A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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July 31, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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