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The Big Lebowski (1998)

July 22, 2015

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The Dude: “That rug really tied the room together.”
One of the great movies. It’s pretty hard to describe, because when you describe it you can do justice to the movie. It is one of those iconic movies where every scene is special.
One special thing about this movie was that the acting was so good. It’s hard to pick a favorite performance. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro were just great. They were in a comedy, but they all played their roles straight which really helped tie the movie together.
In his “Great Movie” review the great Roger Ebert said:
This is a plot and dialogue that perhaps only the Coen Brothers  could have devised. I’m thinking less of their clarity in “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” than of the almost hallucinatory logic of “Raising Arizona” and “The Hudsucker Proxy.” Only a steady hand in the midst of madness allows them to hold it all  together–that, and the delirious richness of their visual approach.
Roger went on to say:
The inspiration for the supporting characters can perhaps be found in the novels of Raymond Chandler. The Southern California setting, the millionaire, the kidnapped wife, the bohemian daughter, the enforcers, the cops who know the hero by name, can all be found in Chandler. The Dude is in a sense Philip Marlowe — not in his energy or focus, but in the code he lives by. Down these mean streets walks a man who won’t allow his rug to be pissed on. “That will not stand,” he says, perhaps unconsciously quoting George H.W. Bush about Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The Dude does not lie, steal or cheat. He does swear. He wants what is right. With the earliest flags of the republic, he insists, “Don’t tread on me.”
The Big Lebowski is one of those special movies that’s gets better every time you see it, and you want to see it all the time. A very special movie.

A Serious Man (2009)

February 10, 2010

“When the truth is found to be lies
and all the joys within you dies
don’t you want somebody to love” – Jefferson Airplane
 
The movie opens with a scene in 19th century Russia where Velvel is helped by a man on the road and then invites him into the house. Dorais convinced that the man is a dybbuk, or a spirit, because the man died three years ago. She thinks they are cursed for inviting him in. When she stabs the man the husband thinks she has killed him, but she thinks he is just an evil spirit. What to believe? Where do we get our truths from? The spiritual world or the world that we can see and investigate?
This scene sets up the movie and the story of Larry, who might be descended from this (cursed?) couple.
Larry Gopnik is a physics professor and he is first shown at the board explaining Scrodinger’s Paradox to his students, which says there is a state in which a cat can be both alive and dead, according to the laws of physics.
Larry thinks he has good life going but things are about to fall apart. He also has a student who is failing his class because he can’t do the math. Larry is worried about a neighbor who might be encroaching on his property. His wife has decided that she wants a divorce; she would rather be with their neighbor Sy. The kids are going through the typical, trials and tribulations of the teenage years.  Uncle Arthur, who lives with him, is making a probability map of the universe.
Larry moves out to a motel. As his world comes crashing down his son complains because F Troop is still fuzzy on the TV. Larry’s tenure committee is getting negative letters about Larry. When Sy dies in a car crash, Larry’s wife is really broken up. Uncle Arthur gets picked up on a morals charge and the police are after him for gambling. The failing student’s father shows up and threatens to sue Larry. He tells him to “Please. Accept the mystery.” Larry says to a friend “Everything that I thought was one way turns out to be another.”
Larry tries to find out what was going on by visiting some rabbis. The first rabbi tells him that “You have to see these things as expressions of God’s will. You don’t have to like it, of course.” The second rabbi tells him a story about the message in Hebrew a dentist found on the back of a patient’s teeth. It said “Help me, save me” in a goy’s (non-Jew) mouth. The rabbi says he doesn’t know what the story means, but Larry wants an answer. He really wants to see the busy rabbi, Marshak. He tells his secretary “I’ve tried to be a serious man.” The rabbi won’t see him because he is too busy thinking.
When Larry erases the grade of the failing student, for money, you get the feeling his world will really fall apart, and it soon does. His doctor calls to have him come in to discuss his x-rays from his checkup. As the movie ends a tornado heads towards them.
Some movies get better with each viewing and this is one of them. After I first saw it I wanted to see it again right away. It is a movie about ideas, about life, about spirituality, about what we believe. A really good black comedy from the Coen brothers.

Fargo (1996)

February 1, 2010

It’s not like there are some classic quotes and scenes in Fargo, it’s more like every line of dialogue and every scene is classic. I don’t know who was best in it : Steve Buscemi, William Macy, Peter Stormare or Frances McDormand. I don’t know if I if I liked it best as a thriller or a comedy. Fargo is a movie that is hard to get a handle on. Right from the opening credits when the Coen Brothers lie and tell us it is based on a true story. At times it’s as brutal and violent as any movie you’ll ever see. At times it’s sweet and gentle. And at times it’s as funny as anything you’ll ever see.
Fargo is a movie that defies a good description. You have to see it to believe it and enjoy it. One of my favorites.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

January 31, 2010

“It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.”
The first scene in Irish gangster Leo’s office has Johnny Caspar coming in to sort of ask permission to knock off Bernie Bembaum (John Turturro), because he has no ethics, and it sets up the whole movie. Leo loves Verna, and Bernie is Verna’s brother so Leo nixes the hit. Leo trusts Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) more than anyone, but Tom is sleeping with Verna.
Tom isn’t happy because Leo’s world is going to come crumbling down because of Verna. Tom knows Verna is just using Leo to help her brother.
Johnny tries to have some of his guys knock off Leo, but in a great scene, with Danny Boy playing loudly, Leo guns them off. Tom comes clean with Leo about Verna hoping he will give her up and Leo cuts him and Vera loose.
Tom goes to Caspar and makes believe he has switched sides. Tom tells Caspar where Bernie is and they bring him out to the woods at Miller’s Crossing to kill him. They want Tom to do it. Bernie is begging for his life but Tom can’t do it. Tom pretends to shoot him and tells Bernie to disappear.
Tom causes some dissension in Caspar’s camp. Then Caspar’s man Eddie Dane tells Verna that Tom killed her brother. Bernie squeezes Tom. Eddie takes Tom out to Miller’s Crossing to prove that he shot Bernie there. As Eddie Dane is about to shoot Tom, they find a body. The twists continue and the war between Leo and Casper goes on.
When Dane goes to strangle Tom, Caspar kills him, thinking Dane has double crossed him. The crossings and double crossings just keep going on and on.
A great, great gangster movie that winks at the genre, while adding to it.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

January 29, 2010

Divorce lawyer Miles (George Clooney) is ruthless in the courtroom. Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has discovered(and has video evidence) that her very rich husband, Rex Rexroth, is cheating on her. Miles takes on Rex as a client.
Miles comes up with a witness who testifies that Marilyn has married Rex just so she could get his money. She loses the divorce settlement case and sets out on the prowl for a new victim.
Marilyn shows up at Miles office with oilman Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thorton). She wants an iron clad prenup before they get married that she says will protect Doyle. Miles can’t figure her out. At the wedding Howard tears up the prenup. Marilyn stays married for a while and then makes a killing.
Miles is fascinated by Marilyn. She works her wiles on him and they are married after he signs the iron clad prenup and then she tears it up.
Loves changes Miles and he decides to turn over a new leaf but then he sees Howard on TV – he is an actor. He realizes that he has been played, Marilyn has no money and there is no prenup.
Miles decides to hire a hit man to knock off Marilyn. Then Rex dies and his old will gives everything to Marilyn. Miles tries to call off the hit. The turns continue till the end.
Typical Coen’s Brothers with a twist at every turn. The turns weren’t as funny in this one. The movie was just OK, mostly because it’s hard to really care about any of the characters.

Barton Fink (1991)

January 26, 2010

It’s 1941 and Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a New York playwright who goes to Hollywood to write a screenplay . He feels it is important to stay in touch with the common man and he meets on in Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). He is supposed to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery but is having writer’s block. Barton meets a William Faulkner like character named W.P. Mayhew.
Barton sleeps with Mayhew’s assistant, but she is dead when he wakes up. Bart then has to go tell studio mogul Jack Lipnick what story line he has come up with so far. He tells Lipnick that he is done but doesn’t like to reveal his stories before he is finished writing. Lipnick goes for it.
Charlie takes care of the body for Barton, but then he has to go on a little trip. The police interview Bart about the serial killer who lived next door to him – Charlie! His real name is Mad Man Mundt. Bart doesn’t tell the police anything. Bart is then able to really start writing. He goes out dancing to celebrate his writing, but gets beat up by a sailor.
When he gets back to the hotel the two detectives are there. Mayhew has been found dead. The detectives hand cuff Bart to the bed and go out in the hall where Charlie is surrounded by flames. Charlie starts firing and kills the detectives as the flames follow him.
Lipnick doesn’t like Bart’s screenplay. He tells him he isn’t a writer. He tells him to get lost, there’s a war on.
Barton Fink is a very strange, very surreal and very entertaining movie. Definitely, not for all tastes though.

The Ladykillers (2004)

January 25, 2010

 
Usually I am really against remaking classical movies, and the Ladykillers(1955) was a great classic movie. But the Coen Brothers moved the action from London to Mississippi and they added a mixture of “American” characters and American music – it looked promising.
One day Professor Goldthwaite H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) answers an ad for an empty room in the home of Mrs. Marva Munson, an elderly, religious woman. he explains to her that her cellar would be perfect for his group of classical musicians to practice.
The musicians, are really want to be criminals and are made up of Lump, a really dumb football player, who is to be the muscle, the General, a Vietnamese baker who is an expert in tunneling, Garth Pancake, a moustached animal trainer for TV commercials, with expertise in explosives and Gawain, their “inside man”, a young janitor who works on a riverboat casino whose money counting house they are targeting. 
    The plot has a few hitches but the criminals are ultimately succesful. When Mrs. Munson discovers what has been going on in her cellar, she wants them to return the money. They decide the easiest way out of it is to knock her off. They draw straws to see who has to do it and Gawaine loses. He can’t do it and ends up dead in an accident. When Garth tries to make off with all the loot, the General strangles him. The General tries to knock off Mrs. Munson next but a cuckoo clock scares him and he trips down the stairs and dies. Another one down. Next up is Lump who decides he can’t do it. He also says he isn’t going to let the Professor do it but he shoots himself by accident.
The last one left is the Professor. He sees a raven which lands on a statue, and being a fan of Edgar Allen Poe he takes it as a good sign. When the raven flies off the head comes off the statue and hits the professor. This is not very clever stuff.
It’s also shame they had to have the Gawaine (Marlon Wayans) character with his goofy ways and his ghetto manners be the comic relief. He can’t utter one sentence without swearing or saying things like “You may have your PHD, I got my GED”, and “The man brought his bitch to the Waffle Hut” (he said that 4 times).
Otherwise it was a decent movie, nowhere near as good as the original, but OK nonetheless.