In 1984 The Karate Kid became a part of the pop culture landscape. Everything from “wax on wax off” to “sweep the leg!” has been paid tribute to, satirized, and cherished by kids of the 80’s these past thirty years in the forms of memes, tv shows, movie formulas, and general casual conversation. It’s a very “American” film, embedded in our winner/loser/fairplay/try-your-best contradicting ethos.
Now comes a worthy sequel after four films continued the story of Daniel LaRusso. The first film earned Pat Morita an Oscar nomination as the wise Mr. Myagi, the second earned one for best song, the third film was rowdy popcorn film, in the vein of Rocky III, and The Next Karate Kid started 2 time Oscar winner Hillary Swank in easily the worst film of her career. Will Smith created a crowd pleaser reboot for his son Jaden to star in with Jackie Chan that grossed $300+ million and yet is unremarkable in every way.
This sequel is a YouTube Red Series Cobra Kai, a continuation of the Daniel/Johnny died from the first film. Johnny Lawrence is now a washed up alcoholic, still driving his high school car and pounding Coors beer, living off a freelance handyman gig from a friend. Daniel is now a successful car salesman kicking pricing and passing out free bonsai trees to each customer.
One night, while having a pity party, Johnny sees some bullies beating up his poor apartment neighbor Miguel. He’s fine with them picking on him until they throw Miguel into his red sports car, prompting the once cool Cobra Kai star to beat up all four kids, and then inspiring Miguel to ask Johnny to teach him karate.
While this may sound odd, a fifty year old man beating up high school kids and then mentoring the geeky new neighbor, it mirrors exactly Mr. Myagi and Daniel-Son’s relationship. The scene in Cobra Kai is the Halloween dance scene in every way. It’s one of the best pieces of modern deconstruction put to pop art.
If we rooted for Myagi, how can we fault Johnny?
After taking some money from his bitter step dad as a buy out of their relationship, Johnny takes on Miguel and decides to reopen the Cobra Kai Karate studio that was the birthplace of every 80’s teen comedy villain. With John Kreese dead, Johnny doesn’t have to worry about licensing deals and copyright laws.
The next 9 episodes see Johnny struggle as a mentor, a dead beat dead (with baby mama Diora Baird in a fun cameo), and frustrated small business owner. Eventually, the dojo builds a crowd after a few fresh storylines utilize our modern social media culture, and a crew of misfit toys appear.
The other story deals with Daniel’s nightmare of watching Cobra Kai become a safe place for all the misfits of the San Fernando Valley. Daniel starts becoming the high strung LaRusso of The Karate Kid III and even starts retraining to bring balance to his life.
The series is both a satire of the snowflake generation and great reminder of what makes a sports opera work. The series never panders, but instead embraces the classical archetypes. One minute we are rooting for Johnny. The next we see Daniel applying Myagai’s old school techniques.
Everything feels fresh and inspired in this series. Johnny is seeking redemption, while Daniel is trying to maintain his way of life. The female leads, including Daniel’s wife and daughter provide strong female characters and interesting arcs, and the “mean girls” of the high school even find themselves changing.
What the series reminds us is that the generations before us lived by different codes, and that while some people never grew up, we don’t always see that. Sure Johnny is a sad sack clinging to high school glory, but so is Daniel, still thinking his All Valley Championship is impressive.
The other intersting point the series makes is that in the 80’s Karate was for bullies to maintain their status, whereas today geeks need it to level up to the cyber bullying the pretty kids use to torment. If anything, when Johnny mocks cyber bullying by telling his dojo of nerds “in my day we made fun of them to their face,” he isn’t being ironic, he’s being oddly heroic.
Cobra Kai isn’t just entertaining television, it’s poignant television about a time and place that doesn’t really exist anymore, but don’t tell our protagonists.
PS: The final scene is as chilling and exciting and out of nowhere as anything I’ve ever seen. If Johnny thought he’s faced his past, he’s got another thing coming.
We are all born with a certain package. We are who we are. Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We are kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people, find out what makes them tick, what they care about. For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that, to me, is the most noble thing that good movies can do and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.”
Human empathy is a lacking attribute in Donald Trump’s America. While empathy does not mean “acceptance,” it does mean trying to understand and feel for people in hard times or situations. Sadly, most of us view the world through bad political or theological worldviews, causing a huge misunderstanding in what it means to care for others.
So so often I hear conservatives argue that people who made poor decisions should pay the price. We hear words like “freeloaders” and many think that the poor chose to be poor, as if somehow being in a poverty-ridden state is a desired destination.
Common talk I have with people I know:
Me: So in So is struggling in life.
Them: We’ll they should have gone to college and not had kids.
While that might be a reason they are struggling, plenty of people people have skipped on college and had kids and are doing fine. Maybe this situation is more complex. And just acknowledging a potential root of the issue isn’t productive. Should these people give up the child and take out $30,000 in student loans? I’m not sure what the point of the comment is.
This brings me to The Florida Project, a truly moving film that will build human empathy into your soul concerning the victims of choices that so many people make and don’t see similar outcomes.
The film follows a handful of small children during a hot summer in Orlando, Florida. They run around the numerous cheap motels they live in 29 days at a time, moving out one day a month to avoid residency law violations, and get into the type of trouble Mark Twain would have put them in.
The main girl Moonee lives with her drug addicted, alcoholic mother who prostitutes herself while the little girl sits in the bathtub. It’s a heartbreaking film, but a good reminder that while the “Disneyland” fantasy is around the corner, the world in the shadows is dark and real and needs our attention.
The acting is spectacular. Every character is fully defined and not a caricature. Maybe the choice by director Sean Baker to use non-actors helps that.
But there is one traditional actor used in William Dafoe. One of the best villains in film history (Spider-Man anyone?), he has also played complex characters including a doubting Jesus Christ (The Last Temptation of Christ) and a torn military leader (Platoon). But in this film he transcends all typecasts against him and portrays the patriarch super of the Magic Castle motel.
His acting is poetic. Every scene he shows his love and care for these numerous young mothers trapped in a life they didn’t see coming. Not one positive father figure is shown. Not the absent daddies, the creepy old pedophiles, or the dad sleeping with prostitutes and losing his $1700 Disneyworld family wristband package.
Yet there is Dafoe, protecting the children, paying the difference in rent for the mothers, and letting the kids play hide and seek under his desk, knowing that many of these children and parents have nowhere else to go. Hotels don’t ask for credit checks. Apartments do. They are stuck at “The Magic Castle” hotel without a chance to see the $300 a ticket Magic Castle nearby.
Where the film greatly succeeds is in reminding the audience that there are people out there that have few options, and that children are the victims. The kids in these movies most likely won’t grow up to live productive lives. Not because they can’t, but because they are never taught how to. They will learn to scrape by or be thrown around the foster home system. They will struggle because struggling is the model in which they live.
Movies can’t solve every problem, but watching a film like The Florida Project can remind us to love each other and take care of each other and feel some empathy toward those with a struggle we can’t see. It’s literally the least we can do.
A lot of guys wonder if a girl they just met likes them. There’s a lot of signs, but here are the five most fool proofed ways to know she wants to bear your children and take your last name at the alter. And not necessarily in that order.
1. She ignores your texts so you can prove your worth
A lot of of people want to have their texts responded to, but if she’s not responding, that just means she’s playing hard to get. Women want to be pursued. Hunted, in Darwinian terms. So be the lion and go capture your gazelle by texting so much that she realizes you are a great communicator who doesn’t need reciprocal behavior to feel validated. Be the alpha and text every hour. On the hour.
2. She always invites other guys out to join you on your date.
While you probably want a little one on one time, by her bringing another dude, she’s showing you off to the other men wanting her attention. By letting you buy her and her personal trainer or bar regular at the place she works at drinks all night, it’s showing off your wealth and security. I don’t care if she dances with him and then has you pay their Uber back to his place, it’s a jealousy trap and you my friend just saw her take the hook when they left together without you acting a fool.
3. She tells no one about you. Like no one. Ever.
If you have mutual friends and she’s never brought you up to them that you went to coffee together, that’s her way of keeping this passionate affair a romantic little secret. Anybody can be labeled a “boyfriend” — it’s takes a real man to go by the nickname “Who?”
4. She wears sweats when you hang out and never has makeup on.
Some girls are insecure - so they wear makeup and cute clothes and wash their hair to impress guys, but if she shows up to meet you while looking like she just took an afternoon nap, you’re in like Flynn! This means she doesn’t need to impress you and she wants you to see her in her “good morning” moment. If it seems like she didn’t brush her teeth either, expect her to be making this Facebook official soon
5. She blocks you on social media or swipes on Tinder right in front of you.
The internet is a pretty confusing monster. Trying to interact with people in person and through apps can be hard, so there’s a lot to know. If a girl blocks you on social media, it’s because obviously she doesn’t want to be distracted by you and your exciting life while she’s at work, so due to your sexual vibes, she’s felt it best to just deal with you in person.
The other thing to look for as a sign she wants to be your baby-mama is if she’s swiping on Tinder in front of you. If she shows you the 100 guys she’s matched with, it’s like bringing that extra guy on your date all over again. She wants you to know she’s a desired woman and that you’re lucky to be living in the same state as her.
As the pivotal ladies man myself, I know what I’m talking about.
I spent the last 8 days traveling. Over the past eight days I’ve driven to Tucson, AZ, flown to Orlando, FL, performed in 5 comedy shows, produced one, met up with my best friend and his wife, met up with an old friend and her husband, sang karaoke, danced at a night club with a total of 6 people, attended an eLearning conference, met the most important photographer in the world, made new friends in Orlando, and got food poisoning.
And I feel authentically blessed in every way.
Getting to perform comedy on the road (outside LA) is always a pleasure. Audiences are always more into the shows. This is date night. And girls night. And boys night. It isn’t “free ticket” night.
My favorite place right now is Laffs Comedy Cafe in Tucson, AZ. Not just because the owners are great. Not just because the Hooters is fantastic. Not just because my friend and his wife live there. But because the crowds really do appreciate great comedy. After the shows people take pictures, they talk to the comics, and they say “thank you.” Which oddly enough, a great compliment.
While sitting at the the bar during the middle act, one guy asked if he could just chat with me. He wanted to brag to his friends that he chilled with the comic. It was a great moment.
Also...promoting the show around town is fun. I’ll go to multiple venues and let people know where the best show in town is.
After my weekend I headed home with a stop in Claremont. At the Flappers in Claremont I produced a student showcase. Five students I’ve been working with tool to the stage after 6 weeks of working on material. Helping people craft their art is something I love. Helping them find their voice and share my experiences is the best way to give back. Watching them take the stage was a honor and a privilege.
The next morning I flew to Orlando. Let me say this. LAX is the proof of Satan’s existence.
Landing in Orlando was a bit overwhelming. I don’t fly often, so the process is new to me. But once I landed, I got my bags and headed to the Learning Guild Conference. Tuesday through Thursday was filled with amazing Key Note Speakers and new innovations in eLearning and microlearning.
One of the keynote speakers Platon of The New Yorker explained how to find humanity in art and images. It was a powerful speech. This man has photographed every major world leader and influencer for the past 30 years. He’s a modern genius. I took a picture with him. I made a joke I should just have him take a picture of me. That it be worth more as a “Platon Original.” He didn’t laugh. But the founder of the conference did. I took a pic and then turned it into B & W to make is fancy. I’m sure I failed at that too.
I also had the privledge to perform on a great show at Savoy in Orlando. Getting to travel for a work conference and perform across the country is such a cool perk of my life right now.
One of the highlights was meeting so many cool people in Orlando. I met teachers from all over. Business professionals. Instructional designers. And awesome bartenders.
While in Orlando I met a very funny, smart, pretty bartender who made my stay the first few nights that much easier. It’s amazing how nice people are once you start creating a conversation.
I also got got to meet up with old friends who live in the city. We ate great food, sang bad karaoke, and danced at a club with 3 girls from Rhode Island. For two reasons. They were cool and the only ones there.
Overall the trip was fantastic and filled with great memories and new people. The only thing I questioned was this sign.
Why the quotes?
Oh. And I made this observation about the men of Orlando. They all were so clean cut and still drinking.
I recently came across an article on how to know a guy is creepy. It was written by a girl. No offense, ladies, but you really aren’t very good at picking guys. The divorce rate proves this. Hey. You said yes!
So here are ten characteristics to look out for. Based on what ladies I know have picked, these guys are clearly the undatable creeps that’ll have you crying on the phone, calling the cops, and changing your numbers and moving out of state.
1. The Guy With A Job
Why date a guy with a job? They’re always busy with excuses and complain about “overtime.” Sounds like he’s cheating to me. Find you a guy financially dependent on you! At least you’ll know he’s at home all day and can’t woo another woman with pricy gifts.
2. The Guy With His Own Place
Can you trust a guy who lives alone? You know who also lives alone? SERIAL KILLERS! A guy with his own place can’t be trusted. At least with a guy who lives at home you know he’s still got a relationship with his parents. He’s the ultimate family man! Those guys who pay rent or mortgages (yuck!) will just be frustrated if you spill food on their floor. Stay At Home Son’s will let you lay around and not worry about making messes, because mommy or daddy will pick it up later. It’s like having a boyfriend with a maid and butler!
3. The Guy With No DUI’s
A guy with no DUI’s is a nerd who is bad in bed and has no friends. No DUI’s just means no fun. A guy with a few DUI’s is a risk taker. He risks his life and everyone else’s. Some pencil neck dweeb afraid of getting pulled over isn’t a man and he isn’t very fun either.
4. The Guy With No Face Piercings
A dude covered in piercings understands his face is a work of art for society to see. He doesn’t care about society or their “social norms.” A dude with a plain boring face will judge you and everyone else. But the guy who looks like Hellraiser is unique. Just go down to Venice or West Hollywood to see all the unique men out there. Plus, making out is more fun with your eyes constantly being poked and stabbed. It’s what I call 3-D loving.
5. The Guy With A Car
Think about this. A guy picks you up. In HIS car. You’re driving down the road then BOOM! He makes a sharp left and you’re now speeding across the border where he’s about to make you the third girl victim this week in his human trafficking operation. But a guy without a car can’t do that. He’s at your mercy. He’s gotta get Uber. He can’t go anywhere without your permission or Uber’s.
6. The Guy Under 6ft
If he’s under 6 feet tall, he’s probably a mass murderer. It’s creepy, right? Just be taller! Like those professional athletes he loves so much. Look ladies, if he can’t be 6 foot in the streets, he can’t be the man you need in the sheets. 5’6” Tom Cruise might have been a sex symbol in the 1990’s, but now that times are catching up, why settle for the human Hobbit. He probably lives in the ground too.
7. The Guy Who Texts/Calls Back
Ladies...imagine this scene. You’re at work. In the important meeting. And your phone beeps. It’s your man. The text reads “yes, I’ll pick up the dry cleaning.” You look at the message. The CEO asks what’s so important. You shrug it off. He gets mad and fires you! Now had you dated a guy who doesn’t respond, you’d still be employeed. Who needs a creeper with the free time to text or call you back. Not you, sweetie. Not you.
8. The Guy Who Isn’t Jealous
Jealously proves he loves you. If your boyfriend trusts you around other guys...or girls for that matter...obviously he’s creepy and probably cheating on you. So the next time your boyfriend says “Have fun with your co-workers at happy hour!” I hope you hook up with that guy in marketing so he’ll never take your love for granted again! Real men fight other men to show their Darwinian dominance.
9. The Guy With An Advanced Degree
A guy with a degree is creepy. A guy with an advanced degree...ewwwwww. What a loser. He’d probably rather read a book than get drunk and hit on your friends. He probably takes his job seriously since he worked hard to get it. Worse...he’s probably in debt from going to a good college. I bet he’ll correct your grammar too. Stay away from Nerdy McBooky.
10. The Guy Who Respects You And Your Wishes
What a wimp. A real man creates conflict and tension that later turns tears to beers to great make up dates. Why would you want a guy who loves you enough to know when to push and when to let you figure it out for yourself. That guy is a beta. You want an alpha.
A Final Note
This is a satirical piece of writing. Satire is dead in our society. It pains me to have to add this.
I wrote this because I see too many woman (and men) settling for losers. Real losers. Like dudes with nothing going for them. It’s not “potential” — it’s just called being a loser. I get it, he has a sweet side no one sees but you, but ask yourself this: If only you see something, doesn’t that make it like an imaginary thing?
I’ve been writing and producing skits for my work. I’ll be posting them as they come out. Here’s a preview of what to expect!
2017 was a year filled with a lot of really good films, but no classics. No Pulp Fiction, Fargo, or Up in the Air. Just a lot of “efficient” films. The dramas and comedies were okay, but the superhero and horror films carried the year. If there was a “movie of the year” — a film that came out of nowhere to be a film America adopted as her own, that film would be IT. The film played up on nostalgia and classic horror themes, while having few detractors. Compare that to the visceral hatred for The Last Jedi...and you get my point. So here is my annual top ten films plus some extra films that deserve to be recognized. For the record, I do have a Masters in film theory and taught a college film class...so I’m kind of a big deal.
This was the film that moved me more than any other film. Steve Carrell stars as a grieving ex marine who has to bury his son after he dies in the Iraq War. Bryan Cranston and Lawrence Fisbourne are outstanding in Richard Linklater’s anti-war film that actually proves you can be for the troops and against the war.
You can tell me Meryl Streep is the best actress of the last 30 years, but my vote goes to Frances McDormand. She plays such complex, strong women, and in this brilliant American gothic tale of loss and redemption, her and Sam Rockwell create two of the finest characters in cinema this year.
I know Dunkirk was the “cooler” film, but Joe Wright’s ode to Winston Churchill is so much more stirring and complex, that without this film, the other one would be more incomplete. Gary Oldman literally is Churchill. Down to the body mannerisms and voice. Like Jaime Foxx in Ray, just hand the man the Oscar and retire the category.
Greta Gerwig’s coming of age tale is more pure cinematic joy than we deserve from a film based in Sacramento. Saorise Ronan is fantastic as a female Catcher in the Rye-like hero. The writing is sharp. The acting top notch. The characters are real and lively. A true pleasure.
The most impressive debut film in a long time, this February gem is a horror film, thriller, drama, comedy, satire, sci-fy wrapped up in one. Jordan Peele proves he’s the next big thing with this dynamic film that is more perceptive on race than anything Spike Lee or other similar filmmakers have done in 20-30 years.
The art of performing is usually treated like a curse, but in this rousing musical, Hugh Jackmsn’s PT Barnum is a joyful man bringing joy to others. Like Saving Mr. Banks, it plays and fudges history, but who cares. It’s the spirit of art that celebrated, and beautifully so.
Margot Robbie is a talent to be reckoned with. Her Tanya Harding is the breakthrough performance of the decade. To watch arguably the most beautiful actress today play the underbelly of redneck glory is a treat in every way. Like the flip side of Charlize Theron’s Monster, this comic masterpiece is one part Coen Brothers plus one part Fake News satire.
The little film that could. This based on a true story comedy is such a charming piece of gold. With standout performances all around, one can only hope the Oscars will take note and award the film a screenplay and supporting actress nod to Holly Hunter.
Edgar Wright’s pulp comic soundtrack reliant bandit thriller was the joy ride of the summer. Everyone had a ball making this film, and one can hope Kevin Spacey’s sins will not wipe this gem from our film conscious.
This was the film Doug Lyman was born to make, and Tom Cruise hasn’t been this good in ages. A well made, Aaron Sorkin-esque screenplay with tons of cool insights and stock 80’s footage about the drug war in the Reagan era, it was a crowd pleaser — sadly not too many saw it.
The Other Films I Liked
The American Spirit Is Alive And Well Film
The Post - Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep take on Trump...I mean the first amendment.
Action, Sci-Fy, and Comic Books, Oh My!
This was by far the best year in action/sci-fy/comic book films. Below were all films you probably saw or will see, and all deserve to be seen by future generations to celebrate why we go to the movies...to be entertained!
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The Last Jedi
Kong: Skull Island
I Was Scared Poopless
Both these films were huge hits and deserved to be so. They were smart, character driven, and well directed. I’m looking forward to their sequels.
If I Picked The Oscar Winners
Best Picture: Last Flag Flying
Best Director: Jordan Peele “Get Out”
Best Actress: Francis McDormand “3 Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri”
Best Actor: Gary Oldman “Darkest Hour”
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Black “Jumanji”
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney “I, Tonya”
Best Original Screenplay: Lady Bird
Best Adapted Screenplay: Last Flag Flying
Worst Films of the Year
1. Downsizing - What a waste of talent.
2. Transformers 105? - Can this just end already?
3. Pirates of the Caribbean 257? - Johnny Depp is a sellout.
4. The Batman LEGO Movie - I walked out half way and didn’t look back.
5. mother! - It’s either a masterpiece or crap. Let me say this: this biblical allegory smells.
Life is too messy to be done alone. Even God looked at man and said “It is not good for man to be alone.” In that statement He saw that He had not created a fully sufficient Being who could even be fulfilled by a relationship with Him and paradise.
Man was made to love and be loved, and when we can’t correctly feed into or be fed by others, we look for ways to fill the gaps. We look to money, drink, drugs, sex, and other disconnectors from the one thing we need: community.
The old cliché “it takes a village” is a truth. It takes a village, and when the village isn’t able, instead of abandoning the villager, we should find ways to expand the village.
All of humanity wants to be full. All of us search for meaning. And when we can’t find it, or don’t like the meaning we find, we hide. When Adam ate of the fruit he was naked. So he hid. He hid from the solution, which was reconnecting to the God who created him, who could explain his newfound emptiness.
Now we as people yearn for the drink that does not quench, the food that does not fill, the lusts and pleasures that never satisfy. It is in the searching and attempt to reconnect to the source that created us and showed us where fulfillment could be found, that we stumble. We fall. And sometimes we don’t get up.
But that yearning to be fulfilled, to have our spirit overflowing with meaning, life, and joy cannot be filled by this broken world. There is nothing in this world that can make us whole. It is only in reconnecting with our Maker and understanding how He made us, and how we can and should be, can we ever begin to create a life of satisfaction and fulfilled meaning.
With the new #MeToo movement on sexual violence and harassment starting on social media, allow me to explain how this is an across the board issue.
I’ve never been harassed by a woman, but twice I’ve been the victim of sexual harassment. Once when I worked at the Costco gas station in 1999-2000. I was 18-19 years old and a male customer came to the gas station and would aggressively flirt with me. He would come to my work and tell me how much he thought about me and wanted to hang out with me. He would corner me when no one was at the gas station. One time I hid in the little hut and he banged on the door to see me. I went to management. They laughed. Eventually, it got too much. He was asking people about my shifts and coming in. Once he touched me on the arm. But since there were cameras he had to be careful.
I quit. I left a job because people didn’t believe me. And they laughed. I wasn’t sure how to tell others about it. My co-workers knew about it, but since I worked alone most shifts, they never saw it first hand. Eventually, after I quit, he tried to find out where I was working next. When the co-worker said he didn’t know, the man got verbally violent. I was told they took away his membership. But no one wanted to reach out to apologize.
When I was coaching, an obnoxious assistant that was hired with me, would make gay slurs at me. I’m not gay. But he was jealous of my success and decided to spread rumors that tarnished my reputation in the community. I had coaches in the Fresno areas calling me about this guy’s harassment of me.
Eventually, he was released from his coaching duties, but his remarks to me were hard. This wasn’t simple playing, this was a man trying to ruin my life by painting me as a potential predator, because his own homophobic ideas led him to believe if others thought I was gay, and if he called me names, others would ask for me to step down.
So I understand the fear and the frustration of having to show up to work everyday knowing there are people who use this power over others. Don’t victim shame. Don’t ask “why didn’t they speak out?”
Maybe they did and no one listened. Maybe they didn’t because they knew what happened to those who did.
Just know. I understand. #MeToo
In the mid 1980’s the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, made a debut film called Blood Simple (1984). The dark violent thriller brought them acclaim and the opportunity to make a big budget film. Instead of making another thriller they made the over the top kidnapping comedy Raising Arizona (1987), an exciting and dialogue heavy film staring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter.
In 1990 they made the quirky crime drama with a bunch of men wearing big hats called Miller’s Crossing. The film is good, but bland in comparison to the previous films.
After mix reviews, but okay box office they made a critical masterpiece, the very insider/existential old era movie comedy Barton Fink (1991). They were filmmakers to watch, but their voice was all over the place. Each of the three previously mentioned films are classics, but none were consistent in voice.
1994 was almost the death of them. Given $25 million dollars to make a film, they made the under appreciated cult classic The Hudsucker Proxy with Tim Robbins and Paul Newman in a screwball comedy about the hula hoop. Try selling that to the masses.
Then in 1996, in March, with nothing to lose, they took all of their previous creations and concocted a dark comedy crime thriller called Fargo.
The trailer was a bit of a mess, but the reviews were through the roof. Siskel and Ebert declared it the best picture of 1996 back in their March review.
The film, now 21 years later, holds up even better than when I first saw it in 1996 at 14 years old. In fact, the first time I saw it, I was confused, slightly taken aback by the violence and odd humor. Now at 35 years old, I understand the nuance and themes better, and a film that once was beautiful mystery is now a compelling parable.
The opening title card, a hoax by the way, sets up a feeling of excitement. True story crime capers are always interesting. And while this “true story” wasn’t one, it was the only way to establish the perfect logic of the characters. I’m convinced that if this story happened in real life 100 times, that based on the people involved, this would have been the actual outcome 100/100 times.
Fargo is a perfect film for this reason. Not one false step. Not one false character motive. Not one time do we look at the characters and second guess their motives. This film might be the best screenplay to study if you want to know how to write a clean narrative.
The characters understand their roles and who they are. Whether it’s the bumbling crooks, the sneaky car salesman, or the very pregnant police chief. All the actors understand their characters, which means all their actions are defensible.
All of the warmth of middle America is surrounded by cold white snow, and the blood of innocents is spilled upon that crystal clean surface. The landscape is a character in itself. The irony of small town folks being the victim of a greedy man salesman, who looks and is no different than any other man, adds to the Shakespearean theme and murderous plot.
What William H. Macy does is take the Willy Loman arc type and puts him in the middle of the crime. His plan is so simple. Have his wife kidnapped. Get his father in law to pay the ransom. Split it up with the criminals. Then pay off his debts and keep some for the unfairness of life.
But it goes all wrong. So many deaths. So many mishaps. And a very bright and kind police chief just one step behind until she’s all caught up.
And that’s where the film shows it’s powerful metaphorical writing. As Francis McDormand is surrounded by death, her pregnancy is a symbol of life. She inspires and is inspired. Her relationship with her less than successful stamp artist husband shows her vulnerability and sweetness. Their conversations and loyalty to each other are the juxtaposition to the other couples in the film. They’re just as confused and messed up, but they’d never commit crimes to solve problems.
The kindness they display at the end is a counter to the evil the William H. Macy subjects his wife too. The Coens have crafted a perfect script to characterize the wealthy as weak and middle class as strong. In the 1987 time frame, it feels like a slap to Reagan’s America. Or is it a homage? Either way, it’s a beautiful marriage.
And then there is the American mythology of Paul Bunyon standing tall like a ever watching god. The great American myth that hard work produces good results is completely deconstructed here, as William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegard probably did all the right things but still is a victim, therefore creating a bloodbath of new victims. And while Bunyan stands tall and powerful, he is just as impotent as the the characters.
Since 1996’s Fargo, Ethan and Joel Coen have made one monumental masterpiece after another.
The Big Lebowski
O Brother Where Art Thou?
The Man that Wasn’t There
No Country For Old Men
A Serious Man
Inside Llewyn Davis
But it took a little crime film in 1996 to develope the voice that would create the towering canon of work beloved today.
Paul Douglas Moomjean Blog's About What's on His Mind
Blogging allows for me to rant when there is no stage in the moment to talk about what's important and/or funny to me.