when he talks, and Gus often rambles or stumbles over words worse than usual when they’re talking together. Furthermore, a date is setup, again awkwardly. But it’s cute, the two of them.
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A time jump: one year later.
Gus has obviously given up his job as a cop. Now doing what he always wanted to do – deliver mail. An interesting change of pace, but I dig it. With his new job it’s clearly better for him and daughter Greta (Joey King), so he can walkie talkie with her whenever and not worry about missing criminals, or anything similar. More than just that. At home, a new place, Gus and Molly have a beautiful place, and a beautiful family with a bun in the oven. How things have progressed! I love to see this, though, as it also shows how Molly has slowed down and fell off the Nygaard incident. If only for the fact she hasn’t slowed down one bit. She keeps a room full of clippings, pictures, red string connecting points of interest and so on. There is never any giving up; not when you’re a Solverson.
So, let’s see where everyone else has ended up in 12 months. The time jump is also fun because it’s a year, and with that comes emotions/situations pertaining to the anniversary of all the big incidents in Bemidji, Duluth, and even Fargo.
Agents Budge and Pepper are now long broken down by the file room. Their relentlessly nonsensical banter is actually a great crack-up. I love Key and Peele anyways. Here with Noah Hawley’s writing, they’re so perfect for their parts. As Pepper tosses a ball over and over at the wall, eventually a bulletin board falls revealing the picture of Malvo, which Budge had taped there a long year before. Will this re-whet their appetite?
Then there’s Bill Oswalt. He’s taken in a young African refugee, bless his heart. Just such a strange place to find him. Yet shows that he’s a good man. A stupid, figuratively blind man, but good in his soul. The whole scene with Bill, Molly and the young man is a whole lot of fun, as well as a little intriguing, sussing out the message of why this has been included; the right under your nose aspect of everything comes forward quickly.

 


Best of all is Lester Nygaard. He’s living it up in new found freedom. He and Linda Park (Susan Park) are together now. No longer does Lester have a terrible wife, but a woman who actually respects him. Moreover, he’s won a big award as Insurance Salesman of the Year. As Lester and Linda party it up in a hotel for the evening, a familiar face pushes out of the crowd. While Lester heads to the bar, and Linda goes upstairs, there comes the old memory of a man. And though he doesn’t look the same, use the same name, and he’s sporting a different style of dress entirely, different hair colour and all that, you can tell: it’s Lorne Malvo.
From out of his new attitude and new life Lester is rattled. Just seeing Malvo there across the room, it shakes him to his core. Perhaps Lester imagined never seeing him again. Though, that’d be too perfect. No, a story like that of Season 1 on Fargo wouldn’t be enough without old wounds coming to bear on the present.

 


Excited to get into the last two episodes of the first season. Amazing show and I could watch every episode once a week, honestly. Next up is the penultimate finisher, “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage”. Stay tuned for more, my fellow fans and friends.

Fargo – Season 1, Episode 7: “Who Shaves the Barber?”

FX’s Fargo
Season 1, Episode 7: “Who Shaves the Barber?”
Directed by Scott Winant
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a review of the previous episode, “Buridan’s Ass” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Heap” – click here
Picture 1
As the plot thickens around Bemidji and Duluth, poor Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) is sitting in the hospital, where Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is being treated after he accidentally shot her.
At the same time we hear Chaz Nygaard (Joshua Close) talk with his family in the morning, breakfast all done and the kitchen cleaned. On the news, the story of fish falling out of the sky fascinating everyone in Minnesota. “The darndest thing,” says Kitty (Rachel Blanchard). Then off goes little Gordo with his backpack, unknowingly toting a gun to school. “No funny stuff today,” the bus driver tells him on the way in; if only he knew. Love how the shot lingers on his bookbag constantly right to the school. Eventually, as everything does, the truth comes out – the gun slides out across the floor for everyone to see.
At home, Kitty finds Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) and others at her door. They have a warrant. Things are about to get pretty turbulent for Chaz, who’s got no idea of what is about to come down on him. He gets a call at work from Kitty, and then it all ramps up. When he gets home, Chaz finds the police searching through the gun locker, and not only do they find an illegal automatic weapon, they further discover the evidence: ball peen hammer, underwear, cheesecake photographs of Pearl Nygaard his now dead sister-in-law. All the while, the look on Chaz’s face spells absolute fear, uncertainty, and incredible awe. To anyone else it would appear he was in love with Pearl and couldn’t have her, so whack, whack, whack, and the rest is history.

 


Over at the station, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) sits nervously in the interrogation room waiting for information. Oswalt is hilarious, played to perfection by Bob Odenkirk; the way he starts going over things with Lester is absolutely god damn riotous. He goes through the entire situation with Lester, explaining about Gordo and so on. The idea is, in the police mind, Pearl was having an affair with Chaz, as was the intention by Lester surely. For once, his pathetic nature is coming in handy here with Bill, and everyone else, essentially pitying him. The new story comes out of Lester, telling Bill what supposedly happened involving Chaz and such. For an awkward man, he does a good job coming up with lies. Yer darn tootin’. But the real joy of this scene is watching Odenkirk react as Bill Oswalt. I mean, christ on a whole wheat cracker, I couldn’t stop grinning even with the macabre lie Lester spins during the whole thing. They couldn’t have cast the part of Oswalt better, not in my mind.
With all these new developments, Lester walks out the door of the interrogation room, smiling, and then out of the police station, past Chaz in his cell.
Picture 9
We rewind to the finale of last episode. Molly is in the blizzard alone, tracking down Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). Turning for a moment she sees another person, firing. Turning back, Malvo has disappeared. Then she gets shot by the unknowing Grimly from a distance.
Cut to Molly waking up to Greta (Joey King) above her, Gus at the bedside, too. He has to sadly admit to being the one who shot her, though, she says “that dont make sense“. An inquiry into the shooting is coming, and Gus is upset at himself. He’s continually making mistakes, but at the same time he is a good man. Maybe not the most perfect cop. A good man, though. He pushes off for a while when Molly’s father Lou (Keith Carradine) arrives to keep her company.
In Bemidji, at home, Lester starts to get on the task of cleaning his house. Like any of us would at this point he calls a cleaning service. The conversation on the phone he has is hilarious, with that outright Minnesotan charm leading to Lester’s final line before a hangup on the other end: “Lets just say theres alotta blood.”
Picture 10Picture 11
Briefly, we go to Rundle Realty in Reno, Nevada. In his office, the boss finds Lorne Malvo with his feet up on the desk like he owns the place. “Can I sit? Or did you wanna kill me standing?” he asks Lorne. They sit and talk a little of things about the Fargo mob and the like. Such as the onslaught which came his way via Numbers/Wrench in the previous episode. Lorne gives two choices: ambulance or hearse. By the sound of the screams once he leaves, it’s possible the latter might be needed. As is the case when Lorne comes around.
Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) is still alive. He’s cuffed to a bed and has trouble doing sign language when Deputy Molly comes asking questions. Wrench is able to write on a whiteboard for her, asking about Numbers; she confirms he’s dead. Molly sits with him and asks about the insurance office, where they last ran into one another. Then about Malvo. But most of all, you see the humanity in her as a person. She levels with Mr. Wrench about the lives they live, on opposite sides of the law, and questions why he lives the life he does on that other side. She leaves him with a bit of a teary eye, turned away and lost in his own head.

 


Chaz is having a tough time down at the lockup, being transferred to county jail until the trial and everything begins. But Lester is back to work and looking chipper, or acting chipper. His boss tells him Gina Hess (Kate Walsh) has her claim denied. With a look in his eye, Lester agrees to go over and talk to her about it. Does he have something in mind?
Over at the hospital, Gus brings Molly some flowers. She’s busy drawing on the window, mapping out thoughts on the Nygaard-Malvo case. Molly has things pretty well figured out in terms of the connections to everything happened now between Bemidji and Duluth, how the Fargo mob probably sent Numbers and Wrench down to see what happened with Hess. Then everything wrapping Lester and Malvo into it, clearly.
Picture 15
Molly: “You keep your chin up, Gus Grimly. Were winninthis thing.”
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Now we get two great additions to the cast – FBI Agents Budge and Pepper (Jordan Peele/Keegan Michael Key). Their relentless banter keeps attention away from Lorne Malvo, who walks into a building where Moses Tripoli and other members of the Fargo mob just went inside, wielding an assault rifle. Shots are fired, people die. Floor to floor. Malvo asks where the “top dog” is, trying to find Tripoli. Up he goes until Lorne finds what he wants. This sequence is so well done because they could’ve gone full-on action, yet instead it’s an understated continuous shot up the building ending with a guy tossed from a window, bleeding out on the pavement. And somehow, once again, the snaky Malvo slips out between the cracks into the unknown while Agents Budge and Pepper are left with their dicks in their hands.
Back in Bemidji, we find Lester over at the Hess house. He and Gina have a little drink. He makes himself pretty comfortable. Instead of telling Gina there’ll be no money coming, he plays a game with her. Trying to get a little action out of it Lester succeeds, banging the widow Hess while angrily staring at the family picture on her wall.

 


Gina: “I know a little something about greasy palms

 


Molly finds out about the supposed catch of the killer, Chaz Nygaard. Of course, she doesn’t see it that way at all. Everyone’s off celebrating. But Molly will not stop until Lester is brought to justice for his part in all the madness. It almost eats her up right there on the spot. She can see Lester getting away with it, right there in front of her eyes.
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More excitement on the way after another excellent episode. Tune in again here and I’ll have a review for the next episode, “The Heap”, as soon as I get around to watching it through another time. Keep checkin’ back now, okay? And I’ll have it soon enough, you betcha.