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The Big Lebowski (#110 of 8)

Review: Hohokum

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Review: Hohokum
Review: Hohokum

Like the Dude from The Big Lebowski, the chill and super casual single-eyed snake at the center of Hohokum simply abides. Perhaps it will float its way into the twilight skies, collecting stardust and using it to fill in the constellations, or perhaps it will simply flutter alongside the abstract architecture, building up speed by gliding alongside the ridges of the geometric shapes. Irritated, perhaps it will carom through a potter’s workshop, smashing all of his carefully crafted cookware. Maybe, in a more helpful mood, it might volunteer as a means of transportation for the Adventure Time-y citizens, following their vague, pictographic directions.

Berlinale 2014 Nymphomaniac: Volume I

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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

The first half of Lars von Trier’s probable masterpiece, Nymphomaniac, arrives on eddies of a “playful” publicity campaign that threatened to flatten the licentiousness (and even the straight-up sexiness) of the subject matter into a string of dopey gags. A series of posters featuring ASCII-rendered genitalia and photos capturing its international cast mid-coitus, were mischievous in a way consistent with von Trier’s own smirking, ludic impishness—the pranksterish postures that ignite even his worst and most boring work.

At the risk of whittling one of the most thorny, interesting, and exasperating of living filmmakers down to a single problem, the central concern (for me, at least) with von Trier and his films is that this playfulness rather easily teeters into boring didacticism. His button-pushing provocations—both in terms of his films’ frequently controversial material (rape, depression, mental retardation, racism, more rape) and the ideas (or discernible whiffs of ideas) that drive them—become needling and banal.

It’s like we’re constantly asked to take for granted that von Trier is playing his own devil’s advocate, putting across visions of nihilistic reckoning, sneering at the feeble human soul’s instinctual gravitation toward corruptibility and self-pollution, while simultaneously being asked to believe that he somehow believes the opposite. He angers and riles us and ignites the passion and intellect, while not really meaning any of it, off in the corner with that shit-eating grin on his face offered up as some mawkish mea culpa. He’s like Gabbo on The Simpsons, bashfully offering little else in his own defense beyond, basically, “I’m a bad widdle boy.” It’s infuriating. And much more so because it’s meant to be exactly that.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Inside Llewyn Davis</em> Review

The Coen brothers switch gears so often and with such gleeful finesse that their restlessness can no longer qualify as genre-hopping pastiche, if it ever did. At this point they’re simply a style unto themselves, a self-sufficient duo with a built in audience, art-house cred, and, when they want to indulge, box-office potential. Inside Llewyn Davis, then, isn’t a curveball so much as another stopover on a now-two-decade-plus journey that’s taken on noir, slapstick, thriller, western, and everything in between. It’s also one of their strongest recent efforts, an alternately world-weary and hilarious ode to a period of relatively recent vintage that’s nonetheless cherished as an era of new ideas, free-thinking, and artistic progression.

15 Famous Movie Mustaches

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15 Famous Movie Mustaches
15 Famous Movie Mustaches

Brightening theaters this weekend is Illumination Entertainment’s take on Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, which features Danny DeVito as the voice of the fuzzy and colorful eco-guardian. DeVito’s Lorax sports one bushy tuft of facial hair, its overgrowth stretching past the width of his waistline. The rest of cinema’s most memorable mustaches can’t boast that same disproportionate bulk, but they’re not to be undervalued. Two are among the most iconic physical traits in film history, four make up one big whiskery package deal, and one is so indelible that its wearer spawned the name for a whole style of ’stache.

Take Two #14: The Ladykillers (1955) & The Ladykillers (2004)

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Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)
Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

True Grit has been rightfully celebrated for the last few months, though few critics have expressed the appropriate surprise at how well this remake turned out. Lest we forget, the last time the Coen brothers remade someone else’s movie, they churned out their unquestionable worst, a juvenile reimagining of Alexander Mackendrick’s scabrous Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. Technically, True Grit is less a movie remake than a second try at filming the wonderful Charles Portis source novel, but the irony here is that the Coens’ Ladykillers is a more ambitious, clever concept for a film than their admittedly beautiful western. Alas, the movie itself is utterly half-assed, the only time that can be said of a Coen brothers picture.

The Mackendrick film’s plot and imagery both rely on the timely, English steam trains that always seem to be within earshot of the action, and the Coens found a wonderful cultural-historical parallel by setting the new movie along the Mississippi River. It was equally thoughtful to cast Tom Hanks, a kind of American Alec Guinness, to play the Guinness role, particularly since both actors clearly relish every ludicrous line of dialogue as they play scheming villains against type. And the occasional performance scenes of a black gospel choir are some of the most purely joyful, documentary moments in any Coen brothers film. But the filmmakers apparently made a few excellent artistic decisions and then phoned everything else in.

The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski at the Kraine Theatre

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<em>The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski</em> at the Kraine Theatre
<em>The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski</em> at the Kraine Theatre

While a small but exultant audience took their seats at the Kraine Theatre, the entire cast of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski slowly shuffled onto the empty stage, just to make their collective presence known. Not yet in costume, DMTheatrics’s (DMT) troupe of actors nervously talked among themselves; some tried to look nonchalant and confident while others tried to get in the zone for their upcoming performance with some light breathing exercises. This was the show’s most idiosyncratic moment, an ingratiating, unrehearsed introduction to the players and also the only time that they as a cast looked relatively at ease on stage.

That’s probably because, at some basic level, they realize that the humor and the setting of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, the source material that playwright Adam Bertocci’s pseudo-Shakespearian play is based on, are inextricable. Trying to translating the Coens’ idiosyncratic sense of humor into another medium, let alone with the affected stance of a Shakespearian farce, is not only unnecessary, but frankly an almost impossible task. Sure enough, Bertocci’s script is a long one-note joke whose potency has a remarkably short shelf life. The mechanicals never had a chance.

5 for the Day: Jeff Bridges

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5 for the Day: Jeff Bridges
5 for the Day: Jeff Bridges

When speaking of Jeff Bridges, I find even hyperbole to be too understated. I consider him to be the greatest American actor working today, if not one of the greatest actors ever. There’s not much this guy doesn’t know about film acting. He’s a movie star, and that’s clear. He exudes “star.” But his work is often darker than what is normally allowed your typical celebrity, and the specificity and emotionality he brings to every part is unparalleled. The guy is a phenom. You show me a better performance than his as Ted Cole in Door in the Floor! I dare you! He wasn’t even nominated, which seems insane to me. You show me a better performance than his grandiose comic tour de force in The Big Lebowski! I dare you! The list goes on and on. But then again, Cary Grant wasn’t nominated for His Girl Friday, Notorious, Only Angels Have Wings, etc. and so forth. Oscars are obviously not the measure of an actor’s worth. The awards are often more indicative of what Hollywood congratulates itself for. We all know that. Jeff Bridges, although born into a Hollywood family, has the wild-card feel of an outsider. His work is often not ingratiating to audiences. He is not interested in being liked, but you can’t help but like him, even though his characters often have a cruel streak, a bull-headed stubbornness that makes it difficult to sympathize with them. That’s part of what I would call “star power.” He has often been in projects not worthy of his stupendous gifts (like I said: hyperbole is too understated for this guy), yet he always comes out smelling like a rose. His integrity is impeccable.