“The Big Lebowski”

September 11, 2008

Big Lebowski

Big Lebowski

Ah, now this is a true classic. Well, a cult classic at least. The Big Lebowski(1998) bombed at the box office, and only became popular after it left the theaters and cinemas. In time, Lebowski  fandom was truly a sight to behold. Its almost like the Star Wars craze. Lebowski merchandise comes in a wide variety of forms, almost every film nerd has seen it and usually have seen it so many times they can quote any line if you asked them to. For heaven’s sake, the movie has its own festival.  I never quite understood why it did so poorly initially, and some find it odd that it has such a following now. The reasons are fairly simple. There simply aren’t as many comedy films that are this far out and unpredictable. It was made by very intelligent people, but its made for normal people. Of course, there’s always the main character himself…’The Dude’, a zen-ish figure who does absolutely nothing and yet manages to get himself in a world of trouble. Oh, and of course there is a lot of bowling on the side, too.

The Big Lebowskiis actually a spoof of an old Humphry Bogart crime flick called the Big Sleep (1946). In fact, its pretty much the same plot, except The Big Lebowski is set in the 90’s and the hero is a Buddha-like hippie. The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, is the laziest dead beat in Los Angeles. While going about his business, a couple thugs mistake him for a millionaire whose wife supposedly owes money to some crime lord. This is the only movie I can remember where the conflict breaks into the protagonist’s home and gives him a swirly (literally).

Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman, later talks the Dude into confronting the millionaire, and asking him to remedy his situation. The rich man is a disabled, conservative veteran who refuses to help the Dude in any way- until the thugs get to him first. For those that don’t know the plot already, there is a lot more to the story than this, but you’ll have to watch it for yourself. With Barton Fink, it was hard to describe the movie without giving away the ending. As far as the Big Lebowski is concerned, there is just too many twists and turns. It can be a little confusing the first time, and that’s how the Big Sleep is too.

However, it isn’t necessary to keep up with the entire plot. The movie is more like a series of small adventures rather than a big one. In fact, a number of the scenarios that take place in Lebowski are based on stories about a couple guys in real life. The Dude and Walter are both based on real people, and apparently the car theft happened in real life, too. Truth really is stranger than fiction.  

 There is something to be said for unusual characters and witty dialogue, and Lebowski has both in spades. Just about everything here is in some way irreverent. Only Judd Apatow movies can compare to the Big Lebowski. The cast delivers each gag perfectly, and even though the characters are hardly believable, the cast performs their respective roles very well. Having some of the most quotable dialogue ever probably helped a little. There are quite a few stars here, after all. The cinematography and visual effects make an already bizarre aberration of LA even more surreal and hypnotic. However, if you haven’t seen this movie before, be prepared for profanity and mature content. The word “fuck” is uttered 281 times. Think Deadwood.

As great as the characters are, some of them seem forced or unnecessary. The narrator and the Jon Polito character comes to mind. While they do contribute a little to the story, their roles seem superfluous, especially for such a busy film.

The Big Lebowski is far from high brow entertainment. That being said, it is still an extremely clever and entertaining movie. After all, it was created by the Coen brothers, and many consider it to be their masterpiece. There is so much to see in this movie, that you have to watch it more than once to fully appreciate it, but it also happens to be one of those movies that never seem to get old. If you are looking for a funny adult comedy that you don’t have to take too seriously, you can’t go wrong with the Big Lebowski.

9.2 out of 10.0

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“Barton Fink”

September 10, 2008

While a number of films created by Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success, many seem to have forgotten most of their work prior to Fargo (1996). The obvious explanation is that several of them didn’t do all that well at the box office, but then so did the Big Lebowski (1998). Among the more obscure of these is  Barton Fink (1991), a strange psychological drama with dark comedic elements. It has been a fairly rare find until it was included in a DVD collection of Coen Brother movies. Is it worth while addition?

That depends on tastes. Barton Fink is hard to classify because it is so unusual and unique. Chances are that anyone who liked Fight Club (1999) or the Secret Window (2004) will enjoy this movie, because it shares the psychological breakdown those two later films did. In fact, John Turturro played crucial roles in both the Secret Window and Barton Fink. However, it was much more subtle and abstract in Barton Fink, which was probably why it lost money. It also functions as a dark comedy rather than a suspense thiller, so that makes the experience even more unusual. Barton Fink did win an award at the Cannes Film Festival, though.

This film is about a popular and ambitious Broadway playwright in the 1930’s, who tries to make the transition into Hollywood and immediately starts to have problems. Barton Fink, played by John Turturro, has made his big name writing plays about “the common man”, but is disatisfied with his work despite his success. When he decides to go to Hollywood, He arrives at an old, seemingly empty hotel. Over time, the hotel becomes something of a character itself. When he establishes his stay there, he finally recieves his assignment from the product studio- a Wallace Beery wrestling picture. Never having seen any movies before, Fink quickly succumbs to writer’s block. Big time writer’s block, too. John Goodman plays Fink’s neighbor, Charlie Meadows, who despite his good intentions always manages to distract Fink. Ironically, he also happens to personify the “common man” Fink aspires to write about. Eventually, the pressure gets to Fink and things start to go a little crazy.

The characters that populate Fink’s world are brilliant charactures of Hollywood. It is really easy to see how Barton Fink can be so confused by studio protocol. These people are brutal, complicated, and extremely unpredictable! Turturro himself won Best Actor at the Cannes for his performance, but I think John Goodman was at his best in this movie. Even Walter Sobchak isn’t quite as…dynamic, as Charlie is. Trust me. Sobchak was unpredictable and intense, but Charlie can be almost terrifying sometimes. There were moments where Goodman was truly awesome to behold, particularly in the film’s climax.

Of course, there is always the eerie, haunted hotel. The hotel is by far the most memorable part of the film, if only because it is so creepy. Entire academic papers could be written about enviroments like this hotel. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, this is the part that gets rather abstract. You see, it is probably best to think of the hotel as being Fink’s mind. As he experiences writer’s block for the first time, the room itself starts to come undone. As Barton Fink becomes more stressed, the hotel becomes more like Hell.

The only real problem with this film is that sometimes things happen that don’t make much sense, at least not at first. It has its abstract moments. There is alot to interpret here, whether you’re looking for some deep artsy meaning or just trying to figure out what is going on. This does not make the movie unwatchable by any means, but it will distract some viewers.

I personally had a bad case of writer’s block several months ago, so I could relate with anxiety that comes with it. Perhaps that experience has influenced my view of Barton Fink, but even so this was a very interesting and exceptionally unique movie for its time. Like I said, if you liked the Secret Window, chances are you will like this as well. Every once in a while it is good to watch a movie that can make you think, like the Sixth Sense, and like the Sixth Sense (1999), you may even find yourself watching this twice.

8.0 out of 10.0