John Carroll Lynch

Fargo (1996, Joel Coen)

Much–probably most–of Fargo is exceptional. The Coens take over half an hour to bring their protagonist into the movie. They spend that first half hour with the villains, even having time to make said villains simultaneously lovable and even more dangerous. William H. Macy isn’t just some loser who schemes to rip off his father-in-law, he’s a dangerous sociopath. It’s amazing what the Coens can fit behind those goofy accents and the folky talk.

And those levels of Fargo are what make it so fantastic. Frances McDormand isn’t playing a silly sheriff, she’s playing this incredible investigator who just happens to sound like she lives in a waffle commercial. All of the police work in the film is thoroughly executed; the cops aren’t of the Keystone variety.

But the Coens don’t engage with this situation. They don’t force the viewer. They don’t even acknowledge it. They’re playing it straight.

Until the end. McDormand stumbles across the bad guys by accident. Even worse, there was a plot point earlier to set up an actual investigatory discovery of the bad guys and the Coens skip it. Very disappointing.

Otherwise, the film is fantastic. Great photography from Roger Deakins, wonderful score from Carter Burwell. Fargo speeds along too. There’s never a slow moment.

The supporting cast–Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, John Carroll Lynch–is great. Buscemi has some exceptional rants throughout.

McDormand and Macy are both excellent. McDormand even manages to sell the questionable stuff at the end.



Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard), John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson) and Steve Park (Mike Yanagita).

Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)

When Bruce Springsteen did his 9/11 response record, The Rising, he was in an odd position–given the gravity of his intent, he couldn’t misstep. He might get excused for it, but then the record would be (albeit well-meaning) propaganda. It wouldn’t be art.

Clint Eastwood’s in a similar situation with Gran Torino. He’s dealing with capital I issues here, a whole slew of them ranging from post-war psychological trauma (the film’s very much a companion piece to his two Iwo Jima films), the Church, minority relations, generational divides, gender… that Eastwood’s character is a vocal bigot probably doesn’t even make the top ten. Eastwood can’t make any mistakes or the film won’t work. It’ll be Crash.

He doesn’t make any mistakes.

Gran Torino is a throwback to older Eastwood films in a lot of ways, to his films of the 1970s more than those of the 1990s. The film doesn’t have a particularly large cast and the action takes place mostly in two houses. It reminded me a lot of Nobody’s Fool in the way that film was the perfect old Paul Newman picture, this one is the perfect old Clint Eastwood one. Eastwood’s front and center for almost the entire film, I don’t remember the last time his acting was so central to one of his films. But it isn’t his monologues, because he only has a couple and they’re short and he doesn’t say much in them, it’s Eastwood acting opposite a dog. It’s one of the most transformative performances I’ve ever seen from an icon, someone who wasn’t adopting a different accent or hairstyle, growing a beard or putting on a bunch of weight. It’s Clint Eastwood, right there on the screen, but he personifies Walt Kowalski immediately.

Otherwise, the film wouldn’t work. It doesn’t work if it’s about Eastwood making a statement. In the end, Gran Torino doesn’t have a big moral. It’s pro-melting pot in an understated way, if that position qualifies as a moral. The film’s incredibly quiet, with Eastwood’s Panavision frame constantly showcasing the everyday. Some wonderful things happen in Gran Torino–the loudest atrocities aren’t even the worst–and Eastwood doesn’t draw attention to any of them.

The film’s interesting in terms of its debuts. It’s writer Nick Schenk’s first feature. Co-stars Bee Vang and Abney Her haven’t been in anything else. Watching Hey in particular is fascinating, because she works so well with Eastwood. During the silences in their scenes together, the mind can almost step back and admire his work directing her. These are half-thoughts though, with the film seizing one again immediately. Vang’s scenes with Eastwood are entirely different (which is another one of the big issues Gran Torino covers) and Vang’s character’s development through the film is noteworthy. But even Christopher Carley, in–I guess–the fourth biggest role, hasn’t been in very much, and his scenes–as Eastwood’s indefatigable priest–are great.

In smaller roles, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes and John Carroll Lynch are all good.

Tom Stern’s photography is excellent–the sound from Bud Asman and company is particularly fantastic–and James J. Murakami’s production design is great. The film’s technical perfection. Eastwood gives son Kyle Eastwood (and Michael Stevens) scoring duties here and their contributions might be another reason it feels so different from his modern work.

Fifteen or twenty minutes into the film, it reminded me of Interiors–a flawless, but dispassionately (on my part) inevitable masterpiece. It isn’t. Through its humor and its delicateness, Gran Torino exhilarates.

Back to Eastwood not being able to make a false step… I’m pretty sure Gran Torino is the first Eastwood film to end with an original song penned by Eastwood (with Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens). He’s done original pieces of music before himself (and scores himself), but a song is something else. And it’s perfect.



Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Nick Schenk, based on a story by Dave Johannson and Schenk; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Vang Lor), Ahney Her (Sue Lor), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Brian Haley (Mitch Kowalski), Geraldine Hughes (Karen Kowalski), Brian Howe (Steve Kowalski) and John Carroll Lynch (Barber Martin).

Mozart and the Whale (2005, Petter Næss)

I’ve only been looking forward to this damn movie for two years. It missed its theatrical release date, but there’s probably a DVD on the way (which would have been the source of my illicit copy). It’s perfectly understandable why the film missed the date… it lacks any relatable center. My fiancée just said she wants a movie that shows the real difficulties of autism–Mozart doesn’t, because you can’t center a movie around someone operating on such a different level. The result, for Mozart and the Whale, is that Josh Hartnett isn’t really that bad… neither’s Rahda Mitchell. Their problems aren’t autism problems, they’re romantic drama-lite problems….

Mozart and the Whale was going to be the comeback of Ron Bass, who got a lot of work from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when people finally got sick of him. He probably shouldn’t have staked it all on a Demi Moore vehicle (Passion of the Mind). It’s a shallow film, weighing in at ninety minutes. Many of these minutes are filled with music montages (not score, unfamiliar, but pleasant, songs). I spent the first half of it waiting for something to happen (hoping that Gary Cole was going to be Hartnett’s father and there’d be some more meat to the conflict)… but no. There’s no real conflict in Mozart, which would have been fine, it’s just that there was an attempt at it. A weighty attempt at it. Bass is famous for empty, dramatic endings and Mozart is no different.

It’s too bad, because Næss is an interesting director. Mozart doesn’t look like anything except itself, which is a lovely thing to be able to say about a newish director. He’s from Norway, so maybe that played a part… Oddly, for a film without a US theatrical release and a ninety minute running time, Mozart actually shot in the US. You can tell it throughout (I didn’t know where the location was–it’s Spokane) and the film has a nice feel.

The acting in the film is difficult to discuss–my fiancée gleefully pointed out I’d no longer be able to say Hartnett’s his generation’s finest actor, but he gives a great supporting performance in Mozart. If Mozart and the Whale had been about Billy Crudup banging his autistic brother’s girlfriend or something, Hartnett’s performance would have been extraordinary. It’s a character part in the lead… Mitchell (who I was really looking forward to seeing after Melinda and Melinda) ranges. The film misses her character’s best opportunity.

I wonder if there is a longer, better version of the film out there–there are a few moments, jumps in visual continuity, that certainly suggest it. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference.



Directed by Petter Næss; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Svein Krøvel; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Miklos Wright; music by Deborah Lurie; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by James Acheson, Bass, Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini and Robert Lawrence; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Donald Morton), Radha Mitchell (Isabelle Sorenson), Gary Cole (Wallace), Sheila Kelley (Janice), Erica Leerhsen (Bronwin), John Carroll Lynch (Gregory), Nate Mooney (Roger), Rusty Schwimmer (Gracie), Robert Wisdom (Blume), Allen Evangelista (Skeets), Kelly B. Eviston (Dr. Trask) and Jhon Goodwin (Rodney).

Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

I’m trying to remember why I queued Volcano. I’ve recently been on a “rediscovering the mid-to-late 1990s” kick, so that reason is possible, but I’m pretty sure it was because Anne Heche was in it and I wanted to go back to when she was going to have a great career. Heche is incredibly good and the lack of her presence in modern cinema is going on my (new, creating it right now in Excel or something) list of what’s wrong with modern film.

Volcano is from that wonderful era when CGI wasn’t as “good” as it is now, but still expensive enough to prohibit network TV from using it in excess (which is why the disaster genre is now all network mini-series). And Volcano has some terrible CGI, it has some terrible dialogue, it has some awful moments when people realize that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is the same….

It also has a great cast. Besides Heche, firstly, there’s Don Cheadle. This Cheadle is the pre-(semi)fame Cheadle who pops up in all Brett Ratner’s films. This Cheadle just acts and does it well, makes you like him too. It’s the wonderful 1990s Cheadle. I don’t know if he’s lost it with his notoriety, but he certainly picks a lot worse projects (his latest LA film, Crash, isn’t fit to scrub Volcano‘s toilet). Jacqueline Kim and Keith David make up the rest of the main supporting cast, playing a doctor and a cop, respectively (I think David was also a cop in Crash). David’s practically always good and Kim is–it’s just that she’s in almost no films. Gaby Hoffmann, who’s one of those child actors who shouldn’t have disappeared, shows up as Tommy Lee Jones’s kid and occasionally spouts off terrible dialogue.

Jones is fine (this film’s still from the era when Jones couldn’t be bad), but it’s one of those roles I kept wishing David Strathairn was playing. If you’ve never seen The River Wild, you wouldn’t understand, but Strathairn as an action hero is a wonderful thing.

(I keep forgetting about City of Hope, I really need a good widescreen City of Hope).

Volcano is nicely paced–it must run around one hundred minutes and there’s about forty of setup, then an hour of disaster. I’m not so much a sucker for disaster movies–the Irwin Allen variety, with the big casts, are all right I suppose–but I do like films with a limited storytelling span, especially if they are trying to “entertain” me. I was going to say that Mick Jackson is a fine enough director and should do TV, but he already does. It’s really sad when a movie like Volcano is more interesting than 99% of films coming out today.



Directed by Mick Jackson; written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, based on a story by Armstrong; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Michael Tronick and Don Brochu; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jackson Degovia; produced by Neal H. Mortiz and Andrew Z. Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Mike Roark), Anne Heche (Dr. Amy Barnes), Gaby Hoffman (Kelly Roark), Don Cheadle (Emmit Reese), Jacqueline Kim (Dr. Jaye Calder), Keith David (Police Lieutenant Ed Fox), John Corbett (Norman Calder), Michael Rispoli (Gator Harris) and John Carroll Lynch (Stan Olber).

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