“I am like a Spanish Conquistador. Recently, I’ve learned of untold riches hidden deep in the Americas.”
A strange idea, obsessing over the “this is a true story” opening titles of Fargo, putting a degraded VHS tape of that movie into the hands of an already disconnected-from-reality Japanese woman whose hobby is treasure hunting, and setting her loose in Minnesota. However this movie, which opens with those same Fargo titles, is at least loosely based on a true story of a Japanese woman found dead outside Fargo.
Judging from the blu-ray alternate scenes, it seems the Zellners are inclined towards absurd comedy but dialed it down for the feature, so we’re left with a character study of a nearly mute, mostly unsympathetic (she rips off everyone she comes across) woman with a singleminded need to find something that we know doesn’t exist: the briefcase of money a wounded Steve Buscemi buried in the snow on a roadside twenty years earlier. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, Norwegian Wood) is engrossing to watch, and it’s fun to see the Minnesotans vainly try to culturally connect with Kumiko (asking at a Chinese restaurant if anyone can translate Japanese, giving her a copy of Shogun, offering her a ride to the Mall of America). I appreciated the concept and performances but wasn’t feeling it overall.
Bedtime for Bunzo:
This pet store had an owl, a parrot and a monkey, and the combination of their sounds stunned my two birds into silence:
Black Something (2016, Zellner Bros.)
Found on Filmstruck: the directors’ new homage to Malle’s Black Moon. A short burst of weirdness, and the first thing I tried to watch on that site, so I can’t tell if the barking dogs sound was out-of-sync on purpose or if this is gonna be a problem. A girl picks flower petals, centipedes wriggle, plants drip with goo, and frilly collar-wearing dogs attack a bear.
On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?
Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:
Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:
The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).
Jude Law in puffy suit:
The Coens follow up their grim oscar-winner with the star-studded, absurd and murderous Burn After Reading and then a star-less (recognized one guy from Spin City) return to excellence. Like Miller’s Crossing, it’s a series of perfect scenes, building and building, and leading to… ambiguity. Would need to watch a few more times to work out the film’s philosophy. Part of the problem is all the biblical references (IMDB trivia: “His son Danny’s looking at the oncoming tornado recalls God speaking to Job from out of the whirlwind, saying He will not explain why these bad things have happened to him.”) and I’ve only skimmed Revelations looking for the parts about the seas running red with blood (I think that’s actually in the Necronomicon), so I miss certain allusions.
Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry leads a pitch-perfect cast (relative unknowns or not, the actors must be the best ensemble of the year, Inglorious Basterds their only rival). His wife is leaving him for a smarmy neighbor just as he’s up for tenure, a student is threatening/bribing him, his kids are pains in the ass, his brother is a closeted, medically-impaired couch physicist, and the rabbis offer no help at all. The story builds to a final tragedy (presumably bad news from the doctor, which we never hear, directly after Larry caves on the bribery issue) and a final mystery (a tornado outside the son’s school) but shortly before the denouement comes the son’s quiet, nervous post-bar-mitzvah visit with the elder rabbi which just explodes the movie’s long-held tension when the old man’s handed-down wisdom consists of quoted Jefferson Airplane lyrics.
G. Kenny calls it “something new in the Coen oeuvre: A completely seamless hybrid of their putatively mature mode with their outrageous cartoonish one.”
To watch A Serious Man – their most morally sophisticated work – is to feel what it’s like to be Joel or Ethan Coen, to see the world as a pointless series of endless sufferings and inconveniences, surrounded by insufferable buffoons and irrational cretins. This is not a world of their making. This is the world they live in.
You could know the Kabbalah inside out and still struggle with these mysteries every bit as fruitlessly as Larry does. And that’s just how his creators want it. Though the movie concerns a specifically Jewish crisis of faith (and paints a satiric but lovingly precise portrait of Jewish-American culture), A Serious Man unfolds in a moral universe that’s recognizable from earlier Coen films. It’s a cruel and ultimately inexplicable place. What Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem’s pitiless mass murderer, was to No Country for Old Men, the Hebrew God is to this movie.
I should also mention that this movie had one of the best trailers of the year, a montage of annoying sound effects and cries for help set to the rhythm of Larry’s head being banged into a chalkboard. If not for that propulsive Arcade Fire song on Where The Wild Things Are, I’d have to give it top honors.
Good ol’ Fargo.
I remembered reading a discussion about Marge’s Japanese classmate and what exactly he’s doing in the movie, but now I uselessly can’t remember any of it.