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Raising Arizona (1987)

We figured there was too much happiness here for just the two of us, so we figured the next logical step was to have us a critter.

— H.I. McDunnough

Raising Arizona was probably my favorite comedy of theirs growing up. This was before I became the movie snob that I claim to be today. You know my track record with the Coen Brothers. Some times they could deliver absolute masterpieces and others are mindless pieces of dreck that would ever be put on celluloid. I believe that my previous love of this movie has waned a bit.

Convicted convenience store robber, H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) comes in and out of jail, because he wants to flirt with the officer that takes his mug shots, Edwina (Holly Hunter). After he gets paroled for the umpteenth time, he proposes to Edwina. They quickly marry; Edwina quits her job at the station, and the couple moves into a mobile home in the middle of the Arizona desert.

Things seem to be great, but Edwina desperately wants to have a child. The couple exhaustively tries to conceive without any success. Edwina learns that is barren. It devastates them. They try to the adoption without success, because of H.I’s long rap sheet.

They think their prayers have been answered when a news report reports about “The Arizona Quints.” Local celebrity Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife, Florence (Lynne Kitei) took fertility treatments to get their quintuplets. H.I. read is in the papers that Nathan was quoted in saying that the quints are a handful. The McDunnoughs come up with the idea of kidnapping one of the kids.

They break into the Arizona house while they are there and take almost all of them out of their shared crib. Some of the kids crawl away towards the door. H.I. hears that somebody is coming and leaves. He is scolded by Edwina to take one of the babies. He goes back to take Nathan Jr. (T.J. Kuhn Jr.) and raise him as their own.

Naturally, Nathan Arizona issues a $20,000 reward for his safe return. A bounty hunter that looks like he stepped off Mad Max, Leonard Smalls (Tex Cobb) takes up the slack that the inept police force couldn’t do. There is also H.I.’s cellmates, Gale and Evelle (John Goodman, William Forsythe) break of the same jail, Shawshank style. They come to the McDunnough’s trailer to spend the night, which complicates matters that the police will be after them soon.

There is blackmail, betrayal, kidnapping and redemption in this movie. I should feel like I did when I was a kid, but I didn’t. I understand that this movie was supposed to be over the top, but I think the Coens should have dialed it back a thousand percent. I still enjoyed the ridiculous action set pieces like the extended convenience store robberies with the barking dogs, the hand cannon and the Pampers, the fight between Gale and HI and also the climatic scene. Other than that, it was too much for me to handle.

Judgment: I can’t imagine enjoy this film, unless you want to make fun of white trash.

Rating: ***

A Serious Man (2009)

I feel like the carpet’s been yanked out from under me.

— Larry Gopnik

The Coen Brothers are notorious for having masterful dramas and dreadful comedies. The recent release of their dark comedy, A Serious Man delves more into their past growing up in 1960s Minnesota. I never heard of this film until I saw that odd trailer for it. This is movie is getting some solid notices from audiences and critics. I think myself being goyim may lessen my enjoyment of this film and it does to a certain point.

This movie has employed Jewish lore with a flashback to a turn of the century house where a husband and wife, Velvel and Dora (Allen Lewis Rickman, Yelena Shmulenson) is visited by a dybbuk in the form of Reb Groshkover (Fyvush Finkel). A dybbuk is apparently a ghost that visits a family and God forever curses them.

Once you get into the movie, you have to wonder if the couple is ancestors of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), because this physics professor is in flux. His brother, Arthur (Richard Kind) has a persistent cyst crashes on their couch for months. His daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus) has been continually stealing money out of his wallet to pay for a nose job. His son, Danny (Aaron Wolf), who is about to be bar mitzvahed is a pot dealer/smoker. His wife, Judith (Sari Lennick) unexpectedly drops the bomb that she is leaving him for their mutual friend, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed).

Sy and Judith think that is best for Larry to move out of the house to stay at a local Jolly Roger’s motel with his brother. They want to get a “get”, a spiritual divorce before the two of them get married. On top of all that, he is up for tenure at his job which it is threatened when a student, Clive (David Kang) getting a failing grade on his final exams brides him for a better grade. After Larry threatened to go the school officials about the bribery, one of the administrators, Arlen Finkle (Ari Hoptman) begins receiving defamatory letters about Larry to his office.

The movie is divided into three sections where Larry meets with different rabbis to help him cope with his shitty life. He visits the young junior rabbi, the regular rabbi, but he wants to meet the granddaddy of them all, Rabbi Marshak (Alan Mandell) to find some solace in his life.

Not being Jewish, I felt like most of this movie went over my head entirely. I wouldn’t say that I hated this movie. This movie was not made for me. That’s the biggest problem with the movie. I don’t have an “in”.

I thought that Michael Stuhlbarg was very good in the role of Larry Gopnik. His character reminded me of myself. A doormat that is sick on being stepped on. I also enjoyed the odd calmness of Sy Ableman as well.

Judgment: You have to have the inside knowledge to truly understand this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Fargo (1996)


I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

— Marge Gunderson

Fargo is considered the greatest film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. I was ashamed that I have never seen this #124 movie of All Time on IMDb. All I knew about this movie is a pregnant sheriff, a car salesman and the wood chipper. This movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Actress for Frances McDormand and the brothers for Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is apparently based on true events that happened in Minnesota in 1987. The names have been changed to protect the real life families from the prying eyes of the public.

A frazzled car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a pair of thugs, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) with a new car and forty thousand dollars to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), because he has outstanding debt to pay off. That was his Plan B.

In a last ditch effort to avoid that is to convince his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell) to purchase some land for a parking lot to get a huge finder’s fee for his efforts.

Things start to get out of the control when Carl and Gaear follow through with the kidnapping that leads to a triple homicide on highway.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is the pregnant Brainerd police chief that investigates the highway murders. She expertly retraces what happens and bring whoever is responsible to justice.

This movie reminded me very much of No Country for Old Men, dealing with a small town living with a silent killer trying to get money back. I know that this movie was made-up and the latter was based on Cormac Macarthy’s book.

I enjoyed the monochromatic imagery of the snow blanketing the entire landscape. The story has you spinning in circles about what will happen next. It could dramatic, comedic, heartfelt and borderline creepy at times. That’s not to say that this is a masterpiece.

The accents on some of the actors slipped in and out. More of the Minnesotans with the “ya” and “you knows” were getting on my nerves. After watching that movie, I don’t understand why Frances won the Oscar. She was okay. She wasn’t spectacular in the movie to deserve the accolade. I also had problems with some plot holes. I will discuss those in the spoiler section.

Judgment: Not the Coens best movie, but it does have good things going for it.

Rating: ****

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The Big Lebowski (1998)


Goddamn you Walter! You fuckin’ asshole! Everything’s a fuckin’ travesty with you, man! And what was all that shit about Vietnam? What the FUCK, has anything got to do with Vietnam? What the fuck are you talking about?

— The Dude

The #158 Movie of All Time on IMDb: The Big Lebowski has been a divisive film since its release in 1998. Some people have since it and dismissed as garbage, upon a second viewing they loved it. This is the first time that I have seen it. I am tittering between it being pure genius and pretentious bullshit.

The unemployed bum simply known as “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) becomes the anti-hero of this story. Being mistaken for a millionaire that share his real name Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a pair of thugs rough him up. During the encounter, one of the thugs pees on his “prized” rug.

The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski to get him to pay for the rug. This action leads to chain of events that spiral out of control. Lebowski and his manservant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) want to get Lebowski’s young wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) back who has been kidnapped.

The Dude is mixed up with a trio of nihilists (Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges), a pornographer, Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), Lebowski’s feminist daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore) who all want something from him. There is also his bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) that want to occupy his time.

This movie is a mind fuck. You wonder when the ending credits start; did the Coens take LSD when they conceived of the movie? In the beginning, the characters carried on some inane conversations that go around in circles. It infuriated me. “We get it! Move on.”

The sequences go from dark to slapstick to tripped out. I had no idea what I was watching. I tried to make some sense out of it. I concluded with this.

At the core of this movie, you have to understand that every character is living in their own universe. They are self-absorbed, needy, and selfish. The only way the monotonous conversations make any sense is that nobody is listening to each other. Perhaps for a split second before they launch into their polemics about urine soaked rugs, mistaken identity and bowling etiquette.

My mind needs time to digest what I seen.

Judgment: This movie should be watched more than once to understand it fully.

Rating: ***1/2 (with wiggle room)

Burn After Reading (2008)

After I was cheering and screaming at the television when I heard the Golden Globe nominations, I wanted to try to see the a good portion of the movies that are nominated before the ceremony on January 11th. This movie, Burn After Reading, was nominated for Best Actress, Frances McDormand and Best Picture Comedy/Musical.

I saw the film and I was disappointed with it. After the masterpiece, No Country for Old Men, I was expecting alot more from the Coen Brothers. You have Oscars falling out of their asses with Clooney, Swinton, Pitt, McDormand, Jenkins, and Malkovich. I was bored.

I did not care about these characters. The situations were ridiculous. I was underwhelmed. The Coens are not good with straight comedy. Anybody heard of The Ladykillers? Intolerable Cruelty ?

I thought that this movie would be like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. It’s not. Not by a longshot.

Avoid this movie. It will not win the Golden Globe.

My rating: * star.

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