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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Sally Wingert

The Straight Story (1999)

Get it? Because it’s not a total mind-f**k!

Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly World War II veteran, lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who has an intellectual disability. When Alvin hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, he makes up his mind to go visit him and do it all, hopefully, before he dies and they’re both left to feel like they missed out. However, there’s an issue: Alvin doesn’t have a driver’s license and Lyle does live very far away. So what can Alvin do to travel all of this way to see his bro? Well, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty-year-old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, that has about the maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour, and sets off on the 240 mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. Of course, he runs into all sorts of colorful and rather normal characters throughout his journey, most of whom offer to drive him the whole way there, with others just telling him to give up. However, through it all, Alvin remains determined, knowing that this may not just be his last shot at regaining some happiness with his brother, but his last shot at regaining some happiness with life in general.

“Yeah, honey. You’re driving me mad. Literally.”

So the inside joke about the Straight Story is that, pun intended, there’s not much else to it, other than just what is exactly presented to us. It’s just a normal, everyday story, told in the most straightforward, easy-to-follow manner imaginable, without any curves or side-turns into the extreme or ambiguous. It is what it is, no questions, meditations, think-pieces, or re-watches necessary.

But the reason why this deserves to be said is because it’s directed by David Lynch who, for what seems like the first and perhaps, last time, ever, made a normal movie. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a problem with his many mind-benders that went on to make him famous and well-known, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for a dramatic change-of-pace like the Straight Story, where it literally seems like Lynch is a whole entirely new person, trying on a new piece of skin, seeing how it fits him, and working with it.

And yeah, it works.

The Straight Story is probably one of my favorites of Lynch’s because there are bits and pieces of it that feel like a Lynch film, what with the sometimes odd, awfully random character interactions, but it is still, after all, a movie in its own right. It’s slow, meditative and yes, old-timey, but there’s something truly charming and lovely in that that not only makes us feel like we’re watching the perfect movie for the whole family, but the perfect movie for anyone wanting a bit more drama and depth to their road-tales about elderly people. After all, there’s plenty out there like the Straight Story that feel it is necessary to dumb-down their material, for the sake of making silly jokes and ham-handed sentimentality.

But Lynch proves to be a smarter director than allowing himself to get caught up in all of that. He knows what the material deserves and doesn’t lose his sight on telling it, without trying to add some sort weird spark onto it. Sure, can it be a bit disappointing to see Lynch so ordinary and plain? Probably, yes. But like I said, a change-of-pace, especially one as solid as this, is a welcome one.

Gosh. Cheer up a bit, eh Richie?

It makes you wish that more idiosyncratic directors jumped out of their wheelhouse a bit and tried some new flavor for once.

That said, the Straight Story proves to be as much of a showcase for the skills that Lynch has, as much as it proves to be for the talent of the late, great and highly underrated Richard Farnsworth. As Alvin, Farnsworth gets a whole lot to do; while he is definitely playing an old-school, do-gooder who likes to wax on about the good old days, he’s also funny, charming and above all else, kind of sad. In fact, there’s a lot of sadness to this character – just by looking in Farnsworth’s pale blue eyes, you can tell that there’s just years and years of anguish and grief piling up, and it works absolutely well for building this character and helping us to understand just what there is about him. After all, he’s just another old guy who wants one last shot at life, so what else is there about him that can be offered?

A lot, it seems and it’s why Farnsworth’s a talent we still miss to this day. We just don’t know it.

Sissy Spacek is also quite good in the supporting role as his daughter, although at the same time, doesn’t get a whole lot to do, except have the occasional conversation with her daddy while he’s on his adventure. That’s probably how the whole rest of the cast plays-off as – they’re there to assist Farnsworth in all of his daily duties. Some are good (like a randomly pregnant teen), some aren’t (the woman who hits the dear is so over-the-top, I’m actually shocked it made it into the final-cut), but for the most part, they’re there to help us fully realize the world that David Lynch doesn’t often portray in his films: The simpler, kinder and more soft-spoken one where people aren’t all monsters and demons, but instead, actual nice, sweet people, who wouldn’t mind helping out an old-timer get to see his long, lost brother.

Consensus: Definitely a change-of-pace for Lynch, but a welcome one at that with a smart, attentive direction, witty, humanistic writing, and above all else, a great lead performance from Richard Farnsworth.

8.5 / 10

Pull him over!

Photos Courtesy of: Konangal Film Society

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Fargo (1996)

Can’t ever get enough of hearing the term, “You betcha!”

A car salesman (William H. Macy) is in a tight pinch for money and needs it as quick as humanly possible. His solution? Hire two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife for ransom, so that he can get the money from his very wealthy father-in-law and split it with the two criminals. Everything seems to be fine for the three and going according to plan, until people show up dead due to some tragic consequences. That brings pregnant police officer, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to the scene where she ends up figuring out just what is shaking all around her sweet, little town of Fargo.

Before I go on any further and lose more and more friends, family, fans, and confidantes than I already know I will, I just want to state this right away: I liked this movie. I can’t argue against the Coens’ artistry as writers, or as directors; the film is always entertaining, no matter how many times I actually do view it (fourth or fifth by now). That being said: It is a tad overrated.

Yup, I know. Bring on the boos.

It’s okay though. It’s exactly what I expect by now, seeing as I’ve had this opinion for as long as I can remember. And it isn’t because I enjoy going against the societal-norm because it makes me look strong, hip, and cool; it’s more just that this movie has never really charmed me as much as it has done so to everyone else.

Hey woMAN, nice shot.

Hey woMAN, nice shot.

That said, there are some little pleasures to be found in this nearly hour-and-a-half movie that still surprise me to this day. First of all, it’s the relaxed-tone of this movie that really does it some justice, as the Coens seem to throw us little, itty, bitty details every once and awhile. Just by the way in which a character looks, or does, or says something, gives you the slightest hint about what we’re supposed to think about that character, and this small town of Fargo, with its sometimes quirky, residents.

In fact, this is probably where the Coens win the most brownie-points from me, as it shows that these guys clearly love these characters they’ve created, and rarely ever pass judgement on them. Sure, they’re a bit ditsy and sheltered from the rest of the world, but they’re still happy with that. It doesn’t make them bad or good people – it just makes them people, who also just so happen to live in a place that’s very far from what some consider the “idealistic landscape to live in”. However, that’s just some people and their opinions, man.

Even two despicable human beings like the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare would easily be the most evil, unlikable fellows in the whole movie, and yet, there’s something about them that still keeps us away from hating them. Maybe moreso in the case of Buscemi’s character, as he seems like a guy who just gets his job done, does what he has to do, acquire his money and live a simple, carefree life like he’d done before, but even with Stormare’s character, there is still something about his quiet-demeanor that draws us to him. That’s probably what also drew the Coens to him so much in the first place, but it works more for us, as we are the ones who have to make up our own minds about these characters, and whether or not we choose to sympathize with any of them.

William H. Macy’s character is clearly the one who we find the hardest time caring for, but even his little quirks make us like him, if only for the faintest of reasons. As for Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, well, we love her for being just about the opposite of these previously mentioned guys: She’s a simple, lovely and delightful lady that expects the best out of humanity, and only wants to bring happiness to the world. That set-in-stone idea that she has about the world around her gets tarnished a whole lot once she realizes that there’s some actual ugliness out there, and yes, it’s found its way into her own, safe little world that she’s made for herself. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when she sees everything wrong and terrible about what this world can offer, but that’s what also makes it her so damn human in the first place, despite her small quirks here and there. It’s easy to see why McDormand won an Oscar for this role, as she steals the show just about every time, which was not an easy-feet, considering the talent she had stacked-up against her.

And of course, I could even say that the whole mystery itself still surprises me every once and awhile, all because certain plot-points make a bit more sense now, than they ever did before. That may be less of an attribute to this movie, and more to the caffeine I drank before watching this, but it’s something to still note regardless. The Coens love their characters and what makes them who they are, but they also still love themselves a little twists, a little turns, and better yet, a little bit of blood to be shed, all in the name of some cold, hard crime. These are the guys I’m comfortable with seeing make movies for the rest of my natural-born life, but more importantly, I would love to see them continue with the thriller-genre, and seeing how many times they can put their own creative-spin on it.

But now, here comes the time in my review where I lose all of your love and adoration, and get down to the simple fact, which is: Yes, I think Fargo is a bit overrated.

First and foremost, my problem with this movie isn’t that I’ve seen it so many times that I know everything that happened right from the get-go; in fact, that’s terribly false. There’s plenty of movies I’ve seen many more times than I can probably count, that still remain my “favorites”, even if I know every twist and turn that’s coming around the bend, all because I’ve seen said movie more than a couple of handful of times. But that’s not the point – the point is that with Fargo, I feel like every twist and turn is suitable into what gets a rush out of the viewer so much when watching it, and it just doesn’t hold-up on repeat-viewings, like so many movies I re-watch do.

Doesn't know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday  man's crisis.

Doesn’t know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday man’s crisis.

There’s small, little tidbits that are worth noting that made me smile because I didn’t notice them once before, but after awhile, I started to realize that there was maybe something a bit too odd when it came to the plot’s-structure. I love me some Steve Park, but his role/subplot Mike Yanagita, an old-friend of Marge’s, could have easily been written-out and the movie would have not suffered one bit. Sure, it’s another instance of the Coen’s making weird characters that they love, but it doesn’t do much for the movie except take us away from the actual crime on our hands; the same crime that Marge herself is investigating.

And I get it, I really do – the Coens like to do this sort of thing where they all sorts of different strands of plot that they are able to weave together somehow, through someway, but I just didn’t feel like it worked so well here. At the end of the day, when the people who deserved to be gone, were gone; the crime has been solved; justice has been served; and some life-lessons have been thrown around, I wondered: What was the point? Maybe this is just a personal problem I have with this movie, but once that anti-climactic ending came around, I had a hard time feeling wholly satisfied. Instead, I just ended my fourth or fifth-viewing of Fargo as I’ve done with any other viewing done before: It’s good, but that’s pretty much it.

Sorry, friends, family and whomever else may actually care. I truly am. Please take me back. Please!

 Consensus: Though the Coen’s clearly have a love for their characters, their story and all of the twists they throw into the plot, Fargo still doesn’t do much for me as a movie that has me thinking for days-on-end.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.

Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net