In case you were wondering what my childhood was like (I know you totally were), let’s just say that growing up my mom used to giggle whenever she saw a wood chipper and would ask “Who are we going to put in there?” a la Fargo, one of her favorite films of all-time. While she’s a very mommyish-mom most of the time, always trying to get you to “Eat something!”, worrying if you’re even a minute late, knitting baby blankets “Just in case!”, you put on Fargo and she has a decidedly non-Mom reaction and immediately begins giggling, totally undisturbed by the film’s graphic violence and vulgar language.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) needs cash. He knows his father-in-law has it, but also knows he won’t give it to him so he concocts a plan to have two hired goons (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom money paid by his father-in-law. However, a criminal mastermind Jerry is not, and the plan quickly goes awry, with the body count climbing, and it takes one cop (Frances McDormand) to piece it all together. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Lead Actress (McDormand).
This film is a great study in how people aren’t always what they seem. At first glance, Jerry appears to be the average family man, the last guy you would expect to put his wife in such a dangerous situation only to scam some money out of her father. Marge Gunderson, with her thick accent and pregnant belly, doesn’t look like someone who could solve a multiple homicide case. Marge’s former classmate Mike seems nice at first but is revealed to be a total nutjob. The Midwest itself is a character, and with their pleasant people and small town values, doesn’t seem like the kind of place where such brutal actions could take place.
Another major theme is how greed destroys all who succumb to it. Jerry clearly has a comfortable life financially but is constantly trying to come up with schemes to get a little more and a little more. While he never dreamed that his kidnapping plot would end the way it did, he still was willing to terrify his wife and child, initially, for only $40,000, only to greedily up his part of the ransom to $960,000 when telling his father-in-law the kidnappers’ demands. When Jerry tries to comfort his son after his wife’s kidnapping, it is clear he thought of nothing but the money and seems surprised by his son’s distress. His delusions of grandeur are crystal clear as the whole situation slips out of his control on all fronts.
Buscemi and Stormare’s Carl and Gaear are also undone by greed. When Carl receives the ransom, he is surprised to see it is for a million dollars when he wasn’t even expecting 100 grand. He hides the extra money from his partner Gaear, only to lose his life when they bicker over who gets the car Jerry provided them, leaving all that money lost in the snow. The only characters that are unconcerned with money are Marge and Norm, who have a simple but sweet life. Marge’s speech to Gaear about how silly it was to bring all that pain for such a small pay-off is a great denouncement.
While the Coen Brothers are very well respected by the industry, they like to fuck with people. The beginning of Fargo proclaims the film is based on a true story, this is a lie. It’s that attitude that permeates their films They show people at their ugliest but they do it with a wink so you know they don’t think we’re all bad. Fargo is among their most respected films and is definately a must-see for all film buffs. However, be careful to avoid the TNT censored version, which replaces f bombs with words like “frozen” and “funny” making the dialogue laughable.

Moonrise Kingdom

It makes perfect sense that Wes Anderson’s latest Moonrise Kingdom tells the tale of two twelve year olds experiencing first love on the run. His distinct style has a hint of innocence to it, as if the sets and characters are his toys to arrange how he pleases. Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are Anderson’s latest dolls, as star-crossed lovers Suzy and Sam. The two are a delight together as trouble pre-teens who bond over their shared awkwardness. Anderson tells their story with complete honesty and really hits on that confusion one goes through when you first experience adult feelings while still trapped in a child’s body. Suzy and Sam, her with her exaggerated eye shadow, him with his pipe, are so eager for adulthood. In one scene Sam literally pours out a glass of milk to replace it with beer, pushing away the innocence of childhood. There is also a subtle but significant anti-bullying theme, when Sam’s fellow scouts question their hatred for him. Anderson clearly remembers what it is like to be a child.

Sam and Suzy meet and are instantly drawn to each other as the two are misunderstood by all around them. They become pen pal and plan to run away together over the course of letters. When they make their escape, they are pursued by his scouting troop, her family, and the local law enforcement. While the adults’ initial reaction is to keep to two apart, it becomes clear their connection will not be easily severed. When the adults learn orphaned Sam has run out of foster homes, they become determined to keep him from Social Services and give him the home he deserves, that is, if they ever find him.

While Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman appear in the film, much of the cast, including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel, are making their Wes Anderson debut.   The eclectic group of actors all mesh well together. Willis’ performance is tender and has a sadness to it that we don’t often get to see from the well-known actor. Norton is also great as Scout Master Ward. He is pure soul who just wants to help children, which is a rare character to see nowadays. Murray and McDormand are strong a married couple that works on paper but are obviously struggling. Schwartzman is also enjoyable in his brief cameo as the overgrown Boy Scout (excuse me, Khaki Scout) who is scamming kids out of their nickels.

The world of scouting is a good fit for Anderson. In many ways, he’s the boy scout of the film world, with all these impressive skills that are a bit out dated. It is clear that Anderson is heavily influenced by filmmakers from the past, so it is also fitting that this film takes place in 1965. Anderson’s films are chocked full of nostalgia and one look at Hayward’s Suzy tells you Anderson is a Fellini fan.

The script is tight with laughs coming naturally. There is a normalcy to this cast of characters that is refreshing. Often his protagonist reach almost cartoonist levels of dysfunction, but while Sam, Suzy, and those in their orbit each have a sadness and a restlessness to them, their quirkiness is kept in check. This is a return to form for Anderson, but this added restraint points to a maturity that gives you high hopes for the future of this filmmaker. While the film feels a tad longer than its 94 minute run time, each scene has an element of the magic one expects from Anderson.