The Coen Brothers

The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

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DVD REVIEW: A Serious Man (2009)

“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies…then what?” — Rabbi Marshak

 


 

Scan_20160215A SERIOUS MAN (2009 Alliance)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A Serious Man is a black comedy about Larry Gopnik, a Jewish mathematics professor, age unspecified, who realizes one day that his life seems to be falling apart. The setting is a very convincing 1967 in Minnesota.

His brother is sleeping on the family’s couch and constantly nursing a monstrous (but never seen, thank God) cyst on his neck. Then he learns that his wife is leaving him for his friend Sy Ableman. His son Danny is smoking pot and signed up for the Columbia Record Club, under dad’s name.  Santana’s Abraxas was automatically mailed but no payments have been sent!  Danny’s selling the records for drug money, but he’s more worried about taking a beating from Mike Fagel (“a fucker”) over a $20 pot debt when he should be worried about Hebrew school and his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.  (“Studying Torah, asshole!”)   His daughter Sarah is always either washing her hair or out with her friends. Within this setting, innumerable irritants and stumbling blocks fall in his way, usually within the same scene. Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” is the opening and recurring music to a heap of problems the characters get in.  (Rock fans also take note: Jimi Hendrix shows up later.)

All that Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants is to make something of his life, and become “a serious man”. Expectations, demands and obligations seem to obstruct him at all times.  Confusing advice from Rabbis, a neighbor who seems to tease him by sunbathing topless, a South Korean exchange student offering him bribes, another neighbor seemingly encroaching on the property line, his card-counting brother, and his own faith seem to taunt him at every turn. It’s not a complex story: it is character driven, comedic, dramatic and nostalgic all at once. In other words, typical Coen fare.  I love the ironic but authentic touches like a doctor lighting up a cigarette in his office.

The recurring theme of the movie is (or isn’t) Shroedinger’s paradox.  Larry’s about to get tenure at work even though everything else is falling apart.  “Even I don’t understand the dead cat,” says Larry near the beginning of the film, but it is clear that actions do have consequences.  All Larry needs are answers, but they are not forthcoming.  He thinks that perhaps the reclusive Rabbi Marshak can help him, but he knows that the math says you can’t ever know anything with certainty.

As is par for the course with Coen films, special features are sparse. There is a brief bit explaining all the Jewish terminology in the film done as entertainingly as possible. There’s a great feature on how they made the neighborhood look exactly like 1967, and how they got the cars, costumes and locations. Finally there is a feature with the Coens and actors on the film itself, what it means, and what inspired it.

I particularly enjoyed the unconnected short story that opened the movie.  Jewish folklore and the vivid minds of Coens collided and this short story is the result. I think it’s designed to set a mood, but also to act something like an opening cartoon which used to precede movies in the 60’s.  This tale of the returned dybbuk is subtitled and presented in the old fullscreen format instead of wide.

Look for The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg in a small role as Rabbi Scott.

5/5 stars

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Big Lebowski (1998)

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THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)

10th Anniversary Limited “Bowling Ball” Edition

Way out west there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski.

Okay sir, you’re a Lebowski, I’m a Lebowski, that’s terrific, I’m very busy so what can I do for you?  Well, I’m gonna tell you about this movie.  First of all, for the rockers who read LeBrain’s blog, rest assured, there is a music connection.  And that’s the killer soundtrack.  From Captain Beefheart, to Bob Dylan (the incredible “The Man In Me”), Elvis Costello, CCR, the Gipsy Kings (“Hotel California”), Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, and even the fuckin’ Eagles, this movie is loaded with solid tunes.  There are even appearances by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Aimee Mann, and Flea!  (Yes, that Flea.)

Ahh, who am I kidding? If you’re a fan, you don’t need me to sell you on this movie. Hence, I shall review this movie in two parts: For fans, and for non-fans. Dudes and Un-dudes.

DUDISM

FOR DUDES:

The new “bowling ball” edition of Lebowski is awesome. Finally we’re given the special features that we’ve been asking for, for years! No audio commentary track, but the Coens and the Dude himself will give you some insight to the film and its characters. After two disappointing editions, this is so overdue. Two discs, featurettes, that weird intro, Lebowskifest, an interactive map of Los Angeles, it’s all here. Most of your questions will be answered, but of course not all…some mystery must always remain. Plus the bowling ball just looks cool. I have mine on my entertainment centre, and it’s a conversation starter. “What is that bowling ball doing there?” It’s sturdy and it houses the DVDs in two slip cases. Life does not stop and start at your convenience, so be sure to pick this up and enjoy while you can, it’s limited edition.

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FOR UN-DUDES:

One important thing about this film that I must stress is, don’t try to understand the plot on first viewing. It’s every bit as stupifying to the first time viewer as it is to Jeffrey Lebowski. Just enjoy. My feeling (and this is just my feeling) is that The Dude himself (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t know what the heck is going on, so neither should you. The plot is not complicated, but your thinking about it might be very uptight. I don’t necessarily recommend that you stick to a strict drug regimen to keep you mind limber, but having a few white Russians might help.

The Dude (the laziest man in Los Angeles) is unemployed (or “a bum” to some) and spends most of his time having acid flashbacks and bowling with Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). One day his home is broken into by two thugs looking for money. They have mistaken The Dude for a millionaire with the same given name: Jeff Lebowski. During this break-in, Wu micturates on The Dude’s rug. That rug really tied the room together. Walter tells The Dude to try to take up the rug issue with the other Jeff Lebowski, the millionaire (David Huddleston). And this is where our adventure begins.

An amazing soundtrack backs a hilariously confusing movie about a guy in way over his head. There are a lot of facets, a lot of ins and outs, a lot of interested parties and strands to keep in Duder’s head. Along the way you will meet The Stranger (Sam Elliot), Brant (Philip Seymore Hoffman), Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) and a group of nihilists lead by Peter Stormare. Things are complicated by the appearance of Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), a kidnapping, and a ransom note. Can The Dude recover the million dollars? All he wants is a finder’s fee. Perferably in cash. He has to check with his accountant on this, but he’s worried about being put in a higher tax, uhh, you know. All this with next round-robin of the bowling tournament starting. And The Jesus (John Turturro) is ready to take them down next Wednesday, baby.

Brilliantly written, brilliantly directed, brilliantly performed. Yes, you should be confused the first time you view it. By second, third, and fourth watch, those stands in Duder’s head come together, supported by musical cues (listen for CCR), odd bits of dialogue (“Johnson”) and other clues.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. You too will become a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever, and perhaps even an obsessive fan, dressing up and going to Lebowskifests. You never know. At the very least you might just find a new enjoyment of white Russians. Just don’t run out of non-dairy creamer. Is there a Ralph’s around?

5/5 stars