What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?

While this blog’s last Fargo article gave you a list of ways to get hyped for the forthcoming third season, it didn’t go very deep into what we’ve seen in Fargo so far and what we can expect in the third season.

The following is some of what I expect to see in this upcoming third season. Of course, I do not know for certain what to expect. I have not seen it yet. But this is some of what I hope to see, based on what we’ve seen before.

Innovative and realistic depictions of Minnesotans

Minnesota is known for many things, but rarely is it known for being a setting for violence, tales of organized crime, and conspiracies of murder. This is arguably because of misunderstandings and stereotypes in the media. As noted in my previous blog post on the matter, there are plenty of violent moments in Minnesota’s history but Fargo seems to be one of the few mainstream fictional works interested in this ugly history.

Fargo‘s second season also contains one of my favorite descriptions of the typical Minnesotan male. It occurs when protagonist Lou Solverson first comes face-to-face with Mike Milligan, one of the many violent main characters in the story. Lou learns that Mike met Hank, his father-in-law, earlier that day, and refers to Lou (and Minnesotans in general) as friendly.

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Ted Danson as Hank Larsson in the second season. 
Milligan disagrees with this assessment, offering one of my favorite summations of so-called Minnesota nice:

“Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. You’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”

Perhaps the media will never really get Minnesota right, largely because it just isn’t depicted enough. But Fargo does so much better than most of its predecessors. Let’s anticipate more of such in its upcoming season.  Continue reading “What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?”

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Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season

The trailers are out for the third season of Fargo and there isn’t much more to say about them than “okay then.” As in, it looks good. Pretty darn good.

But it’s not here yet. The third season of the anthology will premier in late April, giving us time to either rewatch the first two seasons in anxious anticipation or get hyped for it by consuming some other media with similar themes and settings. The following list contains a number of films, shows, and books, all of which can be recommended to an enthusiastic Fargo fan. Many of these are either set in Minnesota, created by Minnesotans, or have some other Midwestern connection.

Many also share at least one of two other traits with Fargo: a sense of humor and a sense of violence.

Watch A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers and Starring Michael Stuhlbarg

Filmed in Minnesota’s Saint Louis Park, A Serious Man is arguably the most autobiographical film that Ethan and Joel Coen have made. But the setting and the creators aren’t the only reason to watch this film in anticipation of the upcoming Fargo season.

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A Serious Man

This 2009 film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a Minnesotan man who finds his life unraveling much in the style of Job. If you’re not immediately familiar with the name Michael Stuhlbag, you might know him better as Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire. Or, you might not be familiar with him at all… but you will be, assuming you watch the upcoming series of Fargo, in which he plays the character Sy Feltz. (It’s also worth noting that Stuhlbarg isn’t the only Boardwalk Empire alum in this season of Fargo; Shea Whigham will also be in this season.) Continue reading “Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season”

Let’s Hope the New Beauty and the Beast Ends with Gaston Killing the Beast

Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is almost here. And while the majority of the conversation has circulated around its awe-inspiring special effects, its loyalty to the original, and Josh Gad’s portrayal of Disney’s first openly gay character, there is a different conversation I’m interested in having. Specifically, this new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is an opportunity to give a new, honest ending to the classic story. It’s an opportunity to kill the Beast.

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If you’re wondering why, the reasons are simple:

  • The original 1991 Beauty and the Beast movie has a very disturbing story, in which Belle is  a Patty Hearst subjected to bestiality and manipulated by a castle of malevolent ghosts.
  • Gaston is right to be concerned about Belle’s mental health. He and the other pitchfork-wielding townsfolk are right to try to rescue her. She is not making healthy decisions.
  • Do we really need another narrative in 2017 defending a character who was mean and course and unrefined?

Not sold yet? Let’s investigate. Continue reading “Let’s Hope the New Beauty and the Beast Ends with Gaston Killing the Beast”

No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes

Yes, this blog is dedicated to “an ongoing exploration of the dark and gritty reboot.” But, as written about in the previous post on this blog, The World Needs Bad Men, it’s time to admit that the dark-n-gritty reboot has run its course. The anti-heroes have ascended to the White House. It’s time for a new superhero narrative.

The last week has given us two new incarnations of the superhero show: Legion, a television show on FX, and The Lego Batman Movie, a family-friendly animated feature.

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Perhaps the first Batman promotional image to show a smiling Caped Crusadser.

The Lego Batman Movie is as meta as any superhero film has been, and that includes 2016’s Deadpool and 2015’s Ant-Man. The jokes are more family-friendly than those of Deadpool, but TLBM is arguably the more mature of the two films. TLBM, coming on the heels of The Lego Movie and followed soon by The Ninjago Movie, is the sign of much more to come.

Legion, meanwhile, is a serious and frightening television series about a man in a mental hospital who is either mentally ill, a mutant with superpowers, or both. It’s from Noah Hawley, the creator of the Fargo television series, and unravels in a non-linear manner.

But I’ve come here not to review these two works. Enough people are already reviewing these two works. The reviews are both positive and, in my opinion, accurate. What I’m here to say is that these works are two complementing examples of what we should start demanding from our screen adaptations of superhero tales.

The superhero is tired; these narratives give him hope. Let’s look at why they work, and how other narratives can learn from them.  Continue reading “No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes”

The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

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“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

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If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”

Will True Detective’s Second Season be to True Detective as Halloween 3 is to Halloween?

Matthew McConaughey recently stirred up some folks by saying that yes, he misses playing Rust Cohle and, yes, he would consider reprising that character, if given the right opportunity.

“Would you ever consider going back,” his interviewer asked him. “Yeah, I would,” McConaughey answered

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Time is a flat circle = confirmed

This fueled some speculation and some argument. Questions like what would Rust Cohle do if he returned to the screen? And, is his narrative not finished?  Would it be a prequel, of his days in Alaska or Texas? The story of the loss of his wife and daughter? Or a sequel, in which he goes after the last remnants of the cult of the Yellow King? Continue reading “Will True Detective’s Second Season be to True Detective as Halloween 3 is to Halloween?”

Is Bane the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?

“Do you feel in charge?”

It is with these words that the power shifts from one man to another in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, as the terrorist and demagogue Bane rests a hand on the shoulder of corrupt, scheming businessman John Daggett. This is Daggett’s last moment alive, realizing that he staked everything on empowering a brutal man he never controlled. It’s a relevant moment, echoed in the recent power struggle happening within the Republican party.

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“Do you feel in charge?”

“Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.” – Bane, to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises

The majority of Batman characters were created in either 1939 or the 1940s, heroes and villains alike. We have compared Donald Trump to four Batman villains so far, each of which first appeared in the early ’40.s Bane is unlike the rest of these, making his first appearance in 1993.

Bane has two pinnacle stories: the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises and the comic book storyline Knightfall, both of which feature a Gotham plunged into chaos and a broken Batman.

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Bane, facing off against Batman.

It is these two stories which will serve as the majority of our comparison between the candidate Donald Trump and the character Bane.

Trump and Bane are both demagogues who inspire a hateful hope in their followers.

Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, described Bane as “the one thing that’s worse than the second film’s raving anarchist: a demagogue.” Continue reading “Is Bane the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?”

Why I’m Done Seeing Tarantino Films in the Theater

This isn’t a review of The Hateful Eight. I’ll sum up my opinion of it in one sentence: It’s not his worst movie or his best movie, and I only recommend it to people who are determined to see every Tarantino film.

This is a review of the crowd at The Hateful Eight 70 mm Roadshow. It’s specifically about the crowd at the 11 am screening of The Hateful Eight on 70 mm in Edina, Minnesota on the Sunday after Christmas. Generally, this is a review of the kind of people who see Tarantino films during their opening weekends.

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To be clear, I’m not in any way disputing whether or not Samuel L. Jackson was amazing in this horribly violent film.

I’ve had bad experiences seeing the following movies in theaters:

  • Kill Bill, Volume One
  • Kill Bill, Volume Two
  • Inglorious Basters
  • Django Unchained
  • The Hateful Eight

I did not see anything before Kill Bill in theaters, so I cannot speak for that. I also didn’t bother with Grindhouse, although I can imagine that what I’m going to describe would have applied, had I seen that. Continue reading “Why I’m Done Seeing Tarantino Films in the Theater”

The 15 Most Under-Appreciated Films of the Last 15 Years

 

If you hadn’t noticed: it’s list season.

And while I don’t believe in lists-for-the-sake-of-lists, I’ve been meaning to put together a list of the films that I think more people deserve to a) see and b) see with an open mind.  I am not calling them “underrated,” as I find that underrated usually denotes something is loved by audiences and hated by critics.

I tried to follow some rules with these films, avoiding ones that a) received Academy Awards b) were major box office hits c) were critically acclaimed and d) regularly show up on “underrated films” lists. The last category is why I did not include The Mist, which avoids the first three categories but has become a meme online, showing up every time someone asks “what’s a good underrated film?”

Here they are. The “under-appreciated” movies that I think you should see and that, chances are, you haven’t seen:

Unfriended (2014)

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Stupid name, but worth seeing.

I don’t know anyone who has seen this, aside from the people in the theater with me when I saw it. I’m not saying this is a perfect movie, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to watch an innovative horror film that keeps the stress levels rising the entire time. The innovation is that the entire story is told on one laptop screen, moving between group chats and Facebook posts and YouTube videos as the horror unfolds.

It’s the first time I saw the horror of an ellipsis conveyed onscreen, and it’s terrifying. It also made me very, very glad that my high school days are far behind me. Continue reading “The 15 Most Under-Appreciated Films of the Last 15 Years”

What We Failed to Learn About Terrorism from The Dark Knight

Or, “Stop Calling Them Gunmen and Start Calling Them Terrorists”

One of the most notable elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that, despite being made by a British writer and director and set in the fictional Gotham City, the films capture the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 America in a frightening, realistic way.

But there’s one lesson in these films that we don’t seem to have retained: terrorism can take many forms. 

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the first and third films in the trilogy, show evil as an extensive international network motivated by belief in a higher cause: the League of Shadows, lead first by Liam Neeson and later by Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s an evil organization which resembles Al-Qaeda or IS/Daesh in its reach and tactics. 

Unlike the other two films, in The Dark Knight our villain is Heath Ledger’s Joker: a criminal who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. His background is unknown, with no criminal record or history of violence. He operates as a loner, with a few followers but no peers. He believes not in fundamentalism but in anarchy and chaos. He prefers easily-obtained weapons: in his words, “a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” He kills with abandon, targeting mob bosses, murdering his own followers, burning corrupt businessmen alive, turning civilians against one another. Throughout it all, he operates without loyalty and welcomes death. 

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Perhaps film’s most famous villain of the oughts.

He gives a speech, in one of the more famous moments from the film, explaining why people are so frightened of him. Because he disrupts expectations. He disrupts “the plan.” Because anyone can be his victim, not just “a gangbanger” or “a truckload of soldiers.”

The mass waves of shooters (most of whom are white and “Christian”) overtaking America resemble the Joker in every way: they kill innocents, make spectacles of their crimes, and fear nothing, including death. The American mass shooter is almost always suicidal. There are few mass shooters who begin their killing sprees expecting any outcome aside from death or life imprisonment.

Like the Joker, they cannot be “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”

But there is a key difference. In The Dark Knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent holds a press conference and calls the Joker what he is: a terrorist. America’s leaders, when they hold press conferences, talk about gunmen, about shooters, but not about terrorists. Continue reading “What We Failed to Learn About Terrorism from The Dark Knight”