Far North (1988) Poster


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Harsh Country
RARubin4 April 2006
Back in the late 60's I attended a college in Superior, Wisconsin. I was from Philadelphia, Pa and had never experienced the cold and long winters near the small city of Duluth, MN. I met hard drinking people there (there's nothing else to do), blond as Jessica Lange with Scandinavian or Polish accents, many of them. There were good people and bad. The men worked the port ships or the railroad yards. The blizzards were like nothing I have ever seen.

Charles Durning gets a fat man's star turn. Dunning has been thrown by his farm horse and wants the animal shot by his daughter, Jessica Lange. She protests, but agrees to shoot the animal. She's back from the Twin Cities where she works as a professional woman with one in the oven. The old man is in the hospital with wild delusions about the horse, his Alzheimer wife, and life on the farm and it's bitter cold. The drunken Uncle sidekick doesn't help either. Also, there's the younger daughter, unmarried with a teen daughter. The teen, blond as her sisters, is soon to get it on with as many young hockey players as possible.

This is Sam Sheppard's first directorial film with plenty of farce, which gets heavy handed, so the viewer never really gets a grip on the emotional lives of these crazy folks. Maybe that's it. Their lives by Lake Superior are so harsh, they cannot communicate a sensible thought. Nevertheless, Far North is a snapshot of an out of the way, beautiful place that will interest the curious.
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An accurate sense of place.
djaugh00372 March 2004
A true representation of Minnesota's Twin Ports area. The sense of place and the true character representations make this a delight. Somewhat quirky, but enjoyable. Even the rather strange weather patterns of the area come through. For those of us who are familiar with the area the truth of the production is impressive. For those who are not familiar with the area this film might help them come to an understanding and appreciation of the Far North.

Ms. Lange is dead on with her speech patterns, and her believable presentation of some of the women who live by Lake Superior.
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Cockeyed family portrait...some funny scenes, but pointless
moonspinner551 July 2010
Pregnant and unmarried city woman returns home to her family's Minnesota farm after her father has been thrown off his carriage by his dreaded-favorite horse; she reunites with her squabbling sister and niece, her dotty mother, her wily uncle (who plays the ponies), and her 99-year-old grandmother. Having recently worked on Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart" (with Jessica Lange and Tess Harper, who appear here as the sisters), it's almost impossible not to believe that writer Sam Shepherd wasn't inspired by Henley's eccentric, noodling style. "Far North" sounds theatrical, like a failed play--and it looks that way too, since first-time director Shepherd hasn't any idea how to stage this menagerie. There are, on the other hand, some stray funny moments between Lange, Harper, and Patricia Arquette, and some of the cinematography is striking. The other cast members haven't much to work with (all Charles Durning does is yell after an amusing early hospital-bed scene), while the narrative moseys along, occasionally trading quirks with tics. A peculiar, scrappy little picture that just doesn't work. *1/2 from ****
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Liked it a lot
lowsparker26 May 2004
Depending on what you like, you might need to be in the mood for this, as it isn't full of the fast-paced quick-cut bubble-gum junk that most of today's movies have. More to the point, I liked the mostly light-hearted with dark undertones screenplay, and thought the acting and soundtrack were quite good as well. It doesn't hurt if you've always liked Jessica Lange and Charles Durning. And while her role and acting here doesn't stand up next to her Cape Fear work, it does give Mr. Durning some stretching space. Sam Shepard's direction is more than adequate, and doesn't get in the way. I also liked the way this movie was edited to create tension where needed. It is well worth seeing. Oh yeah, the horse does a fine job too.
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Sensitive Americana
dotcomthis22 October 2003
Sam Shepard's style of bringing out a piece of real American pie is sensitively portayed in "Far North". Acting is excellent portraying a woman (Jessica Lange) who rejoins her rural family after a buckboard accident puts her Dad in the hospital vowing revenge on his horse.
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A great film which taps into the "Minnesota Lifestyle"!
jameskonigchr2 February 2000
"Far North" is a great film. Filmed in the fall of 87 in and around Duluth, MN, this movie gives a "glimpse" of Minnesota life for a (disfunctional) farm family of the north in the late 1980's. The scenery is magical and the music (played by the Red Clay Ramblers) certainly fits the scenes and story of the film. Starring Jessica Lange (She was born and raised near Duluth and now lives in Stillwater, MN), who does a great performance as ex-Minnesotan turned New Yorker, Katie (who easily taps back into her northern MN accent). Far North combines comedy, drama, scenery and emotion all in one. This is a great movie to watch if one wants to get a "taste" for some good ole Minnesota flavor!!
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I like this movie because of its unique setting and plot
rizdek24 May 2003
Far North has some interesting character sketches. I think Jessica Lange plays an excellent role, and interestingly enough, she is from the area where the movie was made. I enjoy Charles Durning in movies; he always puts on a good show, and he is the highlight of this movie. The plot is implausible, as are many of the scenes and situations, but that is what I find intriguing about it. It isn't a serious movie; if you want serious find something else. But if you want a unique and somewhat twisted plot in a new setting, see it. It is a movie I can just relax and watch and get some good laughs.
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A must for the Dysfunctional-family library
gboydit20 May 2002
If Charles Durning cracked you up in O Brother Where Art Thou, then check him out at his best.

Though a little slow-paced and too off-beat for some, I try to watch this one at least once a year. Rare opportunity to see Jessica Lange be really funny. Not that it's a pure, comedic role, but just playing off the insanity of her family-members, she can't help but be funny.

Tess Harper, a really young Patricia Arquette, the President from A Clear and Present Danger (Donald Moffat), and the MOM of the family, will all get a few laughs, but no one more than big Charles.
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A rare and beautiful picture of Minnesota, with a fine story behind it
ddanzl-22 October 2005
I saw this movie last night and I was enthralled by the fine acting and character personalities portrayed. The suspense of Jessica's promise to her dad to shoot the horse is great, and the way the movie opens, with the accident ... to me it started off with a bang and got better from there.

There was an abundance of beautiful camera shots of the North Woods of Minnesota, and of the high bridge, in Duluth, and of ships on Lake Superior. The animosity between Jessicas' dad and the uncle who was in the hospital with him is comical and tragic. Far North is a wonderful story with a background of beauty. A bottle of liquor plays an important role in the film, as does an old 'dobbin' like horse.
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A wretched, pointless waste of time and money.
rhombus10 May 2000
Within ten minutes of the beginning of this movie both my girlfriend and I realized it was going to be horrible, and were tempted to stop it right there. But, driven by the same impulse that leads motorists to rubberneck when passing car crashes, we couldn't help but watch the whole thing.

It's just awful. I can't really think of a good thing to say about this movie. Well, maybe I can think of one -- at least it doesn't drag. All 85 minutes are packed...with some of the most execrable filmmaking I've seen! The script is terrible, and the direction is weak by TV-movie standards (let alone those of a major motion picture). The whole thing feels forced and stagy, and there's hardly a line of believable dialogue to be found. The plot is a succession of threadbare improbabilities and contrivances, devoid of meaning or impact. The score and cinematography were both unmemorable, though the latter was OK.

As Maltin says, the cast is entirely wasted -- but they certainly don't go to great lengths to try to redeem the material; only Lange turns in a passable performance. Durning is lousy, as is the rest of the supporting cast. And Patricia Arquette is amazingly -- and I mean AMAZINGLY -- awful as Jilly; she seems to have decided that about 75 to 80 percent of her lines would be best served by breaking into an incredibly irritating shriek.

This is honestly one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Even the ending -- where many bad movies pick up a bit, in excitement if not in content -- is terrible! It's just as meaningless as the rest of the film, and offers neither a satisfying resolution nor a thought-provoking ambiguity, but just a dull thud which leaves the whole thing feeling like a meandering, pointless waste of time.

Bottom line: avoid at all costs.
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dysfunction without the fun
SnoopyStyle18 November 2017
Grumpy old Bertrum (Charles Durning) is in the hospital after an incident with his horse. His oldest daughter Kate (Jessica Lange) has returned home and he wants her to kill the horse for revenge. Kate is reluctant. Middle child Rita (Tess Harper) is stable. Youngest Jilly (Patricia Arquette) is a wild child. The mother (Ann Wedgeworth) is flighty and delusional. Uncle Dane (Donald Moffat) is also in the hospital and helps Bertrum run away.

Sam Shepard wrote and directed this movie. It's a bit of a mess. The dysfunctional family of crazy characters could be good building blocks for a compelling story. Shooting the horse is not the highest of stakes. There is a lot of complaining and fighting without going anywhere. The plot needs a destination. This has many great actors and they infuse their characters with life. It would be nice to have a good plot to put these character into.
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Why does this movie exist?
Wuchak4 March 2015
Released in 1988, "Far North" is a comedy/farce/drama about a farm family in Duluth, Minnesota. Their supposedly diabolical horse, Mel, throws the patriarch (the bloated Charles Durning) and so the daughter with a bun in the oven (Jessica Lange) comes home from the Big Apple to visit Dad in the hospital. The matriarch (Ann Wedgeworth) has Alzheimers while the other daughter (Tess Harper) has her hands full on the farm raising a fatherless daughter (Patricia Arquette) who's quite the rebel. Donald Moffat is also on hand on hand as the alcoholic, gambling uncle. The plot revolves around the father's angry request to shoot the horse and the others arguing over doing it or not doing it.

Sam Shepherd wrote and directed this film. Although he wrote several screenplays or teleplays before "Far North" this was the first of only two films that he's directed. I can see why he didn't direct more movies.

What's the point of "Far North"? All I can come up with is that it's basically about an eccentric family of Northern Minnesota where the women have gone wild and don't need men to survive, although they crave them. The only two men in the story are elderly and nigh psychotic.

The movie is akin to 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in tone albeit nowhere near as good. While the cast, locations, music and filmmaking are fine, nothing worked for me as far as the story and characters go. It's not compelling, it's not funny and I couldn't relate to the characters. It's pointless drivel and I find it hard to believe anyone would blow the time and money to create it. While most people agree that it's a bad film there are a minority who really like it. I guess they "got" it. I sure didn't.

The film runs 90 minutes and was shot in the Duluth area.

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Maybe you had to be there...
elkabong-219 June 2006
For folks like myself who have lived in the area for a while, this is an interesting little episode. For those who've never been here, it does give a pretty good feel for the ambiance of the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

In fact, I may actually know Charles Durning's character from my youth. The town I'm from is south of Ashland but had more than its share of characters... one of them built an early version of a go-cart with a 12HP, two-man chain saw motor and forgot to put brakes on it. He said it was scary going down the road, waiting to run out of gas but the looks on motorist's faces when he passed them made it worth the risk.

Thank you, Mr. Shepard for such an outstanding job of displaying what is humorous about us without insulting us.
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