A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 153 – Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona – July 31st, 2010

Tonight we decided to go with an old favorite that’s not an old favorite for our guest. She’d never seen it all the way through. Now me, I saw this for the first time when I was pretty young. Under 12, I’d say. I know I was young, because I was still spending Friday afternoons with my grandparents. This is important because that stopped when I hit middle school, and I distinctly remember trying to explain this movie to my grandfather. I was unsuccessful in my attempt.

Because really, this is a weird little movie. It is, as my friend pointed out near the end, a heist movie. But it’s a Coen brothers heist movie starring Nic Cage, and the loot is a baby, and the setting is rural Arizona, and the soundtrack is banjo and yodeling. That makes is pretty much a unique piece of filmmaking. I’ll say this about the soundtrack, even not having seen it in years, I still hummed it from memory when we decided on it for tonight.

As this is a Coen brothers movie, one can expect a certain amount of bizarre humor. It’s partially in the situation, which is that H.I. McDunnough, convenience store thief and repeat offender, and his wife, former police officer Edwina, kidnap a baby after finding out they can’t have one of their own. They settle on one of the Arizona Quints, as there are five of them! Who’ll notice! Of course then things get complicated, with a couple of H.I.’s old buddies from jail showing up and swiping the baby, and a bounty hunter tracking them all down to get the baby and extort money from the family for its safe return.

But it’s also in the performances and delivery. Nicolas Cage (and his hair) do an amazing job as H.I., with some deadpan deliveries of outrageous lines. Holly Hunter, as his wife, plays a character who is consumed by need for a baby to the point that she is willing to do something so very against her nature. Her desperation and determination are played both for sympathy and for laughs, which is a hard line to balance on but she manages. H.I.’s buddies, the Snotes brothers, are played by William Forsyth and Coen brothers regular John Goodman. Both of them play their roles to the hilt, hamming it up and screaming whenever needed. And Randall “Tex” Cobb as the bounty hunter is one of the foulest and most demonic characters I’ve ever seen. And that’s not mentioning the bit parts, like Frances McDormand as a friend of H.I. and Ed, and all the other cons in prison with H.I. Everyone in the movie is fantastic.

Then too, there are some great chase scenes, one famously involving a grocery store, a suburban home, a pack of dogs and a bag of Huggies. All to the same soundtrack, though it changes to Muzak in the grocery store. There are lots of great throwaway bits, like one con talking about crawdads, and the Snotes brothers holding up a bank and getting thrown by their own stupidity. It’s full of throwaway bits, which makes them not so throwaway. They become an integral part of the whole, making up a movie that never leaves you without something to be paying attention to. Hell, even the beginning, where we meet H.I. and Ed on opposite sides of the law, is essential to it all.

It’s a well-crafted movie, from the casting to the script to the directing and the cinematography. And even if I can’t precisely empathize with Ed, who really provides the impetus for the heist the movie centers around, I can find sympathy for her situation. That sympathy makes the movie not just a slapstick comedy full of screaming and exploding dye bombs and Nic Cage’s hair. It makes you care while you laugh. I wish I could have communicated that to my grandfather. He still probably wouldn’t have appreciated it, but I’d have felt better for trying. Because it really is a modern classic, and well worth watching all the way through.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Raising Arizona

July 31, 2010

Raising Arizona

Our visiting guest J had not seen Raising Arizona all the way through! Naturally we had to rectify this, so it is with a great deal of pleasure that we find ourselves watching this movie tonight. This movie represents a number of firsts for me. It was the first Coen brothers movie I saw. It was the first Nicolas Cage movie I saw. And in both cases it made a great impression on me.

Right from the start this movie grabs you with its quirky tone and unique style. Indeed the beginning is part of the pure genius of the movie. We have a couple movies in our collection that have beginnings of such power and inspiration that they stick with you – draw you into the movie so deeply that you hardly come up for air until the movie is over. The Royal Tennenbaums. Magnolia. Raising Arizona.

The film starts with a lengthy monologue and montage that introduces us to the lead character H.I. Mcdunnough. He’s constantly in and out of prison and eventually proposes the the nice lady police officer who processes him each time he is newly incarcerated. We get to see him jailed, processed, in therapy in prison, and being paroled. Several times. Then he tries to straighten up and live an honest life. He marries Ed (the woman from the prison) and gets a mind-numbingly awful menial job and they start to make a life for each other. Then Ed discovers that she’s barren and they cannot have any children, so their dream of having a family together is ruined. Until a local furniture salesman has quintuplets and H.I. and Ed strike upon the plan of stealing one of the babies to raise as their own. All of this is accompanied by an otherworldly combination of banjo, whistling and yodeling that is so iconic that whenever anybody speaks of this movie it instantly starts playing in my mind. And that’s just the first ten minutes.

As with most Coen brothers films the plot is not necessarily what you watch for. Sure it’s fun, and it moves quickly and allows for both some great humor and some great action, but what raises the film above most others is the unique style. It’s a combination of the humor, the pathos, the fantasy, and the huge bag of visual tricks that the Coens employ to tell the story.

Can you believe that this is only the second movie Joel and Ethan made? It boggles my mind. They work the medium with such finesse that it’s a wonder to behold. They have so many effective tricks. The wide-angle lens tracking shots that glide over the blue carpet in the babys’ room early on in the film. The way they sometimes dial down the music in the soundtrack for emphasis and then bring it back suddenly to draw you back in. The amazing steadycam shot at the end of one dream sequence that goes up a ladder and right through a window.

This is a little, simple movie (J described it as we watched as a heist film, but with a baby) but it’s also a huge and complex movie. Take, for example, the extensive chase scene about half way through. There’s cars and guns and dogs and screaming ladies with hair curlers and shopping carts – it’s a giant spectacle that builds on itself, and every time you think it’s over it keeps getting bigger. Not quite Blues Brothers level, but it did remind me of that.

It astonishes me what skill this film so deftly displays and so early in the Coen career. It rests near to the top of my favorite movies of all time, and it’s always a pleasure to watch it again. And of course now I have the sound-track stuck in my head again. I’ll be humming it for days.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment