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Raising Arizona (August 28, 2014)

The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, born in Minnesota in 1954 and 1957 respectively, began their feature film career in 1984 with the thriller Blood Simple. They write and produce their films together. Joel was credited as director for the first twenty years or so of their career, now they are always credited as co-directors.

They wanted to make something else, something with more general appeal than the thriller with horror elements they had just made. The movie was filmed in ten weeks and was released in March, 1987. It cost approximately $6 million and the film grossed $29 million in general release. In order to get the most out of the limited funds they had at their disposal, the brothers had a complete script and storyboard ready when production began. Music was by Carter Burwell, cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld, editing by Michael R. Miller. It starred Nicolas Cage (in a performance Dominick Mayer terms “iconic”), Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, and Tex Cobb. Two frequent participants in future Coen brothers movies also appear: John Goodman and Frances McDormand.

Critical response was mixed at the time, and although the movie made money, it was not a huge commercial success. Over the years, though, the picture has become something of a cult favorite, as the quirky humor and idiosyncratic style of the Coen brothers have gained more fans. Pauline Kael of the New Yorker wrote “Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, in his generally unfavorable review "The movie cannot decide if it exists in the world of trailer parks and 7-Elevens and Pampers, or in a fantasy world of characters from another dimension. It cannot decide if it is about real people or comic exaggerations.” Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “the film starts to look like an episode of Hee Haw directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.”

I find it a great pleasure, and a really refreshing and original comedy, with many wonderful moments. For me the Coens are direct descendants of great comic American filmmakers like Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. The language the Coens put into their characters mouths, it is said, is concocted from local dialect, and their characters’ presumed reading: magazines, and the Bible. Oddly enough though Frances McDormand’s character cites “Jason” as a Biblical name. I hope you enjoy watching Raising Arizona with me tonight.