Archive for Raising Arizona

The Invaders

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2016 by dcairns

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Like something from a fifties B-movie, the invaders walk the streets of the Big City, cunningly disguised as humans. But they are sheeple, for this is SHAUN THE SHEEP – THE MOVIE.

Really liked this. Particularly impressive was the story’s avoidance of dialogue, with the animals using humanimal baas and barks, the humans communicated in articulated growls, the way they might sound to an animal. The movie references are fun too. Used fairly sparingly, and always with an eye to making it work for both kids and adults. Having a bus conductor look like Blakey from On The Buses is a harmless reference for adults of a certain age, and after all he had to look like something. Here’s one scene that’s very rich in movieness ~

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Shaun has been “contained” by a modern version of the old dogcatcher villain figure, and taken to the Animal Containment Centre, which is portrayed like a prison in a Hollywood movie (harking back to Aardman Animation’s first feature CHICKEN RUN). Good dramatic sheep’s-eye view — the shadows are a nice touch too. Strictly speaking, to get a symmetrical effect, the filmmakers have taken the viewpoint of an empty space between Shaun’s head and the containment guy’s knee, but it’s what works visually.

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This overhead ceiling track, recalling TAXI DRIVER, is included just for added impact — the pattern of light and shadow from the doorway seems to call for it. Then we get a series of trackpasts, simulating the prisoner’s viewpoint, of the various cellmates. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is an obvious forebear here, but the individual convicts are also movie archetypes.

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The tough guy. This always makes me think of the hissing con in RAISING ARIZONA, but that in itself was probably a reference to something else, even if just to our shared history of prison movie watching. For a little kid watching this movie, that history doesn’t exist — yet — but the moment still fully justifies itself as added suspense to SHaun’s terrible situation.

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Working out. A bone makes a perfect dumbbell. Aardman’s use of props, always a key trademark of strong visual comedy, is extremely inventive, both ludicrous and logical. The choice of a poodle for this touch guy is inspired.

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Hannibal Lector and his Collar of Shame. Oriental cats have a history of diabolical evil in the movies, going back to LADY AND THE TRAMP.

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And somebody always has to play the harmonica. But how to make this reference amusing in its own right? Well, a goldfish playing a wind instrument is always going to be amusing, isn’t it?

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Nothing But the Night

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2011 by dcairns

Twitter has a purpose after all and, as it turns out, it’s nothing to do with fomenting revolution in Iran. When Jon Melville, a Twitterverse friend as well as a real-life one, tweeted that he’d acquired the new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but had no means of watching it, I invited him round for dinner with alacrity (alacrity is a special sauce popular in Scotland). I have a player than can handle discs of different countries of origin, but not many discs to watch on it.

The Criterion disc is splendid, of course, as are the extras, but enough has been said elsewhere about that. Nor am I going to regale you with details of the splendid vegetable casserole Fiona prepared, nor the mulled wine quaffed. I want to talk about the film, for several posts, but where to begin?

A dull but perhaps original thought that came to me was that, boy, the Coens have been pilfering this movie for years. I haven’t seen TRUE GRIT yet, but have heard that the score relies heavily on Leaning on the Everlasting Arm, the hymn sung by Mitchum in Laughton’s classic. Which seemed like kind of a miscalculation: there are plenty of hymns to choose from, so why use one that will forcibly remind the audience of a great film, while they’re trying to concentrate on yours? The comparison is unlikely to be flattering, and I say that as one who admires six or so Coen films, and bits of some of the others.

“He was especially hard on the little things,” says Nicholas Cage of the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in RAISING ARIZONA. “It’s a hard world for the little things,” says Lillian Gish in NIGHT.

“The Dude abides,” says the Cowboy in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. “They abide and they endure,” says Gish.

Even the use of jingling bells on the soundtrack to make Peter Stormare’s axe attack on Steve Buscemi “more Christmassy” — a whimsical idea in FARGO, or so it seemed to sound designer Skip Lievesay, who executed it — is anticipated towards the end of NOTH, where it’s startling but completely sensible.

I’d heard that the Coens liked to screen THE CONFORMIST and THE THIRD MAN to their crews before a shoot, which made sense as a way of getting the idea of self-conscious style into everybody’s head. The specific connections never seemed obvious until MILLER’S CROSSING, which features a hit in a forest and a romantic rejection at a funeral — but most of MILLER’S CROSSING is swiped from Dashiell Hammett anyway. The NIGHT OF THE HUNTER connection makes complete sense because of the idea of a mythic or biblical resonance being infused into a story with genre elements. Think of the reconfiguring of elements of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (chain gang, freight car, picture show) into the narrative structure of Homer’s Odyssey in O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? Or the dybbuk, a wraith from Jewish mysticism, who turns up in a seemingly unrelated prologue to A SIMPLE MAN. All this could stem from a love of the way Laughton’s movie, taking its cue from Davis Grubb’s novel, interlaces the mundane with the numinous.

And that influence is a good thing, and it’s nice that some modern filmmakers have attempted to take up the gauntlet flung down by Laughton. Of course, the Coens don’t tend to take their characters and themes seriously enough for this stuff to actual resonate with anything outside cinema, but that’s them. I’m just not sure I like the paraphrases, in the same way I don’t much like Paul Schrader’s swiping of the end of PICKPOCKET for his AMERICAN GIGOLO. If you happen to see the more recent film first, it is apt to interfere with your first viewing of the older classic. Does the end of PICKPOCKET seem as “transcendental”, to use Schrader’s word, if you’re struck by a powerful sense of deja vu and see Richard Gere’s face superimposed over that of Martin LaSalle?