Friday, January 13, 2006

Guiltless Review: Raising Arizona

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.

Laughs: 9
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.

Investment: 9
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.

Bizareness: 11
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").

Immersion: 10
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.

Twists: 7
The plot is not unconventional, but the pacing really helps how much the twists drew me into this one.

Awe: 3
Some of the surreal dream sequences, paired with the unique music create some sense of awe.

Dread: 5
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.

Final Word:
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 . . .

Format changes

I'm still fiddling with changes to the guiltless format. What I've decided is not all categories are relevant to all movies. In addition, while watching a few things recently (mostly the entire run of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', I'm up to season 5 and it rocks!) I've thought of a few additional reasons I may like something. They are as follows:

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

Guiltless Review: War of the Worlds (2005)

Run away!


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 . . .

Laughs: 0

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 . . .

Investment: 2

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.

Bizareness: 4

The weird red growth the aliens leave on the ground is icky cool.

Dread: 6

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.

Twists: 6

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.

Awe/Spectacle: 8

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.

Thrills: 4

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.

Final Word:

Watchable but not truly memorable except for the scenes featuring the Tri-pods.

Guiltless Review: The Family Stone

Oh my god! We ruined Christmas!
So I saw a movie during the Christmas break. With the family. With King Kong being deemed to intense for the 10 year old present and Narnia being deemed to childish for the adults who weren't me, we at last settled on 'The Family Stone.' Actually "we" didn't settle on anything, the decision was made and tickets purchased behind my back (and yes, the wife will pay for this). The review has something of a spoiler, but if you want my honest opinion, it'll have more laughs than the actual movie.
New England family that the writers really wished were funny, quirky, or remotely interesting have a reunion for Christmas, hilarity ensues (oh, if only . . . .).
Laughs: 2
I laughed exactly twice, both during slapstick jokes that were not particularly well done. This movie is advertised as a comedy, draw your own conclusions.
Tears and Lumps: 0
As some of you may know, I've had my share of family tragedy this year. You'd think that a movie that tries its hardest to illicit tears through depicting a family tragedy would effect me more than this does. What I felt worse about was the sinking feeling that we could've been seeing King Kong.
Investment: -5
Heres where the movie falls apart. Being that this is an ensemble piece with few laughs and virtually no plot, it is absolutely essential that the characters be appealing. Yes they are pleasant enough, just not very memorable or entertaining. I'm not a huge fan of Diane Keaton, but I can understand her appeal. She's fine here, but there's just not much to her character. Dermot Mulroney has got to be the blandest leading man in the history of film, the fact that the movie follows his story closely is a huge minus. Sarah Jessica Parker is ok playing the jittery neurotic girlfriend. Nothing terribly wrong with the rest of the performances, its just that the characters and circumstances are so uncompelling that I did not get invested at all.
Twists: -10
Compounding the fact that the characters had me bored was the complete lack of anything interesting for them to do. From the moment Claire Danes' character was introduced, I knew exactly where this movie was headed. There were no twists worth anything for anyone who's seen at least 10 movies in their lifetime. Did I mention there's a tragedy? Just what I love seeing on Christmas.
Bizareness: 3
Here's where the movie scores highest, all due to one shot of topless Diane Keaton post-mastectomy (i.e. theres a scar there instead of boobie). Yes, it was repulsive and made me cringe, but it was also easily the biggest reaction the movie got from me.
Final Word:
The other guiltless categories don't really apply here. The least appealing film I've seen in quite some time. Only if you enjoy mind-numbing predictability with your feel-good Christmas tragedy.

Embracing normality

Holidays are over and I'm embracing that some or any semblance of normality will shortly return to my life. As part of my new definition of "normal" I'd like to post here more often, at least twice a week. Hope to hear from you all soon.