Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fargo and the American Tundra of Murder

Fargo season 2 is upon us. Time to find out if the second go-round of the arguably the greatest single season of TV this decade can repeat itself. Viewing the trailers, I'm betting it can. But I'm not waiting. Re-visiting some of my favorite bloody ice and snow crime thrillers to get me in the mood.

You mean like Fargo the movie? Fuck yeah, I do. For those of you who haven't jumped on the Fargo the TV show wagon for the sake of your relationship to the film of the same name and universe, stop holding back. You know the plot and characters don't overlap, right? Tone and a handful of brilliant landmarks tie the film and show together, but that's it. Somewhere a 90s network TV-exec is complaining that the Fargo TV-show he pitched -with an ever-pregnant Marge Gunderson solving a crime every week- has been stolen from him. Fuck off, buddy. Instead of tainting the original, Fargo TV now makes Fargo the feature look like season 0.5 and I can always go for another viewing.

Remember when Sam Raimi's career looked like it might be heading in an interesting direction? Before it got side-swiped by Spider-Man, Evil Dead retreads and other 80s horror remakes? He made a couple of crime films nearly back to back and while I appreciated bits of the Cate Blanchett southern gothic vehicle The Gift, I've got fucking no complaints about A Simple Plan. It's a simple story of good people realizing the 'good' scrapes off that moniker pretty damn fast and they'll straight up murder a motherfucker or three for a little money. It's nasty business.

Of course it's based on Scott Smith's book of the same name and  while his other novel, The Ruins, seemed a far more natural match for Raimi's sensibilities, I think the way it shook out was swell. But I don't have to tell you the book is superior, do I? If you've got the inclination, even after seeing the fine film, dig deeper into the story's dark heart with this one.

Or how about Scott Phillips's debut The Ice Harvest? Never nice to begin with, the small time sleaziness of the characters in this book glistens beneath the frozen surface and when a little heat's applied it all boils over in a gleefully, murdery fount.

Of course this one too was made into a film and while the not-as-good-as-the-book thing applies here as well, it's a pretty solid picture. I remember watching the first season of Fargo and thinking they had to be nodding somewhat toward The Ice Harvest with the frozen heartland setting, the humorous horror and the casting of Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton... right? It's an elegant little film though. Worthy of a shiver in its own right.

If you've not seen Courtney Hunt's Frozen River you've got a no-brainer movie night ahead of you. If you hate the moral condescension of crime fare that goes out of its way to justify this one time an otherwise good person is forced to behave like a criminal then you'll find this tale of honestly come by desperation and crime without apology a refreshing break. Plus, shit-howdy, Melissa Leo operating at the peak of her powers as a single mother who turns to smuggling to keep her family together.

A group of strangers waylaid mid-plot (each with their own) by a storm is a classic setup. Switch out the hurricane of Key Largo for the frozen unpassable roads of John Rector's The Cold Kiss for a hot time in a cold hell. A young couple running away to start a life together wind up catching death in the form of a hitchhiker who hires them to take him across the bleak landscape and dies on them in possession of a whole lotta mullah somebody has just got to be looking for. If they can survive the storm holed up in a lonely highway motel, they just might have a happily ever after. Heh. Not so much.

Feeling Minnesota after being scrapped from a Gulf Coast police force for helping a fella get dead during hurricane Katrina, Billy Laffite is pissing away his last chance at a decent life, using his badge for small time graft and too young pussy, when he finds himself at the bottom of the shit well in Anthony Neil Smith's Yellow Medicine. Like imagine he's the guy in the grain silo in Witness except it's shit raining down on him and it's a metaphor. Bad cop in hell in the cold. I fucking love this book.

Dropping down a tier or two in quality here for sure, but I've got a soft spot for John Frankenheimer's casino heist flick Reindeer Games. It's got a lot of elements I dig - a man out of prison, a skeazy romance, a heist, Charlize Theron in a swimming pool, Gary Sinese with a crossbow and Dennis Farina being Dennis Farina, plus Clarence Williams III, Donal Logue, Danny Trejo and a cold weather setting that I just respond to. Now, what it does with these elements ain't prestigious or even memorable, but I can think of worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

And while we're dwelling on this lower rung I might get over my initial disappointment with Stefan Ruzowitsky's Deadfall and concentrate on the things I did like there, and try to ignore the squandered possibilities of that cast (Eric Bana, Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek, Kate Mara and Treat Williams fur phuck's ache). Another casino heist, a manhunt, a home invasion, shit it's even got a kick ass snow mobile chase... these are elements I can check out of my head and into a film for.

All your negative reaction to True Detective's second season hasn't cooled my interest - that's how much I enjoyed the first season - but even season one was second place to Fargo last year and I'm so damned happy it's back.

1 comment:

JJStick said...

Nice round-up.