John Goodman

Raising Arizona (1987, Joel Coen)

Halfway through Raising Arizona is this breathtaking chase sequence. Until this point in the film, while there’s been a lot of phenomenal direction, it’s all been brief. Raising Arizona starts in summary, with lead Nicolas Cage narrating, and it doesn’t start slowing down the narrative pace until just before the chase sequence. But then the chase happens and it’s amazing and Arizona seems poised to just keep going with that precise, outrageous filmmaking.

Then it doesn’t. Instead it gets lost in its supporting cast for a while before getting back on track, which is too bad. But there had been warning signs–like the film never really giving Holly Hunter reasonable character motivation, instead letting Cage’s narration–and charm–sell their romance. Though, at the halfway point, it certainly doesn’t seem like Hunter and Cage are going to get the narrative shaft for supporting cast members John Goodman and William Forsythe. Yet they do.

It’s during Goodman and Forsythe’s tedious time in the spotlight one has time to reflect on just how few of its promises the film has fulfilled.

The starting narration is long. Arizona runs about ninety minutes (without end credits) and it’s got a long, narrated opening summary sequence, then the lengthy chase sequence right in the middle. And then a substantial “epilogue” but more wrap-up.

Cage is front and center, literally–he’s getting his mug shot taken–right at the start. Hunter is taking his mug shot. He robs convenience stores (without bullets so it’s not armed robbery). She’s a cop. They fall in love. Without her saying very much. It’s all from Cage’s perspective, which is great. He’s a lovable, well-meaning recidivist. Right from the start, Cage’s performance is amazing. His narration and his regular performance. It’s all amazing.

No one else is amazing. There are some other excellent performances, some quite good ones, no bad ones, but nothing compares to Cage’s. So it’s really too bad the Coen Brothers’ script gives him so little to do in the second half of the film. Better than Hunter, of course, who doesn’t really get to show any personality until the prelude to the chase sequence–and then barely anything the rest of the film. And that epilogue demotes her importance, which she’s sort of been clawing to get.

Cage and Hunter get married. In the narrated summary. Cage has been in and out of prison, but he settles down once they’re married. Hunter wants kids. Only she can’t. It’s not a story arc for her. It’s a plot detail in Cage’s story. Hunter becomes scenery for a while until they hear about some quintuplets and decide to kidnap one. This decision isn’t discussed in any scenes, it’s all covered in Cage’s narration. Because apparently the Coen Brothers couldn’t figure out a way to get Hunter to go from cop to kidnapper in scene.

Cage–and the film–can cover it. It’s shocking how much it can cover, which just makes it even more shocking when it no longer can cover. Even though Goodman and Forsythe give fine performances, it’s stunning how much lost the film gets in the weeds with them.

See, once they kidnap a baby–from unpainted furniture king Trey Wilson (who’s fantastic) and his wife, Lynne Kitei (who gets a scene and a quarter)–Goodman and Forsythe break out of jail and visit old buddy Cage. They need a place to lie low, unaware there’s a bounty hunter (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) after them.

Pretty soon Cobb sees the news about the kidnapped baby and decides to go after it too.

Then there’s a throwaway subplot involving Frances McDormand and Sam McMurray as a couple Hunter wants to be friends with. It’s a contrived, connective subplot, just there to move things around and to be funny. There’s some gorgeous photography from Barry Sonnenfeld during that sequence; the photography’s always good, always great, but the couples picnic sequence is about the only time Sonnenfeld gets to shoot exteriors during the day. It’s also a place where Hunter could get some material.

She doesn’t. Instead, the Coen Brothers focus on McMurray’s dipshit, who’s Cage’s boss; that detail comes out of the blue, since the only person Cage is ever working with is M. Emmet Walsh in a two scene cameo.

Eventually everyone wants the baby. The script uses it as punchline, not actual character motivation. It’s during that weedy period in the runtime when it doesn’t seem like Arizona is ever going to get back on track.

It does, finally, because it puts Cage and Hunter together in scenes and as a team. Despite the film being all about their whirlwind, glorious romance, they don’t get to establish actual chemistry–between the actors, not chemistry created through editing–until the third act. Way too late.

But then there’s this great action showdown in the third act, with a small but excellent chase scene, and director Coen, cinematographer, Sonnenfeld, and editor Michael R. Miller work some magic. Not as magical as the chase sequence, but magic enough to find the movie in the weeds and get it out onto the road again.

There’s some great writing. But most of it is in the first act. Wilson ends up with better scenes than anyone else in the second half. The movie doesn’t just sacrifice Hunter for Goodman and Forsythe, it eventually sacrifices Cage.

Great music from Carter Burwell. The whole thing is technically marvelous. It just doesn’t have anywhere near enough plot for the story it says it’s going to be telling. Even if the Goodman and Forsythe stuff were good, there’s not enough of it.

Raising Arizona has got plenty of problems, but it’s still a fairly thrilling success. You just have to wait through a lot of second half of the second act lag. But the filmmakers do come through. It just doesn’t make any sense why they don’t for a while.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicolas Cage (H.I. McDunnough), Holly Hunter (Ed), John Goodman (Gale), William Forsythe (Evelle), Trey Wilson (Nathan Arizona Sr.), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Leonard Smalls), Sam McMurray (Glen), Frances McDormand (Dot), Lynne Kitei (Florence Arizona), and T.J. Kuhn (Nathan Junior).


Kong: Skull Island (2017, Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

Kong: Skull Island has a deceptively thoughtful first act. Director Vogt-Roberts and his three screenwriters carefully and deliberately introduce the cast and the seventies time period (the film’s set immediately following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam). The script’s smart in the first act, giving John Goodman and sidekick Corey Hawkins a quest. They need to assemble a team to investigate a newly discovered island in the South Pacific. They hire expert tracker and charming mercenary Tom Hiddleston, they have an Army escort courtesy Samuel L. Jackson; there’s even photographer Brie Larson, though she just sort of comes aboard without anyone taking much notice.

Well, Hiddleston notices her, but only because they’re paired off. Hawkins eventually gets paired off Jing Tian, though they have a heck of a lot more chemistry than Hiddleston and Larson. They just bond over being too cerebral for such poorly written characters while also managing to be sexy through sweatiness.

They all get to the island. There’s a giant ape. There are giant water buffalo. There are giant octopi. There are giant lizards with skulls for heads. There’s stranded WWII pilot John C. Reilly for what occasionally seems like comic relief, only he’s never funny. His performance is fine. He’s just not funny. Goodman is sometimes funny, especially with Hawkins as straight man. And Shea Whigham, as Jackson’s second-in-command, he’s really funny. Unfortunately, even though the screenplay has occasional black humor and a lot more opportunity for it, Vogt-Roberts never goes for it. Or it goes over his head.

While Skull Island often looks pretty good, it’s more because Larry Fong knows how to shoot it or Richard Pearson knows how to edit it than anything Vogt-Roberts brings to the film. When it comes time for Jackson to go on an Ahab–he’s mad pinko photographers like Larson made the U.S. lose the war and so he has to kill the giant ape–Jackson’s already thin performance becomes cloyingly one note. Vogt-Roberts does nothing to prevent it. To be fair, he doesn’t really do anything to enable it either; directing actors isn’t one of his interests in the film.

Only once they’re on the island and Jackson’s Ahab syndrome becomes the biggest danger, there’s no real opportunity for good period music. Instead it’s Henry Jackman’s lousy score and the questionably designed skull lizards. While there’s a lot of thought in the creature design, the skull lizards are just unrestrained, thoughtless excess.

There are plenty of solid supporting performances, but they’re all constrained. Hiddleston’s lack of depth is stunning, until you realize Larson’s got even less but she’s able to get a lot farther. Everyone is supposed to look concerned or sacred–except Jackson, of course–only Larson manages to look concerned and thoughtful. It’s a lot for Skull Island. Whigham’s the only other actor who achieves it.

Ninety percent of the special effects are excellent. The remaining ten percent are still mostly good except when it’s a night scene. Vogt-Roberts (and, frankly, Fong) construct lousy night scenes. Skull Island is a movie with a giant CGI ape and the filmmakers can’t figure out how to do studio-for-night composite shots. It’s kind of annoying.

Everyone’s likable enough, save Jackson and a couple hissable stooges, and once Kong gets to a certain point in the second act, enough gears are in motion to get it to the finish. It’s far from the film the first act implies. Even if Vogt-Roberts were a better director, the script is still dreadfully shallow.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts; screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, based on a story by John Gatins; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by Richard Pearson; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Stefan Dechant; produced by Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull, and Mary Parent; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tom Hiddleston (Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson (Packard), Brie Larson (Weaver), John C. Reilly (Marlow), John Goodman (Randa), Corey Hawkins (Brooks), Thomas Mann (Slivko), Jason Mitchell (Mills), Jing Tian (San), John Ortiz (Nieves), Toby Kebbell (Chapman), and Shea Whigham (Cole).


The Big Easy (1986, Jim McBride)

There’s not much script structure like The Big Easy’s script structure. It’s an exceptionally constructed screenplay. The film’s great, but it all hinges on how Daniel Petrie Jr.’s script works. As previously introduced (whether onscreen or off) come back into the film, expanding on their original impression, as the relationship–okay, hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Big Easy is about assistant district attorney Ellen Barkin trying to ferret out some bad cops. Possible bad cop Dennis Quaid is on hand not just to investigate–and hopefully dissuade Barkin about her impression of the New Orleans Police Department–but also to romance her. Romancing her quickly turns into this whirlwind love affair, with lots of sex (director McBride, cinematographer Affonso Beato, and editor Mia Goldman compose a wicked sex scene–no male gaze until after it’s all over), lots of working together (they’re supposed to be on the same side), and lots of general chemistry. The first act of Big Easy establishes Quaid and Barkin as a wonderful screen pairing.

Shame about Quaid maybe being a dirty cop, which then sends the narrative into an entirely different direction. But Petrie works so many plots and subplots in the film, it’s not until the third act everything is established. Barkin spent the first act as protagonist, with that focus moving more to Quaid (who always shared it to some degree), but in the third act, Petrie and McBride have ground situation revelations in store.

The other thing about the script is how quick it all moves. The film’s present action is maybe a couple weeks… maybe. There’s always time to relax though–as Quaid (and the title) reminds everyone, it’s The Big Easy, after all. McBride and Beato love the New Orleans locations, with Barkin’s recent transplant seeing everything fresh (for the viewer). It’s often delightful–funny, warm, beautiful–but it’s also very, very rough. McBride works wonders with the tone; Barkin and Quaid’s chemistry, regardless of what the narrative requires, always takes precedence. It’s what makes the film after all.

As far as lead acting goes, it’s hard to say who’s better. At first it seems like Barkin has a deeper character, albeit less flashy. The flashiness initially seems too much for Quaid, but once there’s a deep dive into his character, the performance becomes a lot fuller. It’s easiest to let them share the top spot; The Big Easy’s acting, how Quaid and Barkin deal with the script’s developments, how McBride frames them, is exceptional.

The supporting cast is all strong, starting with third-billed Ned Beatty. He’s Quaid’s boss and future step-father. Lisa Jane Persky’s Quaid’s girl Friday. She’s awesome in the part. It probably shouldn’t be a bigger part, since she’s just there for exposition and banter, but Persky could’ve easily run a spin-off herself. McBride’s tone for the rather serious film is often genial and welcoming. Persky and Beatty help a lot with it. John Goodman and Ebbe Roe Smith are funny as dumb cops. Grace Zabriskie is awesome as Quaid’s mom. And Charles Ludlam makes a great lawyer.

Great music, both incidental, soundtrack, and Brad Fiedel’s playful score. It’s technically outstanding–Beato excels at whatever he needs to be lighting and Goldman’s editing is strong from the start. McBride uses a variety of techniques–including actors looking directly into the camera, something I usually loathe–to facilitate performances. The second act, which is the least “pleasant” of the film, is the best directed.

The Big Easy is fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; written by Daniel Petrie Jr.; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Stephen J. Friedman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Remy McSwain), Ellen Barkin (Anne Osborne), Ned Beatty (Jack Kellom), Lisa Jane Persky (McCabe), Tom O’Brien (Bobby McSwain), John Goodman (DeSoto), Ebbe Roe Smith (Dodge), Charles Ludlam (Lamar Parmentel), and Grace Zabriskie (Mama McSwain).


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel and Ethan Coen)

Just over half way into Inside Llewyn Davis, there’s a moment where lead Oscar Isaac looks into the face of responsibility–weighs it, weighs the consequences of not accepting it, makes his decision. Until that moment, the Coen Brothers hadn’t candidly identified the film as a character study. It happens in the middle of an epical sequence–the film splits into three (really, five) sections–and they don’t stop the existing momentum. It just changes, ever minutely, how Isaac is going to relate to the viewer. The film acknowledges the viewer wants to make a judgement of the protagonist–as one well should given the protagonist’s name is in the title and that title can easily be seen as an invitation–but refuses that judgement. There’s no need. After all, the film has up until that point warned the viewer and the training wheels are then off.

So with the rest of the film, the Coen Brothers do a lot of different things. They give Isaac some more excellent moments, they craft a really spectacular third act and denouement. They even acknowledge they’ve taken quite a journey–a bigger one than the viewer (or Isaac) realize–and they fit all their many pieces back into the box they so carefully unpacked in the first act.

The film concerns Isaac’s early sixties Greenwich Village folk singer and his callous behavior and interactions with other people, both in the folk music culture and out. Isaac’s performance is outstanding, as are many of the supporting performances. It’s a character study so Isaac’s is the most important and he hits every moment, ably assisted not just by the Coen Brothers’ script and direction, but the fine editing from Roderick Jaynes, who knows just how to cut a talking heads scene for emphasis.

Davis beautifully recreates the period–Jess Gonchor production designing–and Bruno Delbonnel’s crisp photography makes it all even more vivid. It’s a quiet, precise film. Many of the actors–Carey Mulligan and John Goodman in particular–speak in short monologues. The sound is phenomenal, not just because it’s about music, but because of the tone the Coen Brothers get out their cast’s deliveries amid such static, aching quiet.

Isaac’s great, Mulligan’s great. Excellent support from Justin Timberlake (no, really), F. Murray Abraham and Jeanine Serralles. Phenomenal composition and editing from the Coen Brothers (with Jaynes’s assistance, of course).

Inside Llewyn Davis is awesome–big when it needs to be, small when it needs to be. It’s a beautiful extinguishing of hope and, better, watching as Isaac experiences that extinguishing. It’s also phenomenally plotted; I don’t want to forget about that element. The script organically layers the revelations throughout the narrative, forcing the viewer to not just identify–willingly or not–with Isaac, but also with his protagonist’s particular point of view.

It’s a singular character study.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Roderick Jaynes; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by Scott Rudin, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; released by CBS Films.

Starring Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis), Carey Mulligan (Jean), Justin Timberlake (Jim), John Goodman (Roland Turner), Garrett Hedlund (Johnny Five), Jeanine Serralles (Joy), Adam Driver (Al Cody), Stark Sands (Troy Nelson) and F. Murray Abraham (Bud Grossman).


Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis)

There are so many easy targets in Flight. Not really the acting, even though a lot of the supporting cast is phoning it in. They’re good actors–Don Cheadle, John Goodman (doing a riff on Big Lebowski)–and they’re capable at phoning it in.

It’d be impossible for them to do anything else, however, given director Zemeckis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a feature film where the famous songs playing in the background always directly inform the action. It’s either incredibly condescending to the audience or it’s just supposed to be the most obvious movie ever made.

Occasionally, because the acting from Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly is so good, I thought there might be a chance it was all a ruse and Zemeckis and writer John Gatins were lulling the audience into a false sense of security. Flight isn’t about a happy ending, it’s about Denzel Washington, movie star and good guy, playing a fundamentally decent human being who has a lot of problems. But he can overcome those problems… because he’s Denzel Washington, good guy.

The film savors each moment of Washington’s failed attempts at redemption, every time he goes lower into the depths–it’s telling Flight skips ahead during what would have been its most difficult section dramatically.

Ignoring the trite foreshadowing, the manipulative writing, the general cheapness of the film overall, Flight is incredibly watchable. Both for Washington’s performance and, sure, to bemusedly regard Zemeckis’s vapid pseudo-sincerity. It takes major hits in the third act before going down.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by John Gatins; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Zemeckis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker), Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), Kelly Reilly (Nicole), John Goodman (Harling Mays), Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson), Brian Geraghty (Ken Evans), Tamara Tunie (Margaret Thomason), Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), Peter Gerety (Avington Carr), Garcelle Beauvais (Deana) and Melissa Leo (Ellen Block).


Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck is a calm, assured director; Argo is something of a distant film. He never lets himself take the spotlight, but he also doesn’t let any of the supporting cast take it either. He casts the film beautifully–whether it’s Clea DuVall and Scoot McNairy as some of the people Affleck’s trying to rescue or John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Affleck’s Hollywood sidekicks–every performance in Argo’s perfect.

And Kyle Chandler too. Can’t forget him. He’s amazing in his handful of scenes.

But the perfection–the end credits roll with pictures of the actual people and the film went out of its way to cast on look–comes at a price. Affleck never lets loose. Every moment of Alexander Desplat’s score fits, but he never gets enthusiastic. The most stylish thing in the film is the seventies era Warner logo at the opening. Otherwise, Affleck is way too precise.

The result is an exceptional docudrama; but Affleck’s methodical and procedural approach hurts it a little. The one place Affleck does create something singular is with his recreations of the Iran hostage crisis. If his character’s attempts at rescuing the stranded people is the film’s main emphasis, the recreation comes second. The plight of the people? A distant third.

The postscript has the film’s most personality. Director Affleck gleefully calls back to his own childhood; he does it in a very controlled setting, however. He never lets the technical enthusiasm loose to infect Argo, which is too bad.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Chris Terrio, based in part on a book by Tony Mendez and an article by Joshuah Bearman; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Grant Heslov, Affleck and George Clooney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston (Jack O’Donnell), Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel), John Goodman (John Chambers), Victor Garber (Ken Taylor), Tate Donovan (Bob Anders), Clea DuVall (Cora Lijek), Scoot McNairy (Joe Stafford), Rory Cochrane (Lee Schatz), Christopher Denham (Mark Lijek), Kerry Bishé (Kathy Stafford), Kyle Chandler (Hamilton Jordan), Chris Messina (Malinov), Zeljko Ivanek (Robert Pender), Titus Welliver (Bates), Keith Szarabajka (Adam Engell), Bob Gunton (Cyrus Vance), Richard Kind (Max Klein), Richard Dillane (OSS Officer Nicholls), Omid Abtahi (Reza Borhani), Page Leong (Pat Taylor), Farshad Farahat (Azizi Checkpoint #3) and Sheila Vand (Sahar).


Blues Brothers 2000 (1998, John Landis)

I found something good to say about Blues Brothers 2000. The end credits are seven minutes. The only good thing about this movie is it ending any sooner.

2000 is truly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, particularly because it’s not even amusing in its badness. If it was amusingly bad, it would have something going for it. But Dan Aykroyd, who starts the movie with what seems to be a Russian accent before going into his terrible version of a Chicago one, takes it all very seriously. Watching John Goodman play second fiddle to Aykroyd is depressing, but probably not as depressing as watching Joe Morton inexplicably playing Cab Calloway’s character from the first one’s son. Because they needed a black costar this time?

As for Landis, his direction is atrocious. It’s clear from the opening whatever technical proficiency Landis had for the first one is gone for this one. If it were anyone but he and Aykroyd, one might think of 2000‘s scenes similar to the original as paltry knock-offs instead of informed homages. Ever single thing in the movie flops though. It’s incredible. The only good performance is probably Shann Johnson.

Landis can’t even direct a fun James Brown performance in this one. It’s constantly getting worse and even more boring. There aren’t any comedy gags in it.

While the cast is terrible overall (especially little Blues J. Evan Bonifant), Erykah Badu and Paul Shaffer give the worst performances.

2000‘s indescribably abysmal.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Dan Aykroyd and Landis; director of photography, David Herrington; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Paul Shaffer; production designer, Bill Brodie; produced by Aykroyd, Leslie Belzberg and Landis; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues), John Goodman (Mighty Mack McTeer), Joe Morton (Cabel Chamberlain), J. Evan Bonifant (Buster), Steve Cropper (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper), Donald Dunn (Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn), Murphy Dunne (Murph), Willie Hall (Willie Hall), Tom Malone (‘Bones’ Malone), Lou Marini (‘Blue Lou’ Marini), Matt Murphy (Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy), Alan Rubin (‘Mr. Fabulous’), Aretha Franklin (Mrs. Murphy), James Brown (Cleophus James), B.B. King (Malvern Gasperon), Nia Peeples (Lt. Elizondo), Kathleen Freeman (Mother Mary Stigmata), Sam Moore (Reverend Morris), Wilson Pickett (Mr. Pickett), Frank Oz (Warden), Eddie Floyd (Ed), Jonny Lang (Custodian), Steve Lawrence (Maury Sline), Junior Wells (Junior Wells), Lonnie Brooks (Lonnie Brooks), Jeff Morris (Bob), Shann Johnson (Matara), Darrell Hammond (Robertson) and Erykah Badu (Queen Mousette).


The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)

While The Artist is a silent film about the silent film era, it quickly moves into the talking era. Probably in the first third of the film. Hazanavicius technically engages the transition a little–a dream sequence for protagonist Jean Dujardin–but for the majority of the film, it’s set in the late thirties and still told as a silent. Hazanavicius’s commitment to the constraint produces some great results.

The film juxtaposes the fall of Dujardin’s silent film star and the rise of Bérénice Bejo’s talking star. The two are tied from the beginning, but Hazanavicius isn’t telling a traditional love story. There’s no room for it in his narrative structure–The Artist is often told in summary, the film taking place over twelve years.

This approach focuses all the film’s attention on Dujardin; his performance is magnificent. Even when he’s on screen with other actors, particularly at the beginning, he is the whole film. But Bejo is astoundingly good too. She and Hazanavicius manage to keep her character vital yet never overshadow Dujardin.

Hazanavicius is comfortable with silent film storytelling techniques, though a lot of his composition mixes modern ability with silent sensibilities. He also embraces the sensibility of the cast staying youthful over a decade.

The supporting cast is small, but good. John Goodman and James Cromwell do well. Penelope Ann Miller is excellent.

The Artist excels because of Hazanavicius’s devotion to his constraints, but also because of Bejo and Dujardin. Without them, the film simply wouldn’t work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius; director of photography, Guillaume Schiffman; edited by Anne-Sophie Bion and Hazanavicius; music by Ludovic Bource; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Thomas Langmann and Emmanuel Montamat; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), James Cromwell (Clifton), John Goodman (Al Zimmer), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris) and Missi Pyle (Constance).


Arachnophobia (1990, Frank Marshall)

Is John Goodman doing an impression of Bill Murray from Caddyshack?

Arachnophobia is so all over the place, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out Frank Marshall directed him along those lines. The movie’s a mix between The Birds and a little Gremlins. Not to mention some proto-Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, Marshall doesn’t bring these elements together cohesively.

The first problem is the tone. It’s supposed to be kind of cute, especially once Trevor Jones’s score gets sappy (and bad), but it’s about a terrible spider infestation.

The second problem is those spiders. There’s a lack of science… and a lack of smarts. The lack of smarts goes so far as to show the protagonist, a doctor (played by a passable Jeff Daniels), doesn’t know what the Richter Scale is called. Those kind of dumb jokes (along with Goodman’s goofy exterminator) make Arachnophobia a chore.

Worse, it’s boring. It goes on and on and on. And once it does get going, Julian Sands comes back. He’s in the prologue, where Mark L. Taylor acts circles around him. But when Sands gets back, there’s no one near as strong as Taylor to make up for his awful acting.

Arachnophobia‘s big problem, besides Marshall’s general inability, is the acting. Mary Carver gives the film’s best performance. Besides Sands, Stuart Pankin gives the worst. Brian McNamara isn’t bad, but Harley Jane Kozak is mediocre. It’s probably the lousy writing of her character.

Still, the pre-CG special effects are absolutely stunning.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Marshall; screenplay by Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Jakoby and Al Williams; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Richard Vane; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Jeff Daniels (Dr. Ross Jennings), Harley Jane Kozak (Molly Jennings), John Goodman (Delbert McClintock), Julian Sands (Doctor James Atherton), Stuart Pankin (Sheriff Lloyd Parsons), Brian McNamara (Chris Collins), Mark L. Taylor (Jerry Manley), Henry Jones (Doctor Sam Metcalf), Peter Jason (Henry Beechwood), James Handy (Milton Briggs), Roy Brocksmith (Irv Kendall), Kathy Kinney (Blaire Kendall) and Mary Carver (Margaret Hollins).


The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen)

There are a lot of interesting things about what the Coens do with The Big Lebowski. The foremost thing has to be how, even though the film is incredibly thoughtful and complex in its homages, the Coens aren’t exclusionary about it. If you don’t know it’s Raymond Chandler, it’s okay. If you don’t know zero budget Westerns had narrators, it’s okay.

If you do, you understand more about what they’re doing, but you don’t better understand the film. Because knowing where they’re coming from isn’t the point. The movie’s the point.

But being accepting of populist viewers aside, the Coens also do something very interesting with the dialogue. When people listen to other people, they’re hearing it for the first time, just like the viewer. Even though John Goodman’s amusing lunatic has been friends with Jeff Bridges’s character for untold years… Bridges’s reactions are in line with the audiences. He’s stunned—just like the viewer—at the stupid things Goodman says.

It’s subtle, but with the film starting in the first scene.

Bridges and Goodman are both great, as is Steve Buscemi as the third in their triumvirate. Of course, he has nothing to say, which is kind of the point.

In the supporting roles, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and David Thewlis are all fantastic.

Lebowski, now a pop culture icon, succeeds because it embraces pop culture (and assumes everyone should know LA culture). It’s excellent.

Except, however, when there’s a nonsensical reference to an as yet unestablished subplot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes and Tricia Cooke; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jeffrey Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi (Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos), David Huddleston (Jeffrey Lebowski), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn), Peter Stormare (Karl Hungus), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Jon Polito (Da Fino), David Thewlis (Knox Harrington), Jack Kehler (Marty) and Sam Elliott (The Stranger).


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