March 15, 2020
The Big Lebowski (1998) Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
“Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism but at least it’s an ethos.” John Goodman (Walter Sobchak)
Legendary Writer/Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have a resume that is nearly second to none. Their films maybe aren’t always great, but you can be sure they are always interesting. These two auteurs have plenty of signatures in their films (same actors, anti-heroes, strong soundtracks, and weird endings to name a few), but despite those signatures, try describing their films, it isn’t an easy task. In today’s IP world Hollywood is trapped in, the Coen’s are a needed juxtaposition to the modern blockbuster. I can’t help but wonder what Joel and Ethan’s Batman would look like. How does a Coen brothers Dr. Strange film end? They likely will never get the keys to some comic/IP franchise like that (and probably don’t want them), but if we have to have these blockbusters 10-20 times year, why not let the Coen’s figure out how to Rise a Skywalker?
Trying to describe the Coen brothers 1998 masterpiece The Big Lebowski is only going to get you in trouble (perhaps with the religion the film inspired-Dudeism). Maybe it’s a Western, maybe it’s a Noir film, in all actuality it doesn’t matter man, (mind if I smoke a J?). Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, White Squall) in a life-altering role, stars as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a man who is mistakenly taken for Jeffrey “The Big” Lebowski (played perfectly by David Huddleston), and because of this The Dude gets caught up in a potential kidnapping/ransom plot, all while trying to roll his way past the semi’s in a local bowling tournament. He is not alone on this journey (though he is rather brilliantly in every scene of the film, in true noir fashion), John Goodman (Argo, 10 Cloverfield Lane) plays brilliantly Walter Sobchak (perhaps the greatest sidekick of all time, for all the wrong reasons), and Steve Buscemi plays the hapless and soft spoken Donnie, the opposite of his chatty Fargo character (Carl Showalter). The misguided adventure takes us all over L.A. (you know near the In n Out) and gives great actors wonderful dialogue to chew on. Julianne Moore shows up mid-film to steal a few scenes and the great Sam Elliot (playing a character dubbed The Stranger, but we think it may just be Sam playing Sam) adds a nice narration. The Coen’s themselves don’t think their movie’s plot matters much and neither do I, that said the more I watch this film (and I’ve seen it now nearly 30 times) the more I appreciate the rather linear story and the cool little easter eggs to previous Coen films. Frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins frames a beautiful looking film that changes style several times over and Carter Burwell and T Bone Burnett add an awesome soundtrack and vibe to the film. One scene in particular has always stood out to me, John Turturro’s character Jesus Quintana (who is getting his own film The Jesus Rolls) dance sequence to the Gypsy Kings cover of the Eagles Hotel California, it may be some of the most memorable cinema I have ever seen. The Big Lebowski is so layered in nonsense and hijinks that it was born to be a rewatchable film. For that reason, it has earned MUST SEE status and comfortably sits in my Top 25 films of all time. SEE IT, BUY IT, it will really tie your movie collection together.
(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) An amazing ensemble, a near flawless screenplay that is amazingly quotable, an awesome soundtrack, and perfect cinematography all add up to not only the best Coen film of all time (though I know they would disagree), but one of the best films of all time. It has a well-deserved spot in the Library of Congress and is certainly worthy of an 8.5 on The Shawshank Scale. Do yourself a favor, put on the jellies, order a White Russian, and enjoy.
Ranking the Top 10 Coen Brother movies of all time (cause why not!):
1. The Big Lebowski
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. No Country for Old Men
4. Miller’s Crossing
5. Burn After Reading
7. True Grit
8. Raising Arizona
9. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
10. Barton Fink
March 6, 2020
Movie Review #69 The Way Back (Plus I rank My Top Ten Sports Films of All Time!) With my recent Talking Flick Podcast appearances!
The Way Back (2020) Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Al Madrigal and Directed by Gavin O’Conner
“I spent a lot of time hurting myself. I made a lot of bad decisions. I have my regrets.” Ben Affleck (Jack Cunningham)
Director Gavin O’Conner (Warrior, The Accountant) Co-writes and Directs this emotionally charged sports film with a steady hand. He allows Ben Affleck to use his own personal demons to drive a raw performance that turns out to be quite inspiring. O’Conner mostly known for his gritty and action-packed fair, has treaded some of this water before, in 2004 he directed one of my Top Ten favorite sports films of all time Miracle. O’Conner lets the thrill of victory and agony of defeat drive the narrative in Miracle, he at times does the same in The Way Back, only there are added layers of personal growth and redemption. I really like his choice to resist oversimplifying addiction and not running a straight parallel through recovery and success on the court. Both things happen in their own way, and in their own time. I found myself moved by both the choices made in the narrative and with the simple direction. The basketball scenes aren’t awful (though not great either) and the supporting players deliver when given opportunities. If you find yourself moved by this film, do yourself a favor and watch ESPN’s amazing 2011 Chris Herren documentary Unguarded, by Jonathon Hock (you won’t regret it).
Ben Affleck (BvS, Good Will Hunting) plays Jack Cunningham, a broken man dealing with a family tragedy that drives him into isolation and alcoholism. Obviously, this role cuts close to home for Affleck who himself has dealt with several relapses in his own personally journey to sobriety. While down and out, he is approached by his alma mater (where he was a world class basketball star) to coach the basketball team which has fallen on hard times. Think Hoosiers meets Clean and Sober. The team is young, undermanned, and lacks discipline, but Jack is able to restructure and galvanize the squad through his passion and un-catholic like coaching style. As the team gets on a roll and actually starts winning, Jack is forced to face his past and his demons. Jack’s wife is played beautifully by The League star Janina Gavankar and Brandon Wilson stands out as Point guard and Team Captain Brandon. There are shades of Manchester by the Sea here, but not in a bad way, I had to let the tragedy set in for awhile once it was introduced, but once I accepted it, it was very moving. The Way Back seemingly has a common premise, but it does not play by all the usual beats you may expect. I was impressed that the emotional moments are not all packed into the third act of the film, but rather scattered about the first and second acts. I was also impressed how Gavin decides to end his film, not simply on a game winning or losing shot, not on a clean and sober Jack, but just on progress. Life is not that simple, and I think this film uniquely captures that (perhaps in doing so costing itself a tinge of emotional impact). The road to recovery is long, bumpy, and often doesn’t have anything to with a game winner or state title. The Way Back is not Hoosiers, it’s not Miracle, and that’s a good thing. SEE IT!
(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) I am always a sucker for a good sports movie and ever since I was personally touched by addiction and forced to educate myself on the topic, it definitely hits me right in the chest when I watch that suffering. I was pleasantly surprised by The Way Back, Affleck is as good as he has been in years and the film inverts the trope and does something unexpected. It is the best film of the young 2020 year so far and worthy of a 6.5 on the Shawshank Scale.
Ranking the Top 10 sports films of all time (cause why not!) subject to change:
1. Field of Dreams
2. Jerry Maguire
3. Major League
5. The Hustler
6. Bull Durham
9. Rocky IV
10. Tin Cup
Shouts: Kingpin, The Fighter, Hoosiers, Seabiscuit, The Color of Money, Slap Shot, Remember the Titans, Rudy, Raging Bull, Rocky 1, 2, 3, 6, and Creed 1 & 2.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY RECENT APPEARANCES ON TALKING FLICK:
Talking Flick on Anchor (The Invisible Man Episode)