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March 07, 2011


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James Keepnews

Firsties. And thus, let me be the first to point out: 1987.

I'm glad you posted a screengrab of these lads. The film holds up especially well, as do all its performances. Naturally, this was the film where I -- we? -- fell in love with John Goodman forever ("Think about it, H.I.," pointing to his brain with the chicken wing he's currently devouring...brilliant).

But several words in support of Mr. Forsythe, simply one of the greatest living character actors, American or otherwise. He's very much a second banana in RAISING, and making the most of it has a sneakier, better performance than Mr. Goodman's. Go down the list of his other great perfs, from ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, to PATTY HEARST, PALOOKAVILLE, FREEDOMLAND (one of several great performances in that manipulative, na-so-good film), DEUCE BIGALOW...just checking to make sure you're paying attention. Per that last work, it's a shame William doesn't do more comedy. And it's more than a little disconceerting to my cinephilic sensibility that the person who seems to most value his acting most would be Rob Zombie.

Glenn Kenny

@ James: Corrected, and, ugh. I can't get away with calling that a typo—I really do have this weird mental glitch w/r/t the late 20th century, that compels me to make certain things ten years younger than they actually are. Encroaching senility? Maybe, although I'd say that condition is more likely to compel one to type "John August" when one means "John Logan," to cite a pertinent example. No, I think for me the problem has something to do with DENIAL. I shall have to take it up with my therapist some time.


I know it's besides the point as you said, but I've always felt this was the most heartfelt Coens film until True Grit. And it will always be my favorite one.

James Keepnews

I'm feelin' ya, GK, in a wholly non-tactile, non-threatening (goes the hope) manner. Freaking '97 was 14 years ago?!?!? Eeek/ou sont les mere-baisent &c. d'antan? I personally blame some aspect of a shamelessly imperialist, homicidal nullity between, say, Jan. 20, 2001 and Jan. 20, 2009 for not wanting to fully admit to the passage of so much time -- it dawns on me not much else has changed, less the nullity. But it's also pretty damned sobering to consider that someone conceived in/around RASING ARIZONA's release is someone who can drink legally as well as be sent off for imperialist homicide, without ever seeing William Forsythe in anything but THE ROCK. Sad and strange, but true.


I know the films the Coens have subsequently done with Roger Deakins have that pared-down technique and that "maturity", but there's something about the ones they did with Barry Sonnenfeld, including ARIZONA, that appeal to me precisely because of their crudity, their wildness, and their off-the-wall editing. I sometimes wonder what would have happened with the Coens if Sonnenfeld hadn't gone on to make THE ADDAMS FAMILY, but stayed on as their cinematographer.

Mr. Peel

H.I. McDunnough works for Hudsucker Industries, right?

On their joint HOT FUZZ audio commentary Edgar Wright & Quentin Tarantino are talking about RAISING ARIZONA at one point and they both come to the conclusion that H.I. is essentially a comic version of Dustin Hoffman in STRAIGHT TIME. Which kind of makes sense, actually.

Matt Miller

I know this brands me as a young(ish) pup, but this film holds a special place in my heart, as, at 10 years old, it was the first movie that I ever made me think, "somebody made this." It was a few more years before I ever thought to find out who, or see what else they'd done, but that sense of idiosyncrasy was there. So, yeah, this was my intro to auteurism.


I've always loved the movie for its heart. One of my favorite shots has to be the one towards the end, when Goodman and Forsythe return to prison through the same hole they dug themselves out of. We see Goodman go in first, then reach out to help his little brother in. For all the Tex Avery craziness, that they can move us with a moment like that, makes this movie truly great.


I haven't seen the awesome Forsythe much lately, but he's got no less than 10 imdb credits for 2011. And for 2012 -- RAGING BULL 2. Yikes. Even if Scorsese were involved, I'd probably still say yikes. Actually, Forsythe's credit for this is "Jake LaMotta (rumored)," so perhaps any enthusiasm or outrage should be held in check.

Chris O.

Wow, I was just referencing the interrogation scene the other day. "He was wearing a dinner jacket..." Love this one. And if I'd made the ARIZONA/O BROTHER let's-spend-a-moment-on-pomade connection before, I'd forgotten it.

@Mr. Peel -- I think they hired M. Emmet Walsh for BLOOD SIMPLE (and then in a brief role in ARIZONA) because they loved his performance in STRAIGHT TIME. Speaking of character actors, wouldn't it be great to see them work with him again?

I think THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JUDGE ROY BEAN was a big influence on this one along with, as the brothers have said, Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. They're fans of PUTNEY SWOPE, too, I believe. Glenn is on the money with Looney Tunes here and, as he's mentioned before, Tex Avery.


This has always been the one Coen Bros. film about which I have no reservations whatsoever. Running in my head the image of N. Cage dodging buckshot amid 7-11 shopping aisles while the soundtrack yodeller wails cheerfully has made me slaphappy every recall since then.

Stephen Whitty

Thanks for this, Glenn. I think this may be the most absolutely perfect of their films (whether that makes it their best is for another discussion.)

And as for the eternal/infuriating "What IS the Coens' attitude toward their characters?" (said while stroking non-existent beard...)

I dunno, I always thought it was pretty clear. The Coens, being intelligent fellows, think the entire human race is -- themselves included -- on the whole, rather dim.

However, characters who are willing to admit they may not know everything get treated fairly well in a Coen Bros picture. Characters who insist that they DO know everything, well, they get their comeuppance.

It's one of the reasons, I think, they're so fond of using the tropes of detective novels. Because usually, in that genre, there's a scene where the private eye goes to see someone, and lays it all out. And the character laughs and says something like "You think THAT'S what's going on here? Mister, you've got no idea..."

James Keepnews

The greater acting challenge for Forsythe will come with RAGING BULL WITH A VENGEANCE. Or RB: THE NEXT GENERATION ("Now, Jake faces new challenges..."_. Or whatever. Meantime, WTFF?!?

Gunning the accelerator for the exit sign marked "Off-Topic," I'm more than delighted to use these comments (and Mr. Walsh) as the one-degree separation to pivot towards testifying for my love of the indelible STRAIGHT TIME. Dustin sure don't seem to be in a big hurry to have a greater performance captured on film, insofar as he hasn't since. And a cast for the ages: Dusty, M.E.W., H.D. Stanton, Kathy Bates, Busey in his non-freaky heyday, and though I don't expertly cast here.

I was thinking about this film, and its director, during the various disrespectin's Herr Bergman has gotten amongst the respectable, smart-set film critocracy (present company excluded) since his death, because, you know, film isn't theater and blah blah frickin' BLAH. As though every filmmaker is/has been/will be a Bresson waiting to be teased out from so much plasticine motion capture technology pour le cinematograph. But enough about Dave Kehr's fetishization of Robert Zemeckis. You know, a few of these here film "models" can still do impressive things as actors/meat concepts on a >ahem< stage, breathing the same air as an audience in the same room at the same time, and directors with experience in these primitive forums might actually have something to offer his/her cast and an eventual film audience, as distasteful as such truths may be to our individual/collective cine-purity/ies. So, permit me to express mad love for the great Ulu Grosbard, while admitting his is not the most distinctively visual oeuvre in the history of American film. But all those years in the theater means everyone of his films is packed with brilliant acting across a period -- '68-'99 -- notable for brilliant acting. A for-instance: I still have fond memories of WHO'S HARRY KELLERMAN, less for Dusty than for the almighty Barbara Harris in arguably her best role, and wouldn't mind seeing that on a double bill with some equally knowing satire of celebrity, like, I don't know, ALEX IN WONDERLAND. Or, turning back onto the on-ramp, perhaps RAISING ARIZONA.

James Keepnews

I blame TR's vacuity for whatever happened to the missing phrase at the end of the second paragraph above: "..and though I don't have much truck for Theresa Russell, her Valium-as-Method acting is expertly cast here."


Tony Dayoub

James, my only exposure to Grosbard is TRUE CONFESSIONS. But based on that and your extollment of his virtues, I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Now, to steer this back to RAISING ARIZONA, my favorite (Forsythe) exchange from the film:

EVELLE: (about some balloons) These blow up into funny shapes and all?

SHOPKEEPER: Well no, unless round is funny.


Forsythe's overacting was great in OUT FOR JUSTICE, arguably Steven Seagal's best movie (directed by the underrated John Flynn; not on par with his 70s revenge gems, but worth a look).


STRAIGHT TIME is on Netflix Instant Watch, folks. Run, don't walk. Indeed, one of the '70s best. How Hoffman won an Oscar for RAINMAN without even scoring a nod for this one would be baffling if that sort of thing didn't happen all the time.

I met Theresa Russell last year at a thing, and she looked great. I couldn't help getting a little flirty, saying stuff like, "In STRAIGHT TIME, what were you, like, four?" She seem quite flattered, but sorry to say, the story ends there.


Isn't that O.P.E. / P.O.E. thing a reference to Dr. Strangelove?

stuck working

I.B., not to drag this thread further off-topic, but I would want you to fill out that "arguably" with respect to OUT FOR JUSTICE, since I'm 99% certain UNDER SIEGE is Seagal's best.

Connecting this to James Keepnews's post, Busey may be giving his crazy eyes there, but hey - doing it well is harder than it looks. You need only watch Eric Bogosian's miserable performance in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY for comparison's sake. (Also, I mean "miserable" literally; it's not so much that his performance is bad as that he always looks so unhappy to be there.)

James Keepnews

Tony, Mr. Grosbard is definitely worthy of your considered attention, and certainly as TC showed, he knows how to conduct improvisations between masters like DeNiro and Duvall like a Method Butch Morris (Google him -- you'll be glad you did). But I esp. recommend STRAIGHT TIME, WHO'S HARRY KELLERMAN &c. (generally dismissed over the decades and far from unflawed but also very much worthy of reconsideration) and maybe most esp. GEORGIA. And not so much for JJL, even, but SO much for her Mom's script; wonderful small roles marvelously inhabited by people like Ted Levine, John C. Reilly and two maybe-not-so-different musical icons, John Doe and Jimmy Witherspoon; and most most esp. for the sublime Mare Winningham, who just about never gets roles that rise to the occasion of her talent, musical much less dramatic. Except, my gosh, here. Both GEORGIA and STRAIGHT TIME haunt me like few American films I've ever seen.

Forsythe fans would be well rewarded by tracking down the interview he gave to the essential Shock Cinema a few years back -- plenty of cracks about a certain martial artist, to say nothing of the Coens (short version: clever film geeks, I scared 'em, they never asked me to do another one of their films, ipso: fuck 'em). One thing I particularly remember him saying was, for all his performances over the years, he only felt like he's been able to show maybe seven percent of what he capable of as an actor. I'm biased, but I bet that's completely true.


@ stuck working: I would rank UNDER SIEGE second, 'cause they take far too earnestly the "yep, some terrorists took over the Missouri and have nuclear weapons at their disposal but chance has it that there is some cook on board who also happens to be the greatest expert on hand-to-hand anti-terrorist warfare or something and blahblahblah you are supposed to give a crap about it". Whereas OUT FOR JUSTICE is pretty well made, but every time it gets too serious Seagal smacks some poor second-tier henchman far more brutally than he deserved, or Forsythe ups his coked-out meanness. Or they just remind you that the whole thing is on account of one Bobby Lupo.

A Seagal movie, anyway, has to walk a very tight line between the proficient and the ridiculous. And while far from his "best", at least according to the prevailing aesthetic values, UNDER SIEGE 2 is for me the most enjoyable thing he's ever done, thanks in no small part to Mr. Bogosian hyper-active turn, probably the super villain with the most inappropiate haircut of all time.

As for RAISING ARIZONA, I saw it too long ago, and at the time struck me as too goofy for its own sake; I don't know what to expect of it now. I loved BLOOD SIMPLE at first sight and it has gotten better and better on sucessive viewings, while I don't like MILLER'S CROSSING nearly as much as I used to (rereadings of Hammett may have something to do with it). FARGO is too condescending. My favourite now is BURN AFTER READING, which is terrific comedy and I find it to have a lot to say, in its own casual, unpretentious and almost unconcious way, about the "current moral climate" or whatever. A lot more than THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which is great, yeah, but while everybody with a Twitter account is trying to find in it a generational cybermeaning they are neglecting to accept the thing's pathos is FLAMING MOE'S with computers. Whataburger.

Wow, a couple of pints make me feel like my opinions are sorely needed!


Matt S.

I'm surprised that there's no love for Above the Law, which I think is Seagal's finest film. It's lean, efficient, and I find it appealing that the film leans so heavily on the charisma of its star, even though it's his first feature film. That kind of blithe confidence mixed with unassuming genre craft got undercut as the Seagal films got more ponderous, high-concept, or just plain silly.

More on-topic: I think some latter-day Coen films show the same evidence of "glue-gunning," but it doesn't come off as well because they're more consumed with polish than early-days bravura. O Brother is a prime example. The fact that it loosely mimics the episodic structure of The Odyssey doesn't really make the collection of tangents hold together any better. Not to mention the fact that huge swaths of the source material are actually very contiguous. A film like Burn After Reading comes across as much better because the tangential nature of the plot pieces is part of the point. That's not glue-gunning, though; it's seamless craftsmanship.

I love that way of putting it. Glue-gunning. That's going in the personal lexicon.


People, really. No love for O, Brother? How can you not love a mash-up of The Odyssey, Sullivan's Travels, and Cool Hand Luke with occasional forays into The Wizard Of Oz and the Robert Johnson legend?

"I believe it's more of a kickin' sitchyation." Genius! My friend Les T from Mississippi said it captured the humor of her home state like nothing she'd ever seen before.

And the music!

If you don't love O, Brother, you don't love America.

Or I'm just a sucker for the Coen Bros. I even loved The Hudsucker Proxy.


Forgot to give some love to Mr. Forsythe. He did this low-budget syndicated series some years back where he played Al Capone; he was terrific, and surprisingly sexy.


SO glad to see some across-the-board love for William Forsythe, who's been a favorite of mine since Once Upon a Time In America, and has done incredible work in everything from the highest tier (Coens, Leone) to great drive-in/B-movies (Seagal, Zombie) on down to the lowest of the low. No one will believe this nor should they check it out, but even as the bad guy in something as disreputable as RELENTLESS III, that esteemed series with LEADING MAN LEO ROSSI, Forsythe knocked it out of the park with an unsettling, unpleasant, strangely sympathetic villain.

Not sure how this got onto Seagal, but I'll cast my vote for OUT FOR JUSTICE and MARKED FOR DEATH as his absolute prime, with HARD TO KILL and both UNDER SIEGES way up there. I do like ABOVE THE LAW, but it's like a clunkier version of the great Chicago vibe David brought to Code of Silence and The Fugitive; OUT FOR JUSTICE, on the other hand, is full-on INSANE, Seagal in that idiotic vest and beret and that classic scene where he rousts the bar with a series of bizarre taunts and those endless stilted line readings of ANYBODY SEEN RICHIE? in between waving a hot dog around. And Forsythe is a BEAST in that.

My default Coen line has always been that the smug cornpone comedies and clever but vaguely deadly, but the grimly humorous crime movies are on par with Hitchcock and some of the best movies ever. But Arizona almost upends that theory... I think a HUGE part of it IS that Sonnenfeld DP work before they got too hermetic and color-lessly beige. Watch it now and it's almost like, WHAT ARE THESE PRIMARY COLORS in a COEN MOVIE? Why, it's THE COLOR BLUE, and not just scotch-guarded yellows and whites. It has that same nighttime, small-town, eerie glow as BLOOD SIMPLE only from a comedic vantage point. From MILLER'S CROSSING, it was all lacquered brown and beige grubbery.


This is my favorite Coen Bros film, the exact right mix of technical bravura and stylized theatrics that still gives me a lump in the throat. Cage at his crazed finest. And the way the title theme kicks in...


"I even loved The Hudsucker Proxy."

Hardly controversial (I did too); anyone want to say that about 'The Ladykillers'?

Bruce Reid

Oliver_C: "Hardly controversial (I did too); anyone want to say that about 'The Ladykillers'?"

I think they pull off a neat trick rewriting the original's stalking threat from a grimly mechanistic, uncaring universe to (however comically) a divinely motivated one; and the extended hip-hop/gospel/classical score sequence is one of the Coens' (and thus one of the all time) greatest setpieces. Love might be too strong, but I genuinely don't get how this became the default "only-bad-film-they've-made." Which, in fairness, I don't think they have, yet.

That Fuzzy Bastard

For years, I've been promising Keith Ulrich my stirring defense of The Ladykillers, which I think is as semiotically thoughtful a film as No Country but much smarter and funnier. While the Ealing original is an amusing trifle, the Coens version is a deeply thoughtful look at what it means to be good or evil in a world where God is silent---really, I'm not kidding at all---articulated through a series of very consistent images (particularly with trash representing man's vanity and animals representing God's creation). It's like a Bergman film with kickier music. But then, I'm such a fanboy I think Intolerable Cruelty is a delightful screwball comedy.

Joel Gordon

Considering their films since The Ladykillers, that's not a bad read on the movie. I think the whole "God is silent" thing reaches its peak in my favorite, A Serious Man, where God may be be silent but He might not necessarily be absent, which is infuriating to a certain type of believer (such as mensch-y college physics professors). I like Ladykillers best for Hanks' awesomely weird performance.

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