Friday, January 13, 2006
I saw Raising Arizona - AGAIN, with some friends last week. I remember one month in the late 80's this movie was on HBO like every night. I joked that it was on about 25 times and I watched about 24 of those showings (not too far from the truth).
Reformed convict H.I. McDonough (Nicolas Cage) and his police officer wife Ed (Holly Hunter) steal a baby boy from a recently born litter of quintuplets because they can't have any of their own. A bounty is set on the baby's return by his father Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). This sets off a series of zany conversations and bizarre chase scenes. Of course the plot is completely secondary to the great music, over-the-top performances, and quotable dialogue.
I liked 'The Big Lebowski' and loved 'O Brother Where art Thou' but this is easily the Coen brothers' funniest movie. It is the rarest of comedy feats, a movie that stays funny after repeated viewings. There are scenes that become funnier the more you think about them. Like when escaped convicts Gail (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) are shown listening to what sounds like a children's record in a drunken stupor admist about 30 empty beer cans. Sometimes its a running gag, like the opening montage where Hi repeatedly is caught for attempting to rob the same convenience store. I can't explain why its funny, it just is.
This is where the Coen brothers' other films have run into problems for me. Sometimes their characters are just so stylized that they seem completely alien and its hard to be invested in them ('The Ladykillers' and 'Intolerable Cruelty' come to mind here). The characters in 'Raising Arizona' however, happily avoid this fate. These are not realistic performances, mind you, Hi, Ed, and the rest of the cast are often treated as cartoon characters. The opening montage, for example, is pure Wile E. Coyote. Yet somehow, I really empathized w Hi & Ed, a testament to a pair of brilliant performances.
Off the charts. Randall 'Tex' Cobbs plays bounty hunter Leonard Smalls, who is just about the meanest, grimiest biker ever put on film. Leonard blows up small animals off the side of the road as a matter of course.
There's a chase scene involving heavily armed store clerks, cops, dogs, and bag of diapers that needs to be seen to be believed.
The music by Carter Burwell mixes bluegrass banjoes with gothic organs and is absolutley haunting (it will stay in your head for days, and in my case, years).
Even the extras speak in a quotable, hyper-stylized manner ("Which is it young feller, you want I should freeze? Or you want I should get down on the ground? If I freeze I can't very well drop, and if I drop, I'm a gonna be in motion").
Like most Coen brothers' films, Raising Arizona exists in a hyper-real alternate universe where everyone speaks snappy dialogue. However, none, of their movies (with the exception of 'O Brother') is as immersive as this.
A lot of this has to do with the pacing, the film is lilsted at 94 min long, but it feels more like 30. There are no wasted scenes. The dialogue itself is extremely efficient, much is accomplished with each scene. In addition, The characters all speak with thick accents, there is a real sense of locale that is transporting. I have a real hard time getting up during this movie.
The plot is not unconventional, but the pacing really helps how much the twists drew me into this one.
Some of the surreal dream sequences, paired with the unique music create some sense of awe.
Randall 'Tex' Cobb is one scary mofo in this movie, while his character has something of a silly side, I was surprised how much I dreaded him by the end.
A classic, one of the only movies I can think of that is both surreally (is that a word?) immersive and laugh-out loud funny. Now I'm wondering why this still isn't in my DVD collection? Must rectify that soon . . .
Resonance is the degree to which something you've seen or heard sticks with you after its over. This may happen for any number of reasons such as a thoughtful quote or a disturbing image. The way I see it, if a movie or show causes resonance it's definitely worth something.
I've kind of taken part of the old 'spectacle' category and merged it into 'awe.' What I really wanted to get out 'spectacle' is now defined as immersion. Immersion is the sensation of being in the middle the events depicted on screen. This is done by pacing, music, realistic performances, and other things. A movie is immersive if you forget where you are for extended periods of time and reality is instead replaced by the on-screen experience.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Shiny new adaptation of War of the Worlds. Aliens invade and overpower our puny intellects with their superior firepower. Explosions and disentegrations ensue, lots of people running away . . .
Nothing funny going on here. That's kind of the point I suppose, but with an action fantasy such as this, having no laughs really hurts how much I care about the characters. Which leads us to . . .
I don't get Tom Cruise. I mean I get why everyone thinks he's a loon nowadays, I just don't get why people found him so appealing in the first place. The thing is he's actually a good actor. His performance here isn't bad at all. It's just that the movie asks us to follow his adventure throughout the entire running time and the guy he's playing is kind of a jerk. Cruise as always does a good job of playing a jerk, but as a lead character he's a hard guy to get invested in. Speaking of which, I think Cruise would be much more interesting playing a flat-out bastard rather than these arrogant-but-heroic leads he usually gets. I'll even go as far to say that my favorite 2 Tom Cruise characters are when he played flat-out bastards in 'Interview with the Vampire' and 'Magnolia.'
Tears & Lumps: 0
One scene that was supposed to be dramatic featuring the parting of the ways between 2 main characters feels limp precisely because there was no investment from me.
The weird red growth the aliens leave on the ground is icky cool.
This score should really be higher and would've been had I found the characters more appealing and thus the danger more dread-inspiring. The alien tripods are pretty scary. Love the otherworldly foghorn sounds they make when they're about to let loose.
Not much plot other than aliens appear and our main characters run away from them for 90 minutes. The end twist (which anyone who's read the book, heard the radio drama, or seen the 1953 film version will know)however, is a classic, and gets 6 points practically all by itself.
The effects are top-notch. The tri-pods unlike many other effects depicting mechanical contraptions, look like they exist in the real world. I love how they are almost always seen in the distance with no artificial backlighting used to illuminate their every detail. For the most part we see them as the characters see them, they're huge and menacing, and it would be foolish to get close to them.
While the appearance of the tri-pods was indeed very effective, the action in the movie falls a bit short. Some of this has to do with the lack of investment in the characters. The encounters in this movie produced some awe, but were not particularly thrilling for me.
Watchable but not truly memorable except for the scenes featuring the Tri-pods.