Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Movies normally have various points in the narrative where it blends different moods or even genres to be effective in storytelling. The key is to have a transition to help guide the audience from one mindset to another. A great example would be KILL LIST, which starts out as British gangster fare but morphs into occult horror in a seamless manner. However, it can also have a genre as the backdrop, with different elements of other genres to facilitate either a more realistic approach or flat-out ennui.
In the realm of dark comedies, it can be served mainly in two different ways: either serious subject matter with situational humor, or a comedic premise with dire consequences happening throughout. A bachelor party goes awry after a stripper gets murdered, a pair of hitmen must hide out in a boring town due to an accidental murder…the abrupt circumstances that interrupt the characters’ reality while maintaining their personality and sense of humor.
The latest entry to the dark comedy genre is ARIZONA, which centers on a development community in the title state during the housing market crash, circa 2009. This is a real event that caused Americans to lose their homes to the banks, establishing a serious tone. However, it becomes direr with the opening sequence ending with an attempted suicide because the homeowner couldn’t pay their loan.
It is here that the audience is introduced to the protagonist, a real-estate agent named Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), living with her daughter in the same development that she is struggling to sell, and therefore in danger of losing her own home. She goes to work for her offensive boss (a cameo by Seth Rogen), when someone he sold a house to walks in to unload his frustrations on the current situation. That someone is Sonny (Danny McBride), a wannabe entrepreneur (his main invention is Miami Wice, which are wine ice cubes) who can’t get out from under his mortgage. They fight, and Sonny accidentally Cassie’s boss. She tries to phone for help, but Sonny knocks her unconscious and kidnaps her.
Now, something that is an accident has become the basis for Sonny’s downward spiral, and Cassie is caught in the middle of it all. He starts out as bumbling, showing his hostage how cool his house is, trying to disguise his already-seen face by wearing a hoodie backwards with eye & mouth slits cut into the hood. But, the deeper Sonny gets into the situation, and the more Cassie tries to get out of it, the body count starts to rise in the newly-minted ghost town.
DeWitt and McBride really do well in their respective roles, encompassing the low points, albeit exaggerated, of both parties involved in the housing crash. The realtor, who preyed upon others to get a commission through banking loopholes, and the buyer that bought well beyond their means thanks to banking loopholes. Their decisions now becoming a form of desperation, Cassie and Sonny are both trying to escape the respective hells they’ve created; the realtor that ruined lives, and the homeowner that’s ending lives.
The debut of both director Jonathan Watson and screenwriter Luke del Tredici (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, THE LIFE & TIMES OF TIM), ARIZONA plays out to become a serial killer horror flick but has trouble in blending the comedic timing with the emotion of horror. Because Sonny goes full-blown murderer, the audience can no longer accept him as a bumbling fool. His accidental kill has morphed into intent, a person hellbent on making sure he gets away with his crimes. So, when he does something out of that element, it takes the movie out of the element.
ARIZONA would’ve probably had a better connection leaving the comedic elements out and focusing on the stress and anguish of the homeowner, in that time period, and feeling the need for revenge against the ones that “wronged” him. The movie is something that sticks with you afterward though, because the horror elements are so good. But, one can’t help but wonder how it could have been without the misunderstanding.
ARIZONA is now playing in select theaters and available on Video-On-Demand.