Fargo (TV) Review – How Does It Compare To The Film?

April 22, 2014 by  
Filed under CineBlog

With the word “cinematic” constantly being thrown around to describe television shows these days, it seems logical that TV would look to the world of film for ideas for new series. In a continuation of a recent trend, TV poaches another prominent film actor in Billy Bob Thornton for an adaption (but not really an adaption) of the 1996 Coen Brothers classic, “Fargo.”

Right from the start, it is important to note that this is not a direct remake or re-imagining of the story seen in ’96. It is, rather, a separate, limited-series that takes place in the same area of Minnesota, around the same types of people, with a similar mix of tone of the darkly funny and the violent. Sure, there are a few callbacks to the film. The logo of fictional town of Bemidji sports an image of Paul Bunyan like the statue seen in Brainerd in the film, there are plenty of “on account of’s” and “aw geez’s” and a certain scene in a later episode which fans of the film will instantly call back to the film.

As a pilot episode, “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” serves as a nice jumping off point for the series. We are introduced to Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) who is an insurance salesman who is constantly nagged upon by his wife. While he isn’t as frantic, funny and quite frankly as brilliant as William H. Macy was Jerry Lundegaard from the film, the characters are pretty similar in their construction. Freeman is pretty good here, able to portray Lester with a sense of built up frustration, but with a resistance to sticking up for himself. He occasionally has struggles maintaining the particular Minnesota accent, but its a problem shared with the rest of the cast who occasionally fade in and out of it. After a rather embarrassing run in with an old high school bully, Lester meets a drifter named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the waiting room of a hospital. There, they have a conversation that leads to Lester’s life being turned upside down. It should be noted that Thornton is absolutely brilliant in his role as Malvo. He is sinister, cruel, calculated, and loves to stir the pot and mess with people. He is easily the best part of every episode, and especially fun to watch when he embraces an alter ego in Episode 4. While there is no real direct comparison to “Fargo” the movie, his character design is definitely more Peter Storemare than Steve Buscemi. What is impressive about the pilot episode is that it starts decently and unassumingly enough as a table setter and gets dark in a hurry. By the end of the episode, the audience is virtually blindsided with multiple brutal scenes in a row, setting forth the events of the rest of the season.

It is apparent by the 2nd or 3rd episode, however, that this is a massive cast of characters, and the show begins to feel a little overpopulated. We meet Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), who is the Maggie Gunderson counterpart from the film, and a host of other characters ranging from a supermarket king played by Oliver Platt and a police officer from another area of Minnesota in Colin Hanks. Still, the most interesting storyline presented to us in the first few episodes is the interaction between Lester and Lorne, yet they are both off doing their own things (albeit some of them amusing) and hardly interact in the back half of the four episodes that I have seen. Of course, I’m sure that at some point during these 10 episodes, stories will intersect and everything will become central, but if the beginning of the series is any indication, there will be some detours along the way to a crash course conclusion.

With a similar tone, setting, character design, and of course, name, it is difficult to not compare the TV product to the film, which is vastly superior in every aspect. While you won’t find the continued police adventures of Maggie Gunderson, “Fargo” is more of a spiritual cousin of the film that will bring you glimpses into the humorous and sometimes frightening environment, but ultimately make you pine for the Coen Brothers classic. It may not be the best thing currently on TV, but Freeman’s and especially Thornton’s performance and an interesting set up have me intrigued enough to continue watching.

Billy Bob Thornton – The Alamo

September 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Billy Bob Thornton has had an illustrious career. His first stint as an actor came in 1986 when he appeared on an episode of “Matlock.” The following year he came out in the made-for-TV movie “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains.” Since then, Thornton has been in such films as “Tombstone” (1993), “Armageddon” (1998), “Monster’s Ball” (2001) and “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003), to name a few. Thornton has also been nominated three times for Academy Awards for Best Actor with his portrayal of murderer Karl Childers in “Sling Blade” (1996) and for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Jacob Mitchell in “A Simple Plan” (1998). He won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for writing “Sling Blade.”

Now, Thornton takes on the role of Texas legend Davy Crockett in the film “The Alamo,” which opens nationwide on April 9. It’s a role he says, “was like walking into history.”

Recently in San Antonio for the world premiere of “The Alamo,” I got the chance to talk with the accomplished actor about his newest film.

In your final scene your character Davy Crockett says his own name as Mexican soldiers surround him. To me that line meant that you realized your own mortality. What did that scene mean to you?”

That’s exactly what it meant. The day we shot that scene I asked (director John Lee Hancock) first, “May I do this?” The point was that this guy (Crockett) grew up with this legend that he was like this mythic character and sort of a rock star of his own time. And in his final moments he’s like, “What does that really mean? Who cares? I’m gonna end up being killed like everybody else.” So he just looks at the ground and he found that at his last moments it was sort of ironic and humorous because there’s a guy wearing his coonskin hat in the Mexican Army like it’s some type of souvenir. Here I am on my knees with my hands tied behind my back and they are about to axe me to death.  “Davy Crocket? I guess I was!” Now, this thing that has been said about me this whole time, how I wrestle grizzly bears.  Now, I really got to do it.

Do you think this final scene is going to cause controversy? Some people think Crockett fought to the death. Some people think Crockett begged for his life.

In terms of any controversy…Who do you know…Have you ever met anybody walking around asking, “What do you really think happened to Davy Crockett?” Nobody. All of a sudden there’s a movie about it and everyone’s talking about it. There’s not controversy about it. There was a diary of a Mexican lieutenant that was found that said Crockett was executed. He died with dignity and courage and was well behaved. Those were the exact words the guy said. Do they really know? Do they really know Jim Bowie died shooting his pistols at the last minute? Who knows about that? Nobody was there that’s around now. I think it’s kind of fucked up when people want to create controversy. They always want to create controversy about everything.

Like in “Monster’s Ball,” for example?

Yeah, I mean, “Monster’s Ball” is a terrific movie. I think Mark Forrester is a wonderful director, but if Halle Berry and I hadn’t had a 12-minute sex scene in it, it probably wouldn’t have done what it did because that was a controversial scene here. But here it is. You’ve got a lot of people in American that turn their noses up at explicit sex scenes but what they do is go to the store and rent European movies.

Did you get a chance to talk to Davy Crockett’s great-great-great-grandson? He was here wasn’t he?”

Yeah. I also got to talk to his fourth generation granddaughter. She is graduating from school and wanted to know if I would be her date to the prom. Swear to God. I said yes.

Wow, really?




November 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious”)
Written by: Tony Gayton (“Murder by Numbers”) and Joe Gayton (“Bulletproof”)

While we’re ecstatic Dwayne Johnson seems to have ditched embarrassing kiddie fare like “Tooth Fairy,” “The Game Plan,” and “Race to Witch Mountain” by starring in “Faster,” his stock isn’t much higher since the ultra-violent action flick is without personality.

It’s not entirely Johnson’s fault. As “Driver,” an ex-convict out for revenge for the death of his brother, the ex-WWE star proves he still has everything it would take for him to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s actually kind of surprising that he’s not closer to that distinction yet since he’s been out of the wrestling ring for six years. It’s not charisma, attitude, or primal instinct Johnson is lacking. High-quality scripts keep dodging him for some reason.

That’s where screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton come in with “Faster,” a film with all the violence one could want, but without a true sense of adventure. In the film, “Driver” does his share of point-blank shooting and engine revving, but it all feels very unoriginal in a genre that usually needs a distinctive touch to stand out. Director Quentin Tarantino has recently mastered it with films like “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds.” It doesn’t help that Johnson has already starred in “Walking Tall,” another less-than-stellar entry into the revenge genre. Johnson carries a small hand cannon in this one and not a two-by-four, but it feels all the same nonetheless.

Aside from Johnson’s no-nonsense attitude, the Gaytons fail to give any depth to the characters that are thrown in “Driver’s” way. Billy Bob Thornton plays “Cop,” a drug-addicted officer who never comes off as an actual threat. Then there is a character identified as “Killer” (Oliver Jackson Cohen), a slick assassin who has absolutely no reason to even exist. Actually, all the secondary storylines are weak and uninteresting, which puts all the pressure on Johnson to maneuver the film past all the pointless junk.

“Faster” is well shot, but there’s simply not enough material here to create a memorable vengeance movie. When the twists and turns start happening, it’s far too late to save face. Most of them have been blown off anyway.

Eagle Eye

September 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”)
Written by: Hillary Seitz (“Insomnia”), John Glenn (debut), Travis Wright (debut), Dan McDermott (debut)

Looks like the Patriot Act wasn’t such a good idea after all. At least that’s what the U.S. citizens who are forced to carry out terroristic conspiracies think in “Eagle Eye,” the newest action thriller directed by D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”).

Don’t look now but regular people are being is listened to and watched through the technology they use everyday. Jerry Shaw, local employee of the Copy Cabana, realizes this first hand when he answers his cell phone and a mysterious female voice on the other end begins to give him directions so he can escape a situation he has no control over.

Having just buried his twin brother, who was in the military, Jerry doesn’t know what to believe when he find a surplus of weapons in his apartment and $750,000 in his once meager bank account. Soon, Jerry is running for his life from FBI agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who thinks he is part of some sort of terrorism plot.

Deciding to follow the directions of the unidentified woman who continues to call him, Jerry is led into a car driven by Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a desperate mother who receives a message telling her that she has also been “activated” and that her son will be harmed if she does not comply with similar instructions. Before they know exactly what they’re involved in, the newly-introduced duo is blindly chasing after something although they have no idea what it is.

Helmed by four screenwriters, which can sometimes raise a red flag in any script, the idea of cyber-terrorism presented in “Eagle Eye” feels outdated even when it takes an Orwellian approach and adds clever twists to modernize the story. Still, the advances in the film’s surveillance techniques aren’t too impressive and the writers end up driving the plot uncomfortably close to ridiculous. It’s especially meaningless by the third act when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the cause of all the mayhem. There’s not much to beam over in the writers’ decision making at this point. And there’s only so much a talented LaBeouf can do, even if he is supposed to be the next Tom Hanks.

Although in some earlier scenes the paranoia factor reaches some intense moments a la David Fincher’s “The Game,” those instances are too few and far between and Jerry and Rachel’s mad dash to the finish line pulls up limp. “Eagle Eye,” with all its underlying messages about high-tech governmental regulation, manages to become a bit more exciting than finding a convenient store with a dashboard GPS.