Thursday, April 27, 2017

Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Episode 2



If the first two seasons of Fargo are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coen Brothers' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Episode 2: "The Principle of Restricted Choice" (4/26/17)
  • A lot of Big Lebowski DNA in this episode:
    • Eden Valley's number-two cop shares a name, and a general befuddlement, with The Dude's bowling pal Donnie. I pray Hawley named him that just to set up a "shut the fuck up, Donnie" down the road.
    • In his overly-loquacious greeting to the parking lot attendant, VM Varga says "guten tag, if German's your thing." Since brevity is clearly not Varga's thing, I guess he'd call The Dude "El Duderino."
    • Things "micturated" upon: The Dude's rug, Ray's boots.
    • Nikki Swango seems to have the same gifts for strategy, tactics, and jumping to an over-reactionary conclusion, that Walter Sobchak does.
      • That said, Walter tends to underestimate his opponents ("these fucking amateurs!"), and Nikki to overestimate hers ("oh, he's good!").
      • Her... gambit... with the tampon... reminds me of Jackie Treehorn's thug Wu peeing on The Dude's rug in the first place. Same sort of instinct.
    • The conversation in the funeral home recalls The Dude and Walter's encounter with the mortician after Donnie's death. Hawley doesn't put too fine a point on it, though: the urn is a "vessel," instead of a "receptacle."
    • Sy Feltz taking out his anger on Ray's red Corvette echoes Walter's crowbar beating of little Larry Sellers' red Corvette.
      • Red Corvettes! Another connection!
      • And Sy's anger ends up damaging a bystander's car, as the Corvette wasn't really Larry's but his neighbor's.
  • And several connections to Fargo (the movie):
    • More overhead parking shots this week.
    • Stan Grossman! Jerry Lundegaard's father-in-law's lieutenant (his Sy Feltz) Stan Grossman is still apparently bouncing around the commercial real estate game in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area 23 years after the events of the movie.
    • The gas station clerk watching the Gophers is, I suppose, only as much of a connection as any other marks of Minnesota life. But it's there.
    • Ray's boss Scottie shares a name with Jerry and Jean Lundegaard's kid. Head canon: the nerdy accordion-and-hockey-playing kid turned into this douchey parole officer.
  • Gloria's interview of the gas station clerk comes from a line of awkward convenience store proprietor encounters, stretching back to Raising Arizona and including the station owner's near miss with Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
Not Coen connections, but some stray observations:
  • Random signs that we are in Alberta, and not central Minnesota:
    • The UFA (United Farmers of Alberta) gas station.
    • The google.ca URL when Irv Blumkin ill-advisedly tries to lookup VM Varga online.
    • Wherever the Oak Bridge lot (ground lot, under the highway) is supposedly located (St. Cloud?), it seems to have an elevated commuter train nearby.
  •  Miscellaneous thoughts:
    • There appears to be one of Emmit Stussy's parking ramps right out the window of Ray's boss Scotty's office. Can't be fun for Ray.
    • Goran Bogdan (pictured above, on the left), who plays the violent Cossack Yuri Gurka (which is the same name as the missing East German murder suspect in the season's opening scene -- can't be the same kid, right? He'd be too old in 2010, right?), is listed in the credits as a series regular, like Ewan McGregor and Carrie Coon, as opposed to a guest star, like Michael Stuhlbarg. Seems to suggest he'll be a major presence this season. Maybe he's the unstoppable force of evil this year.
To be continued...

Erstwhile:
Season 3 Intro and Episode 1
Season 2

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Introduction, Episode 1


Season Three of FX's expansive adaptation of the Coen Brothers' 1995 film Fargo premiered this week. If the first two seasons are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coens' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Before we get into the episodes, here's what we knew about the season's Coen bona fides before the first episode even aired:
  • The whole series, of course, borrows the title, Minnesota/Dakotas setting, genre (an inciting event blows up into desperate, bloody fiasco, while competent cops chase down the perpetrators), and tone of the namesake movie.
  • Like that film, all three seasons claim (facetiously) to be based on true stories, and include the same opening disclaimer regarding names having been changed but details preserved.
  • Via Season One, the series has a plot element that suggests a shared narrative universe: Carl Showalter's (Steve Buscemi) ice scraper and suitcase of buried ransom money.
  • Composer Jeff Russo's score frequently (but not always!) works in the mood and style of Carter Burwell's score to the film. There's a recurring motif used as a main theme to the series, that follows the chord progression of "Fargo, North Dakota," the theme piece from the film. That theme was directly quoted once each in the final episodes of the first two seasons, and I would be shocked if it didn't return this year as well.
  • Casting announcements tell us that at least three Coen veteran actors will appear in the season: Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed (Larry Gopnik and Sy Ableman in "A Serious Man") play Sy Feltz and Howard Zimmerman, respectively, and David Thewlis (video artist Knox Harrington in "The Big Lebowski") plays V. M. Varga.
Episode 1: "The Law of Vacant Places" (4/19/17)
  • We start with a prologue in a foreign place, language, and time, in this case 1988 East Berlin. Hawley has said that he likes the idea of beginning with a distinct scene that, while disconnected from the main story, explores the same themes. He cites the opening story of the dybbuk impersonating Reb Groshkover in A Serious Man.
  • Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" (Side note: Oliver Platt in Season 1 was the Grocery King of Minnesota, Nick Offerman in Season 2 was the Breakfast King of Loyola, and now we've got the Parking Lot King, and a reference to the Storage Queen. I like to think that there's a statewide department keeping track of these titles). In Fargo, Jerry Lundegaard wants his father-in-law to invest in a parcel of land on which he intends to build a parking lot.
  • Speaking of that movie and topic, we get a straight-down shot of Ray Stussy (McGregor) parking his car, reminiscent of several shots of Jerry.
  • Red Owl grocery store in Eden Valley, a reference to the Red Owl in the Parable of the Goy's Teeth in A Serious Man. There was a Red Owl in my neighborhood when I was little. Wasn't a terribly impressive grocery store, but I have always loved the logo. Supervalu bought the brand and converted the remaining stores in the late 1980s.
  • Maurice pulls a Jeffrey Lebowski in trying to throw a joint through a closed car window, with opposite results vis-a-vis the finding of pieces of paper.
  • Maurice also pulls a The Big Lebowski case of mistaken identity in robbing the wrong E. Stussy in a town with Eden in its name, with far more deadly results. Too bad: Gloria's stepfather really tied the room together.
  • Minor or tenuous connections: 
    • "Vouch" -  Shep Proudfoot for Carl and Gaear in Fargo, not Buck Olander for the Narwhal organization in Fargo S3.
    • The valuable 2 cent stamp recalls the three cent duck stamp for which Marge's husband Norm won the design contest.
    • "Bona fide" - Not Narwhal organization in Fargo S3, nor Ulysses Everet McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou
    • The bridge team bowling shirts of course put me in mind of The Dude's bowling league in Lebowski
  •  References to previous seasons of the show Fargo:
    • Somebody help me out: I swear there was a Fjord's restaurant elsewhere in the series. Maybe the place in St. Paul where Molly meets her old friend in S1?
    • The afore-mentioned stamp also features the image of Sisyphus rolling his rock up a hill. The myth of Sisyphus (and Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus) both figured prominently in Season 2.
    • The page Maurice tore from the Yellow Pages has an ad for Dazzle Beauty, the salon where Peggy and Constance worked in S2.
  • I love this paragraph from Sean T. Collins about how the Coen elements function in this show:
  • "I still find it absolutely enthralling how Hawley has used the original Fargo as a pivot point for a whole “Songs in the Key of Coen” performance. Take the LeFey character, seemingly a one-and-done affair. In this one person Hawley has managed to create a sort of The Big Lewbowski golem who combines everything going on in that movie in a single role. LeFey is a long-haired stoner fuck-up with a cool t-shirt and a worrying tendency to drop a lit J in his lap while driving. He’s also a two-bit criminal who breaks into the wrong house and roughs up the wrong guy in a case of mistaken identity in order to kick off the action. His storyline involves a confrontation with a nude man in a bathtub, a glamorous woman standing before him in the buff, and a page torn from a notepad with an obscene illustration on it. None of this feels like cheap heat from fanservice, mind you. It’s just a deft demonstration of Hawley’s understanding of the Coens’ source material, and his ability to recombine its constituent elements in new forms like Legos."

To be continued...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Annotated Beukemix, 2016

Liner notes!

1. Magnets - Disclosure ft. Lorde
Lorde's voice pairs well with the big, striding beat here.

2. One Time - Marian Hill
I like the idea of a vocal jazz group with an electronic mien. The Jeremy Lloyd's manipulation of Samantha Gongol's voice fills the role that a sung improvisation might take in a traditional jazz song.

3. All The Young Dudes - David Bowie
I struggled with what to put on here to represent Bowie. Something from "Blackstar" seemed the logical choice. But the early-70s Bowie is my favorite, and though for a while I had his cover of Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play" in this slot, I've gone with "All the Young Dudes," maybe his most famous song that was originally recorded by someone else (give or take having co-written "Lust for Life"). Bowie famously gave the song, originally intended for "Ziggy Stardust," to the band Mott the Hoople to help prevent their breakup. The song became something of a gay pride anthem, despite being part of the apocalyptic story line of "Ziggy." I was delighted this year to have found a fully-produced version of the demo Bowie gave MtH.

4. Lake Song - The Decemberists
I hate that I love this song. It's so twee and precious and pretentious and is even kind of about being twee and precious and pretentious and I just love it and want to take a nap in my college dorm room with the window open on a spring afternoon while it plays. Stupid Decemberists.

5. I'll Be Haunting You - They Might Be Giants
TMBG mined their yearlong 2015 Dial-a-Song project for three albums worth of content, and though that year's "Glean" represented the best of those, their 2016 release "Phone Power" had a few gems, including this one and their cover of Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills." Incidentally, I'm just watching the "Haunting You" video for the first time, and I love it.

6. Tempest - Lucius
My song of the year, hands down. I love how Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig shift back and forth between a tight unison and harmonies. I love the gently driving beat. I love the lyrics, about a couple with one partner wanting to work on their issues and one (the male vocal in the bridge) insisting they bury their problems.

7. Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
I wonder sometimes what kind of indie rock stuff I missed after Rev 105 disappeared from Twin Cities airwaves. This seems to be the answer. I'd have taken this over Eve 6 any day of the week in 1998.

8. I Am Chemistry - Yeasayer
Took notice of this song when it made its left turn into the apparent children's chorus at the end. I made the mistake of reading up on the lyrics late one night after watching a Frontline documentary about ISIS, when I was already in a really dark head space. The whole song is about poisons, including incredibly specific references to particular toxins, both natural and man-made, in some cases using full chemical formula. I found this both fascinating and incredibly disturbing, and though this song was on the bubble for inclusion, I spent so much time thinking about it, it felt dishonest to leave it off.

9. untitled 06 | 06.30.2014. - Kendrick Lamar ft. CeeLo Green
Smooth as hell.

10. Sometimes It Snows In April - Prince
Prince's passing was the kick in the pants I needed to finally move beyond just knowing his hits + Purple Rain and dig into the albums. This song got a lot of play in the wake of his death, both locally on The Current (which was amazing to listen to last spring), and nationally, as when D'Angelo covered it on The Tonight Show a week later. It's a sad and beautiful song about the death of a friend, with a B flat suspended 2nd chord (I had to look this up) in the chorus that feels like a stab of grief in the middle of a search for acceptance and closure.

11. Alone Again Or - Love
Shortly after Prince died, The Current ran their 893 Essential Albums list, as voted by listeners. I'd be interested to know how the list would change had the voting come after he died -- I suspect it would have shaken things up a bit. Anyhow, it was a fun week of radio to listen to, and hipped me to this song from the mid-60s I couldn't remember having ever heard (turns out I had, years ago; it's used to great effect in Wes Anderson's debut film Bottle Rocket), and it's gorgeous. The trumpet solo is on the list of bits I'll sit down and puzzle out on my horn when I'm old.

12. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
I'd long resisted Fleetwood Mac as Dumb Music for White Boomers: music for Al and Tipper to make out on stage to. I liked Gold Dust Woman and Tusk, the latter because of its use in The Americans' pilot, but that was about it. Rumours ended up near the top of that 893 albums list, and I finally watched Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary, which I recommend to all, and which talks about the Nicks-and-Buckinghamification of the band and the recording of their self-titled album. So, I finally gave that disc and Rumours a shot, and, dammit, I loved about 2/3 of both. The bass in this one is especially great.
Update: I forgot that The Americans had also used The Chain. (Warning: some violence in that clip)

13. Burn the Witch - Radiohead
I've run hot and cold on new Radiohead for a while now, but really like this one, in large part because of Jonny Greenwood's orchestral arrangement. The percussive orchestral thrum throughout is a string section playing "col legno battuto," literally "striking with wood," meaning they play with the wooden backs of their bows, rather than the bow strings. The technique tends to produce a more brittle sound, and is typically used to create a feeling of harshness or tension. It was used most famously near the finale of the "Witches' Sabbath" movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (at 9:16 in that clip), but I've just today learned is also indicated at the opening of "Mars, The Bringer of War," from Holst's The Planets. Not quite sure how I made it 20 years with that as one of my favorite pieces of music without knowing that.

14. I Decide - The Julie Ruin
It's always good to hear from Kathleen Hanna. The lyrics aren't explicit about any issues, but are an important statement of independence: I might be in a bad situation, but it's my choice, not yours.

15. Changes - Charles Bradley
Learned after I'd picked this song that it's a Black Sabbath cover. Huh. Go figure.

16. Step Into My Office, Baby - Belle and Sebastian
The guitar line as the song winds back up after the bridge reminds me a bit of The Beatles' "For You Blue," from Let It Be.

17. These Words - The Lemon Twigs
More songs need to have a xylophone-and-guitar-led freakout jam in them. If Zappa had lived longer, more songs would. I was not surprised when I found out the D'Addario brothers of The Lemon Twigs are a couple of NY theater kids.

18. Smile More - Deap Valley
This song sounds like a lost track from the early/mid 90s.

19. Ball of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today) - The Temptations
Heard this on The Current the morning of the election. Swiftly became more appropriate.

January 2017: The ACA Repeal Misinformation

All month I've seen alarming posts bouncing around between fellow liberals/progressives/leftists about the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This often takes the form of copied-and-pasted posts divorced of any context like the date or particular congressional action.

Here's the short version: in early January 2017, the US Senate held a procedural vote to open debate on a bill that would repeal the ACA. A couple days later, they held a procedural vote to allow any further action to be passed using budget reconciliation, which limits what the bill can contain, but shields the bill from filibuster. Both of these passed. The latter vote ALSO included a bunch of votes on amendments (really, amendments to the guidance given to Mike Enzi, Republican Chair of the Senate Budget Committee) about specific, popular provisions in the ACA, like pre-existing conditions, children's health care, cost controls, etc, offered by Democrats. They offered these, knowing they would fail, in part to slow the process, and in part to create embarrassing votes they can reference in elections. So that list of things the GOP voted against is technically true, but also misleading.

Neither of those votes repeals the ACA, but both were shared by left-of-center facebookers as if they had. The dangers I see include:

  • Creating panic and despair among those who depend on their ACA-dependent health insurance. Your insurance isn't gone. It's not even (yet) scheduled to go away. Even if it is, it won't go away until the end of your plan year.
  • Creating defeatism among those who might be inclined to take action against the GOP repeal if they didn't think it was already done. There are things we need to do NOW, which don't include contacting Paul Ryan (unless he's your Representative). 
  • Sharing via context-free copy & paste is a terrible way to get information about the world, and is part of why your great-uncle thought Obama was coming for his guns and that John Podesta eats toddlers. 

Here are three things I researched and posted at the time. I've collected them here because I've seen the memes enough times RECENTLY that putting them in one place stands to save me a lot of time. So, here we go:

ONE.
January 12
I compiled some useful information about what happened last night, and what to do now if you want to support the Affordable Care Act remaining as law.
Forget protest retweets and facebook shares, and ignore the useless online petitions (change.gov is done, y'all). Get on the phone.
Special entreaty to friends in Alaska, Tennessee, Louisiana, Maine, Arkansas, and a myriad of other, redder states and districts: WE NEED YOU! Please call your Representative or Senator's *district or state office.*
Please feel free to share this.
A LINK TO THIS STORIFY: THE ACA HAS NOT YET BEEN REPEALED.

TWO.
January 12
IMPORTANT FOLLOW UP!
Please read this Tweet storm from a Congressional staffer about last night's ACA vote and the reactions today. Very critical of claims that the law was repealed, and included an explanation I didn't previously know about the Amendments offered by Dems and, to a one, voted down. 
A LINK TO THIS TWEET STORM: Celeste P.

THREE.
January 12

Vann Newkirk has been indispensable on the ACA stuff. Here he is on the limits and pressures (both procedural and poliitcal) on what the Republicans can and cannot do via reconciliation.
A LINK TO THIS ATLANTIC STORY: "The Limits of Using Reconciliation to Repeal Obamacare"