Fabulously funny, edgily dark, ‘Big Lebowski’ is out on Blu-ray

The Big Lebowski/1998/Universal/117 min.

Post a comment on any story this month and you’ll be entered into a draw to win this Blu-ray release from Universal.

By Michael Wilmington

Jeff Bridges is matchless as The Dude.

“The Big Lebowski,” that class-by-itself, goofball masterpiece by Joel and Ethan Coen is a fabulously funny and edgily dark comic movie tribute to the time-wasters, layabouts and oddballs of the world. Especially the ones in Los Angeles, a city that the Coens catch here with devilish bite and angelic wit.

It’s as sharp and dead-on a picture of LA as you’ll see ever: of its rotten upper-crust and its laidback subculture, and especially of its well-lit bowling lanes.

Funny as hell, it’s a goddamn ode to all those guys who are too off-the edge to work out some halfway normal existence – embodied here in star Jeff Bridges, that man among men and dude among dudes Jeff Lebowski – who indeed prefers the name “The Dude.”

The Dude is … well, what can we say? He’s the Dude! He’s Santa Monica Boulevard on a sunny day; he’s the Farmer’s Market at sunrise; he’s Hollywood Boulevard at 10 p.m.

“The Big Lebowski” tells the story of this ’70s guy in a ’90s world. It’s also a great neo noir, a sort of thriller that plunges the Dude into a Raymond Chandler-style detective story, with the Dude as an impromptu detective who can’t really detect much, but gives it a try anyway.

Accompanying the Dude are his two bowling buddies, wired-tight Vietnam vet and Jewish convert Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and quiet ex-surfin’ Donny Karabatsos (Steve Buscemi). In the tangled plot, The Dude is mistaken for another, much richer Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a phony philanthropist. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the other Lebowski’s shit-eating grin of a secretary. Julianne Moore is his artsy daughter and a sort of femme fatale, Maude Lebowski.

Julianne Moore

What a show. The writing is razor sharp and so is the filmmaking. Roger Deakins shot it immaculately, and the sound track, supervised by T-Bone Burnett, is fantastic – ranging from Mozart and Korngold to Debbie Reynolds singing “Tammy” to Dean Martin singing “Standing on the Corner” and Nina Simone singing “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” to Booker T. and the M. G.s to Townes Van Zandt covering that great underperformed Rolling Stones classic “Dead Flowers.”

As for Jeff Bridges … well, Jeff Bridges was born to play the Dude. The other actors are super, sometimes great, especially Goodman. But Bridges is beyond great, beyond wonderful, beyond Mombasa. He‘s the Dude. His Dudeness. Take it easy, man. But take it.

Extras: Documentaries; Featurettes; Jeff Bridges photos.

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Free stuff: Win ‘The Big Lebowski’ Blu-ray limited edition

The winner of the July reader giveaway has been selected. For August, I am giving away a copy of Universal’s new Blu-ray release of “The Big Lebowski,” the much-loved 1998 neo noir by Joel and Ethan Coen, and starring Jeff Bridges as the Dude. I’ll run a review on Aug. 16, the official release date. For info on upcoming fan events, visit Lebowski Fest.

To enter the August giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Aug. 1-31. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early September. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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Coen Brothers’ ‘Man’ is darkly moody, handsomely shot

The Man Who Wasn’t There/2001/Good Machine, et al/116 min.

Scarlett Johansson plays a high-school student in this 2001 film.

What would life be without a dark and handsome companion at night? One I highly recommend is “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by master filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. This homage to vintage film noir, gorgeously shot in black and white by cinematographer Roger Deakins, conjures a guy you’ll always remember.

Set in 1949, the film introduces us to a choice cast of characters. Top of the list is introspective and blasé Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), who has fallen into a comfortable, if dull, life in Santa Rosa, Calif. He’s fond of his wife Doris (Frances McDormand), both cynical and oddly sweet, but there’s never been any passion between them.

To earn a living, Ed cuts hair with his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco) at the family barbershop. (“I don’t talk much,” Ed tells us. “I just cut the hair.”) Doris is a bookkeeper at Nirdlinger’s, the town’s big department store, and together they have it “made” – after all, Ed points out dryly, they have a garbage grinder built into the sink.

When he’s not working or tossing scraps down their fancy drain, Ed kills time mainly by smoking and taking care of Doris after she’s had too much to drink, which is quite often. Doris passes the hours of their lives by playing bingo and having an affair with her boss at Nirdlinger’s, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), a blustery WW2 vet. Dave’s married to Ann Nirdlinger (Katherine Borowitz), whose family owns the store. Ed knows about the affair but, as he does with everything, takes it in stride.

Ed’s life changes forever the day that unctuous big-mouth businessman Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) walks into the barbershop as it’s about to close, gets a very quick trim and happens to mention that he’s in town trying to raise money to invest in drycleaning, which he’s convinced is “the biggest business opportunity since Henry Ford.”

Ed decides later that night that he wants in on the putative drycleaning empire and figures he can raise the requisite $10,000 by anonymously blackmailing Dave. No sooner does Ed get the cash than Tolliver takes off with it. And because Tolliver is so quick to bend ears and beg for money, Dave gets to the bottom of the blackmail scheme and intends to get his money back.

What Dave doesn’t count on is that Ed’s mild facade hides nerves of cold steel; when cornered, Ed’s response to him is quick, instinctive and deadly. But, after news breaks of Doris and Dave’s affair, Doris is arrested for Dave’s murder. [Read more...]

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Quick hit: ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’

The Man Who Wasn’t There/2001/Good Machine, et al/116 min.

What would life be without a dark and handsome companion at night? One I highly recommend is “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by master filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. This homage to vintage film noir, gorgeously shot in black and white by cinematographer Roger Deakins, conjures a guy you’ll always remember.

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand and James Gandolfini, and a peerless supporting cast.

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