Raising Arizona. It raises expectations for all comedy after it.

Let’s just all take a minute and think about how great Raising Arizona is. Now we all know the Coens love a good farce to offset all their more serious work, and on the face of it, this one’s so completely and utterly silly that it might just be dismissed as a pet project. You’re almost embarrassed to watch it with anyone but yourself.

But Raising Arizona is outstanding comedy. It’s complete Loony Toon, white trash, boisterous fun that at times careens all over the place. And this unmitigated spirit makes it a joy to watch. That, and there is fine acting to be found. Nicholas Cage gives a big, big, like towering performance as the little guy, H.I, pulling off some of the finest physical comedy you’ll see in colour. And Holly Hunter – how can you not fall in love with Holly Hunter? – gives a manic and fiery performance as his wife Ed. Short for Edwina. There’s also great support from Coen-regular John Goodman and William Forsythe as the outlaw friends of H.I’s from prison.

OK, so the set-up is done in a cute, brisk prologue in the first ten minutes. H.I is a repeat offender who keeps going back to jail. And every time he runs into Ed, the officer tasked with taking his mugshot. They eventually fall in love and H.I quits crime to start a life with her. Slowly they start thinking about having a child of their own to share all of life’s beauty with, only to find that Ed can’t have children and because of H.I’s criminal record, they can’t adopt either. Then the Arizona quintuplets are born to Nathan and Florence Arizona, and H.I and Ed decide that’s “more than they can handle”. They decide to kidnap a child for themselves, and that’s Raising Arizona, which sets the scene for all hell to be raised. In Arizona. I love that the title appears and the movie effectively begins only after ten minutes with a flourish, I do.

There’s great comedy throughout. And the point of it almost is to mock the thought of child rearing perhaps, saying maybe that there’s nothing to be shared with a child apart from buffoonery and cruelty. Those in the movie, furthermore, who have kids don’t seem worthy of them. And then there’s the complicating issue that H.I and Ed’s love will probably not survive without a child.

Anyway, that might all be too deep. There’s a sweet love story in there, but the movie really comes down to two scenes for me. Two of the best scenes in comedy.

The one about halfway in sees H.I, helpless to his own nature, holding up another convenience store. A marvelous chase ensues through the street and people’s backyards and houses, ending up in a supermarket shoot-out. There is a controlled chaos in this scene, with guns firing and pratfalling all linked by some beautiful inter-cut tracking shots that make the scene soar to its conclusion. And all the time there’s the famous wailing of the Raising Arizona theme. Just superbly scripted and mapped out. And freakin’ impossible to resist.

The second is at the natural confrontation between the ferocious bounty hunter Leonard Smalls, who shoots bunny rabbits and lizards for fun (played terrific, by the way, by Randall “Tex” Cobb), and H.I. This is arguably an even better scene as it incorporates great violence that is somehow made to look harmless. It has such a perfect tempo and a sort of calm to it, rendering it more like a laugh-out-loud armwrestle than a joust. And it’s sumptuously shot… just look back to how little Ed moves into the fight without being harmed to snatch Nathan Jr and is then pursued by Smalls through the bank and out the back. Everything about it, the timing especially but particularly Cage, is brilliant. And there’s the tattoo reveal as well.

And then the movie ends with a really pleasing symmetry. From fire and returning to fire. From the earth, and returning to the earth. And the madness, that was briefly unleashed, is returned to Pandora’s box. It truly is a classic. Watch it alone, so you can laugh unabashed.


Masterful master not masquerading

With so many big ticket movies failing to live up to the initial hype (I’m talking to you, DKR) or like a really, really boss trailer (unfortunately, I might unwittingly be referring to Cloud Atlas), here’s one that might go the distance. I have to say, with each day’s passing I become I bigger fan of PTA. Here’s an interview about his upcoming The Master to whet your appetite. And I include the quote from Michael Hogan, because, just read it…

“The Master” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film, and something about its surety and magisterial beauty — coming on the heels of the epic, Oscar-nominated “There Will Be Blood” — has created a consensus view of him as America’s best working filmmaker, if not the world’s.” – Hogan. The Master is out in SA on 7 December (SHOCKING!)


Ted keeps R-rated comedy from being, erm, ded.

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted is exactly what you’d expect. A tedious documentary about motivational speaking…


In his first feature, MacFarlane sticks to what he knows and basically delivers one big live-action Family Guy episode, just without any of the Family Guy characters. The one cartoonish element he keeps is Ted himself, a Christmas present that magically comes to life to provide young John with his only friend. The toy becomes a national sensation but after a while his fame results in him becoming jaded and Teddy grows up into a foul-mouthed, layabout adult. And his friendship with John is also keeping the now going-nowhere 30-something (played by Mark Wahlberg) from reaching his full potential.

As a character, Ted is fully realised. The CGI blends in extremely well and that the character works is a testament to the director’s eminent skill of switching between the absurd and everyday until you don’t know which is which anymore. Voiced by MacFarlane, Ted is hilarious and filthy and so much fun. He gets all the best jokes since he’s the most obvious one to mine laughs from, but Wahlberg is good too, comfortable in this kind of less demanding role where he can just be a regular guy. Without trying too hard as in The Other Guys, he shows that he is actually understatedly funny. Mila Kunis, who plays his girlfriend, Lori, is unfortunately just plot fodder to put pressure on the Ted-John friendship, and she’s grossly underused for someone with her charm. There’s also a sort of unsettling turn from Giovanni Ribisi, which turns to hilarious in the final act as he carries out a dance routine that you won’t be able to look away from, among other things. Also Joel McHale does the job as the sleazy boss trying to steal away Lori from right under John’s nose. Oh, and there’s a terrific cameo by Norah Jones. I would never have guessed she’d be up for that!

MacFarlane really does have a gift for comedy. I mean there’s a lot of inappropriate race stuff and drug humour and all the puerile material that made us fall in love with Family Guy in high school and university. But he has a sharp eye and mixes it up like a pro. There’s a lot of clever stuff too, or at least what you’d call alternative and less one-liney. Unexpected. He can do offbeat as well as the sudden zingers. Like John and Ted’s Flash Gordon obsession, which is great, and the one about a co-worker who might or might not be gay, which is just in the background but genius in a way. Or the Tom Skerritt joke that runs through till the end. Oh, and the trademark violence, which is bewildering but still funny.

Anyway, it’s not just random jokes picked by manatees either. To some extent we are made to care about what happens to John and Ted’s relationship, and if MacFarlane can drop some of the silliness and actually be brave enough to write a more “real” screenplay, something that takes itself just slightly more seriously, he could find himself being a neat complement to Judd Apatow or someone like that. Ted though, as silly as it is, deserves to be rewatched several times, and after none of the myriad jokes elicit more than half-assed chuckles anymore, it’ll still be a pretty pleasant experience all the same.

A great from the vault: Dazed and Confused, 1993

What is it about Dazed and Confused that makes it such a beloved classic? Wait, first of all, is it beloved? I haven’t a clue, but it is in my heart and it should be in yours.

Anyway, is it the fact that we get to see Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Eddie the weird roommate from Friends in their salad days? Yes.

Is it the music? Yes, without a doubt.

Is it the smokin hot high school girls who never get any older wearing those high riding pants? (I feel like there’s a fashion term for them that escapes me… ) Possibly a bit.

But really it’s about being young and blinkered from your future and having huge dreams about the endless possibilities it might hold. And trying to assert your independence and figuring out who you are. That’s pretty broad, but it lands it, and it lands it by capturing that one awesome night, something so many films try to do and fail dismally. The movie follows wide spanning sets of students on the final day of school, and the narrative is just kind of allowed to flow naturally with a nice relaxing realist tone until finally the party just happens. The movie is a hell of a lot of fun too. The hazing or initiation of the new incoming high schoolers is especially amusing to me, seeing as how we’re obsessed with it in our own school system as well.  It’s also quaintly innocent, in that there’s no sex and the worst thing the girls call each other are sluts and bitches. (Still, this is pretty bad, because that only makes it okay for the boys to call them sluts and bitches. Thanks, Ms Norbury.) So watching it simultaneously transports you to a different time in your own life and a different era altogether. It’s a groovy tribute to the 70’s small town American youth, and it always touches something sentimental in me, even though it’s a place and time I never knew myself.