Movie Of The Week: The Hudsucker Proxy (1993)

The Coen Brothers direct Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman in this period pastiche comedy where a schmoo from Muncie finds himself the CEO of a major corporation in New York when the board of directors want to devalue the stock.

“Pants!” Suddenly, Sidney J. Mussburger remembers. A mailroom idiot has all but destroyed his top floor skyscraper office, smashing a hole in a window that sucks out a vital contract into the ether. The grizzled executive, the bastard behind the throne at Hudsucker Industries, chases the scattered document into the vortex. He loses his footing, finds himself head first dangling 45 floors (“Counting the mezzanine”) above the sidewalk in thin air. The only two things stopping him from plummeting to his doom are the moron underling who caused all the chaos in the matter of a minute, and his pants, which said doofus has a hold of him by. Tailored trousers. Good quality too. Mussberger can afford the finest things in life. But then he remembers an offhand conversation he had with his genial tailor, we flashback to it also. When gently upsold the standard double stitch, a glowering, overly wise Paul Newman (playing marvellously against type) shuts the man down. He sees it as a frivolous expense. Why would he need to pay extra for pants where the stitching will survive anything? The waistband begins to tear as the single stitching gives way to the forces of gravity…

Miller’s Crossing was the VHS that tipped me into being a Joel & Ethan fanboy. The Hudsucker Proxy was the movie that felt like their own secret personalised gift to me. Nobody else seemed to know or care about it in my teenage movie lover world. It flopped in America, their first big Joel Silver produced, major studio budgeted, complete creative control moment of coronation and it made bupkis. Took a whole extra year to find a release date in the U.K. I only knew it was coming due to a massive poster on Notting Hill Underground station platform. But once I watched it, I adored it. Every moment, every montage, every bravura shot, every technical piece of wizardry, ever zing of the rat-a-tat, 160 word a minute, dialogue. I would have had little to no idea who Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Alexander Mackendrick, Damon Runyon or Preston Sturges were in 1994. Their influences seem clear as a bell now but then, I was wet all over. Yet it sang to me. This is a spectacular, flawless piece of cinematic mastery. Some say Blade Runner, others The Shining, but I know The Hudsucker Proxy is the diamond with all 4cs. It is possibly the only film in my personal Top 100 that inches forward with each revisit, rather than loses its shine ever so slightly to other favourites in the ranking on occasions.

“You know, for kids.” Tim Robbins’ Norville Barnes isn’t the sharpest tool in the woodshed. But he has a bright idea. A circle. Drawn on a tattily folded piece of paper. Everyone he shows it to inside the movie just thinks its the final condemnation that this dork is truly a braincell shy of a lobotomy. Turns out in this reality Norville has invented the Hula Hoop. We, everyone outside the movie, know it is going to hit big, reversing Hudsucker Industries faltering stock position and creating an era defining fad. As sure as gravity. As sure as time. We watch the production of the Hula Hoop as it passes through the floors and departments of the corporation; accounting, marketing, , testing, factory floor, goods out. Music accompanies this prolonged moment of creation. Carter Burwell’s orchestral homage to Adagio of Spartacus And Phrygia gives way to Dance of the Young Mountaineers and once the hoop…eventually… takes hold of the young minds of America the relentless pulse of The Sabre Dance kicks in. After an hour of near constant, verbose, relentlessly spiffy dialogue… music and image hack the talk. It is possibly the finest individual montage sequence ever committed to celluloid, a marriage of sound and movement that seduces the senses. The contenders for its crown could be any of the other half a dozen immaculate set pieces within. This is breathlessly tight storytelling from credits to close.

“Finally there would be a thingamajig that would bring everyone together, even if it kept them apart spatially.” Jennifer Jason Leigh is glorious and sexy as she crackles her way through the labyrinthine dialogue. Rosalind Russell, Kate Hepburn and Jean Arthur ain’t got nothing on the bark and the spiel and the pelt of this gal. After a series of dark, adult roles… trying to shed her teen movie cutie image… she landed a doozie here. I’m surprised she hasn’t worked with Coens again as she wallops their mannered loop-the-loop parlance in a way I’ve only ever seen John Goodman do as consistently. Strange that J+E have never recast any of these three leads? Regulars John Polito and Steve Buscemi have memorable cameos though.

Essentially The Hudsucker Proxy, for all it spotless calibration, iconic FX works and memorable cult quotes is a battle of ups and downs, good and evil. The Brothers favour doinks as their protagonists; HI McDunnough or The Dude. People who move with their heart rather than their heads, Jobs or George Baileys who are unknowingly tossed and turned by the slings and arrows of misfortune. Smarty pants like your Barton Finks, Tom Reagans and Llewyn Davis end up admonished at the the end of their trials and tribulations. It is only the pure hearted fool who comes out on top at the warm down of a Coens tale. God and the devil are always watching. The Hudsucker Proxy is the last Coen Brothers movie where this repeated format is explicit. You can tell precisely who the benevolent watcher and the ghastly reaper are here. Old Moses keeps the clock tower turning, knows all and is mandated to never intervene. The scraper of names from office doors is waiting to take all you’ve got… remove you from your penthouse perch. Why were the brother so hung up on biblical deities and devils in their early days? Maybe they knew exactly who their own representatives were in their stories… not the gormless hero, not the triple crossing plotter, not the shadowy dame but the gods with malicious control and minimal sincerity as to how all this smartness all crash lands in the final moments?

10

Perfect Double Bill: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Black Phone (2022)

Scott Derrickson directs Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw in this period horror where a wimpy kid finds himself trapped in the basement of a bemasked child killer with only the ghosts of the past victims to help him escape.

Creepy, iconic and with real emotional heft. There’s at least three child actors in this who convince as total badasses. I wouldn’t fuck with Miguel Cazarez Mora, little dude is hard. Hawke is a nasty delight. I’m glad Derrickson made this rather than Doctor Strange 2. Right up my alley.

8

Perfect Double Bill: Sinister (2012)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Colin Trevorrow directs Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Laura Dern in this “concluding chapter” in the Jurassic Park reboot series.

There’s a fair few decent ideas bubbling away but they get lost in a jumble of plot threads that are reintroduced and tied off even though I’m not sure anyone really cared about them when they exited Fallen Kingdom. Audiences or creatives. There’s one good lengthy set piece in Malta that plays out more like The Bourne Ultimatum with velociraptors. A visit to an illegal dinosaur farm and a dinosaur black market feel like implicitly dark settings to enter so casually for a family flick. Everything else is a little undercooked. The returning original oldies are pleasant presences but not really utilised imaginatively. There aren’t even really enough dinosaur money shots. I doubt this is the end of the franchise but even as a paragraph break it is quite disposable. Maybe this should be the end?

4

Perfect Double Bill: Halloween Kills (2021)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Hustle (2022)

Jeremiah Zagar directs Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah and Juancho Hernangómez in this sports drama where a dissatisfied NBA scout risks his career on an untrained Spanish construction worker who he spots “the real deal” in.

Have you seen Jerry Maguire and / or Moneyball? Well, then there’ll be no surprises here in terms of what is delivered. It just happens to be flawlessly calibrated, salty yet sweet, a fantastic Saturday night in. A perfect blend of training montage, jokes and mild drama. I dare you to watch it and not have a smile on your face for 90% of the runtime. Sandler dials it back a notch or three and has fine chemistry with this new crew, notably completely away from his regular ensemble of house goofs. One day someone is going to write a dissertation on his once sneered at Netflix deal and how it freed the underrated funny man up to make movies he cared about that still expanded his following. An easy going delight. Dare I say it… a slam dunk.

8

Perfect Double Bill: The Scout (1994)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Take Shelter (2011)

Jeff Nichols directs Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham in this drama where an ordinary family man begins receiving visions of an impending disaster, which he takes seriously but also fears might be the start of inherited schizophrenia.

A solid rattler that is expertly acted. Not sure it justifies its entire running time but you have nothing but goodwill towards Nichols’ engagingly simple mode of storytelling.

6

Perfect Double Bill: Field Of Dreams (1989)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Souvenir Part II (2021)

Joanna Hogg directs Honor Swinton Byrne, Jaygann Ayeh and Richard Ayoade in this sequel which lacks the charismatic thug in a blazer junkie and tells the untold struggle of one posh, non-verbal, white woman’s quest not to make cinema with social import while draining Mummy’s current account at Coutts.

Beautifully shot but also feels like aggressively gentile class war. A hymn to nepotism.

4

Perfect Double Bill: Absolute Beginners (1986)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Renny Harlin directs Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox and Danny Hassel in this horror sequel where Freddy Krueger comes back… againafter a junkyard dog pisses on his grave.

The most visually striking of the Elm Street sequels but that’s pretty much all it has going for it. Bonkers plotting, weak cast, even good ideas for dream kills aren’t exactly scary in execution. The gore FX guys probably deserve more praise than Harlin but you can see why he was offered the keys to the blockbuster kingdom after this. Known as “the MTV Freddy”. But, really, also the only Freddy where you’d struggle to differentiate any distinctive hook for existing beyond box office.

4

Perfect Double Bill: A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Redbelt (2008)

David Mamet directs Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alice Braga and Emily Mortimer in this martial arts noir where an honourable jujitsu instructor is dragged into a series of untrustworthy transactions.

Action sequences?! What is this a Stallone flick? Even so, possibly the most Mamet of Mamets. Don’t let the mixed martial arts setting fool you. He clearly became enamoured with this world while doing some training, but his take on it is pure Dave. This still has trademark lines of dialogue as succulent as “The belt is just symbolic. The belt, as Snowflake says, is to just keep your pants up.” …And retorts as dry as “Read the street signs. We’re in America.” I won’t give you the context for that one but suffice to say it is a potent humdinger. The plot is sheer quicksand, with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s honourable blackbelt (easily his career best performance) getting deeper and deeper with each interaction he finds himself in. I love this shit. Wish Mamet wrote and direct twice as many like this.

8

Perfect Double Bill: The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Right Stuff (1983)

Philip Kaufman directs Ed Harris, Sam Shepard and Dennis Quaid in this epic drama following the test pilots and US Marines who broke the sound barrier and became the first astronauts for NASA.

Allegedly the astronauts didn’t like this representation of them. Mercury Seven original Wally Schirra said: “It was the best book on space, but the movie was distorted and warped… All the astronauts hated it. We called it Animal House in Space.” You can see why the flyboys who conquered the stratosphere didn’t gel with this representation of themselves. They’re cocky, laddish, constantly flirting with death wishes. Cowboys who could be replaced by chimps. Pioneers along for a ride they have little control over. Only really Harris’ John Glenn shows an external humanity, emotional maturity. He treats his wife with a gentle adoration while the others hound dog and drag their ‘First Ladies Of Space’ about like required ornaments. Kaufman ain’t interested in myth, he’s interested in myth making. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at MACH 3. He knows it takes a special kind of macho jock to achieve the unachievable. He makes no bones in presenting these men as fallible, flawed and competitive. Because he has no need to turn these men into heroes. They already are, he’s trying to reset them back to being men. Rewind all the hype and propaganda, the Presidential phone calls and ticker tape parades. He explores some icons like Chuck Yeager (Shepard making a genuine, almost supernatural, impact as the man who should have been king of space) with an affectionate focus, others with a cursory shorthand. The movie lacks narrative form, drifting from one character or location to the next with little finesse. It isn’t interested in a trad three act structure. It is a freewheelin’ procedural of a unique, never repeated adventure. Yet it never feels baggy at three plus hours. The Right Stuff feels like a feast. The filmmakers eschewed the use of visual effects done in the lab. It makes you feel like you are right there. Did Tony Scott and Joseph Kosinski use this as a starting point for their Top Gun movies? Fleshing out all the reality but retaining the need speed, the desire to put an audience in the cockpit as the impossible is tamed? Bill Conti’s score adds to the aura that we are on the precipice of a new age of man. It absorbs Holst’s The Planets and Native American chant recycled from a previous Kaufman flick. Synthesiser heaven. John Barry was originally asked to compose the score but didn’t like Kaufman’s brief for how he wanted his movie to feel. “Sounding like you’re walking in the desert and you see a cactus, and you put your foot on it, but it just starts growing up through your foot.” In its finest scenes, and this evening devourer is full of them, The Right Stuff makes you feel like you are witnessing the points in the 20th Century where humanity is being redefined and America lives up to it grand potential. A once in a lifetime cinematic experience.

10

Perfect Double Bill: Apollo 11 (2019)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Matthew Vaughn directs James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender in the swinging Sixties-set prequel / soft reboot of the mutant superhero franchise.

Not as good as I remember on a belated revisit. Though that is the curse of many a summer blockbuster. Like an ice cream in the June sun, these things are only good for one afternoon. Lick it or lose it. It takes too long to get to the goods compared to Singer’s nifty first entry. And then the genuinely epic finale is ruined by Fassbender inexplicably defaulting to his natural accent. Now, we all love a bit of the brogue but Magneto has never and should never sound like a man with a grand ol’ insider tip on the horses. Sloppy execution, lengthy, but the fine ensemble just about justifies it all.

6

Perfect Double Bill: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/