Wednesday, April 29, 2009

457 - Play It Again #6 - Raising Arizona

Christian Toto appears to have a pretty sweet gig. At least, I think so: he's a critic whose reviews appear in the Washington Times, The Denver Post, and a whole host of other places. He can frequently be read over at spots such as Big Hollywood and Pajamas Media, among others. And if you can think of a big shot celebrity working today, chances are he has interviewed them. All that, and a helluva nice and insightful guy to boot. He maintains two blogs, What Would Toto Watch? and Movies in Toto over at the Washington Times.

His entry is "Raising Arizona," the Coen Brothers' madcap 1987 comedy about the baby-thieving misadventures of some of cinema's most colorful miscreants.

The first time I saw "Raising Arizona" back in 1987 I was amused ... nothing more. What a wrongheaded first impression.

I fell hard for the film after a few more viewings - when you're a teenager you have little better to do than to re-watch films you only found "amusing."

It soon became a local tradition at the Mom 'n' Pop video store where I worked during the late '80s. Every Saturday night, during the busiest part of the evening, I'd slip the VHS "Raising Arizona" tape into the stripped-down, off brand VCR and luxuriate in the film's comedic twists. I couldn't watch it for more than a minute at at time. The crush of customers wouldn't allow that. But the music, the mood and the mischief washed over me all the same.

For me, few other films get richer with each viewing. New jokes emerge while old ones seem to get funnier. You marvel at Nicolas Cage's performance as the addled baby-napper, and then you're struck by what John Goodman does as the burly ex-con. Every morsel of dialogue deserves to be savored.

The Coen brothers went on to win Oscars and near-constant adulation from movie critics since "Raising Arizona" first hit theaters. And most will point to "Fargo" or "No Country for Old Men" as their shining achievement. But in my eyes nothing they've done since has measured up to the farcical perfection they achieved 22 years ago with "Raising Arizona." - Christian Toto

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