Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Raising the Roof on Raising Arizona


Directed by:  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Written by:
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Nicolas Cage
Holly Hunter
Trey Wilson
John Goodman
William Forsythe
Tex Cobb

Synopsis and Review:

I vaguely remember seeing this film ages ago (probably just a few years after its release), but couldn’t remember much about it, other than it was hilarious.  After viewing it again Wednesday evening, my hunch was right.

I’ve always loved Nicolas Cage in everything he’s ever been in, except for his recent string of bad movies.  I used to consider him to be one of the most versatile actors of our day, but sadly, like John Cleese and Katherine Heigl, he’s now become a caricature of himself.

Normally, I’m not a person who goes for baby movies, but this script was just so well-done, that I found myself pulling for the baby.  I guess that speaks to the talent of the Coen Brothers.  I know I adored O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The premise was that Nicolas Cage’s character, Hi, was a repeat offender, and on his first visit to the jail, he meets Holly Hunter, who plays Ed, who is the officer who fingerprints him.  When he finally realises he could have a happy life with her, this is his impetus for staying out of prison, having to listen to the boring stories of his bunkmate.

Once he and Ed are married for a time, she realises that she can’t be happy without a baby, so they begin trying.  And miserably failing.  Once they hear that the local unpainted furniture celebrity and his wife just had quintuplets and they joke in the paper that they have more than they can handle, that’s when Ed and Hi hatch a most ridiculous plan to steal one of the quints, and then deduce that since they had more than they could handle anyway, the parents wouldn’t notice.

This might have worked, if Hi’s former prison buddies, Wilson and Forsythe, Gale and Evelle, hadn’t broken out of prison and decided they would stay with Hi and Ed.  Eventually, Gale notices that the unpainted furniture guy has offered a reward for their missing baby, and that Ed’s baby looks suspiciously like the missing child.

Hilarity ensues when they take the baby to claim the reward for themselves.

My favourite scene is probably the one when Hi is on the run for holding up a convenience store for a package of Huggies, and then drops them while he’s running from the police during the huge chase scene.  Just as we notice Hi running, and the Huggies still in the middle of the road, Ed screeches in to pick up Hi, and before he closes the door, he scoops up the package of Huggies.  I laughed well into the next scene.

Unfortunately, I have nothing to nitpick about this movie.  It was well-acted (and you’d need a huge crowbar to pry Holly Hunter’s technique away from her), and certainly well-written.  Some favourite scenes:

Ed McDonnough: You mean you busted out of jail.

Evelle: No, ma’am. We released ourselves on our own recognisance.

Gale: What Evelle here is trying to say is that we felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us.


Prison Counselor: Why do you say you feel “trapped” in a man’s body?

“Trapped” Convict: Well, sometimes I get them menstrual cramps real hard.

It was also nice seeing Tex Cobb in this movie, which I believe, if I’m not disremembering, was one of the first films he did just before reaching the height of his popularity in a string of similar character roles.  I’m also partial to his performances, because he’s also from Nashville.  Aside from Reese Witherspoon and Jamie Denton (Desperate Housewives), it’s nice to see Nashville actors make good.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this very awesome movie, then take a trip to Netflix and watch it right now.  No, right NOW.  GO!  Did I give you permission to get a snack??  GO RENT THE MOVIE NOW!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Man Gilbert Gottfried. Wait....OH, OKAY!

My Man Godfrey

Another black and white film?  C’MON! There are so many great films from today.

Words that flashed through my mind as I sat there plotting creative ways to kill the class instructor with a butter knife and a shoe, but let’s save that for another talk show and move on.

The opening scene immediately got my attention: it was a dreary city dump.  And while this film came from the same era as the two before it, I noticed that when the leading man spoke, he was completely captivating:  no affected speech and no overacting for the sake of indication; just simple reaction to the other actors.  I’d never heard of Powell before (and we later learned that he never really took off as a leading man), but he was amazing in this role.

After we see the men living at the dump, we see a limousine pull up and two couples of rich people approach the men.  They apparently were on a scavenger hunt, and their task at hand was to find a “forgotten man” and return with him to the hotel where the scavenger hunt is headquartered.  The script handled this very offensive situation with grace and wit, and Powell’s character had quite a few zingers for the snobby and clueless socialites.  I was homeless for two-and-a-half years before getting accepted to Tech, so I did my share of living in my car, in a crack house and on sofas with my two cats.  I know what it’s like to be judged for your unfortunate situation, and I watched some of my so-called friends drop like flies once my social status also dropped.

The first time we see Carole Lombard is when she and her sister are fighting over Powell, but Lombard eventually wins him over when she takes herself out of the hunt.  Her rambling and dizzy-headedness was portrayed to perfection, and she was immediately likable.  Powell agrees to go with Lombard to the hotel, and as he’s being shown off on the table, he lobs a few more zingers to the rich and clueless snobs.  It’s then that Lombard invites him to become their new butler the next morning.  That’s when the real comedy ensues, as pretty much the entire family is bat-shit crazy, and Lombard herself doesn’t remember hiring him.  Of course, later in the movie, we find out Powell’s character really isn’t a street bum, but a Harvard-educated philanthropist who fell on temporary hard times.

I had one major problem with this movie, and that was with the script.  The very day Powell’s character starts working as a butler, he’s given many tasks to do, and he does them without question, as if he’d been a butler his entire life.  We don’t hear if he worked previously as a butler, so how exactly, did he come by the information of social etiquette?  In one scene, Lombard follows him into his butler quarters, and he says directly to her, “The family is not to be in here.”  Who told him the family was bound by propriety to not socialise with the hired help or be seen in their private quarters?

Why does Powell not show any confusion about how to behave around the family?  It seems logical to conclude that if he had never been a butler before, then he would at least show a level of being uncomfortable at certain times, and yet, in every single instance, Powell is cool as a cucumber; he doesn’t drop drinks, he doesn’t scorch pants, he doesn’t screw up at all.  Nor do we ever see him actually beginning to fall in love with Lombard, and yet, we’re supposed to believe that he eventually leaves their employ because she got to him.  Nope.  Not even in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere would I begin to make that leap.  Why the director did not have Powell portray that emotional sky dive is beyond me.

Other than that, I had no problem with this delightful movie.  Probably wouldn’t watch it again, but it was a nice film.

We then watched a short episode of The Three Stooges  (whose information I was unable to locate in the imdb), and finally, the famous Vitameatavegimin episode of I Love Lucy.  I laughed until I gave myself an asthma attack, which in my world, means two lungs up!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Hope springs eternal in "It Happened One Night"

During the first few minutes of this film, I was certain it was going to be no more impressive than Duck Soup, and God help me if I had to sit through that hot mess again.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to shove a fork through my eye; or anyone else’s that happened to be laughing nearby.  Claudette Colbert’s first appearance on screen, with her thirties glamour make-up and affected, over-enunciated Standard American Stage Dialect, reinforced my initial feelings that she was going to be no better an actress than Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup.  Did every single film that came out of this time period produce such indication-driven overacting and barely-believable storylines?

After waiting it out for another ten minutes, I decided: I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Like many others, I was familiar with Clark Gable by reputation as the dashing epitome of the quintessential Hollywood leading man.  I loved his performance in Gone with the Wind, but not enough to become a die-hard fan.  So I wasn’t expecting him to be just so darned good in a romantic comedy.  I think I, along with every other female audience member was in love with him by the end of the movie.

As the film progressed, I’m happy to say that Colbert’s acting seemed to relax—she didn’t force feelings or reactions to situations as she did in the first scenes.  In this regard, I’m guessing that Capra filmed the first few scenes in sequence, which is usually not done in film or episodic television.  (Later, in a scene extra on the DVD, we learn from Frank Capra, Jr., that Colbert had originally considered this film the worst of her career and bitched nearly every day on set about something.  Perhaps in these first few scenes, she wasn’t fully able to keep her private disdain for the project out of her character, but I’m just surmising at this point.)  Perhaps it was that the chemistry between herself and Gable also began to grow, and this relaxed her a bit.  I just know that for me, there was a marked difference between her acting in the first scenes, and her acting in the later scenes in which she and Gable are on the road, running from her father’s henchmen.

So, once her acting improved to the point where it no longer took me out of the story, I began to settle down and enjoy the story and characters.  The idea of a road trip for a story that early in the 1930s was revolutionary, and it was during Capra, Jr.’s interview that we learned why: his father had put this film together from script to editing in just four weeks.  Hotel or Hostel rooms doubled for each other with minor set changes, car rides were nothing more than a half-car on a sound stage with a backdrop, a boat in the beginning, a newspaper room, and a hotel and extravagant yard for the wedding setting at the end.  Even wardrobe was sparse: Colbert had a total of just three costume changes.  I know nothing of movies from the 1930s in general, but even I could tell this was an unusual set-up for a movie at this time.  I knew there had to be a reason why it won five Academy Awards, other than its two major stars.

As I said in my previous review, a strong cast cannot exist apart from an equally-strong ensemble cast, and Capra shined in his casting in that regard.  Each minor character held their own against the film’s two stars, creating believable atmosphere and in some cases, stand-out scenes: I was struck by the scene with Gable on the bus with the ticket agent.  It was the first time I’d ever seen the Rule of Threes used, and to great effect at that.

Another memorable device they used was called the “running gag”.  Gable strung a blanket between beds each time that he and Colbert were in yet another hotel room, and he called it “The walls of Jericho”.  I didn’t expect another device in comedy to be used, referred to as the “call-back”, in which a stand-up comic, who’s usually beat a bit to death by repeating it until the audience slashes his tires in the parking lot, refers back to it one last time at the end of his act, much to the unexpected delight of that same audience (they LOVE it).  In the final scene of the movie, after Colbert and Gable’s characters are finally wed (and they played the constant growing sexual tension to perfection all throughout), they spend their wedding night in one of the run-down hotel rooms similar to the ones already used in the movie.  The aging owner and his wife are standing outside, commenting on why Gable insisted on stringing a blanket between their beds when they were on their Honeymoon, and then the man commented to his wife that he was then instructed to go out and purchase a toy trumpet.  In the final seconds, we see the hotel room from the perspective of the owner and his wife, curtains pulled, but lights on.  Just a second later, the lights go out and we hear a toy trumpet.  Best. gag. ever.

The fact that this whole project was based solely on a short-story surprised me, but also gave me hope.  My own short-stories have been published in national comedy magazines.  And not just for pizza coupons and a cookie: for real money, too.

Perhaps hope does spring eternal, and if one wishes, they, too, can knock down the walls of Jericho.