Thursday, August 18, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special The Dude Abides Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might IFC's DVD of Super, with Rainn Wilson as a superhero trying to win back unfaithful Liv Tyler, by any chance be what we're talking about? Might Universal's Blu-ray of Paul, the sci-fi spoof with Seth Rogen as the voice of a C.G.I. alien, conceivably get the nod? Or is it remotely possible that Twilight Times' deluxe newly remastered disc versions of The Egyptian, the widescreen 1954 spectacle starring Edmund Purdom as the son of a cheesemaker (seriously -- he's referred to that way on several occasions) could actually be The One(s)?

All worthy, to be sure, especially that last (seriously -- it's a hoot), but for my money, it simply has to be Universal's deluxe new Blu-ray version of perhaps the greatest work of art in all of human endeavor, the Coen Brothers 1998 The Big Lebowski.

About the film itself, there is very little left to say except that it's still the most outrageously deadpan funny thing the Coens have ever done -- a sort of Raymond Chandler in a cannabis haze detective story in which L.A. figures as a character and the meaning of life can be found in a bowling alley. More to the point, there is dialogue in here that I would have absolutely killed to have written; I'm not sure on a day to day basis whether or not "Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos" is the most hilarious line in screen history (I'm also partial to the Dude's curt dismissal of Metallica, for whom he roadied in the 80s, as a "bunch of assholes"). But whichever joke is your favorite, there's no doubt that in The Dude, the Coens created perhaps the most original American comic character since John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces. Part stoner, part surfer, part schlemiehl, the Dude is a walking Zen koan, and Jeff Bridges shambling performance is a marvel of understated slapstick timing. And the rest of the characters, as brought to life by John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Julianne Moore (among others) are all almost equally memorable.

Here -- have a look at a recent cast reunion staged in honor of the new Blu-ray.

I should add that although the film has been upped to Blu-ray high def for this new edition, on a strictly technical level what's here differs only incrementally from the previous DVD versions. That said, the limited edition packaging is amusing (an interview with the actual L.A. indie film producer the Coens based the Dude on), plus there are a bunch of de rigeur (and generally interesting) making-of docs along with the new transfer. The real selling point, of course, is the digital copy deal; you can download TBL to your computer or the hand-held device of your choice, at least until the code expires at the end of December.

In any case, you can -- and if you're Blu-ray capable, probably should -- order the new Lebowski package over at Amazon here.

And with that out of the way, and because things will doubtless be a little torpid around here for a couple of days, here's a fun and clearly relevant little project to occupy us during the traditional downtime:

Not So Well Known Film That Most Deserves to Have a Cult Following But For Some Strange Reason Doesn't!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is/are:

5. The Ref (Ted Demme, 1994) )

On the run cat burglar Denis Leary takes suburban couple Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis hostage; unfortunately, they hate each other more than life itself. Absolutely hilarious black Christmas comedy, sort of like It's a Wonderful Life meets No Exit. Inspirational dialogue: "Great, I hijacked my fucking parents."

4. Whispering Ghosts (Alfred L. Werker, 1942)

A scary, atmospheric (in the Universal horror sense) and very very funny old dark house comedy of the sort they really don't make anymore. Uncle Miltie's a riot, but John Carradine steals it as a guy who does animal impressions for no apparent reason.

3. Among the Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941)

I've flogged this one before, but it remains an absolutely astounding B-thriller, with an almost Lang-ian visual flair and an amazing performance by Albert Dekker as good and bad twins separated at birth. Plus Frances Farmer and the young and va-va-voom Susan Hayward. It's never been on home video, for whatever reason, but you can watch it in its entirety over here.

2. The Last Legion (Doug Lefler, 2007)

Romans versus Goths, with outrageous fight scenes, a twist ending you probably won't see coming and Colin Firth in a skirt; essentially it's the biggest budget episode of Xena, Warrior Princess that never got made. Vastly entertaining hokum, and why it's disappeared down the memory hole is beyond me.

And the Numero Uno Should-Have-Been-An-Underground-Sensation flick of them all simply has to be...

1. Hickey & Boggs (Robert Culp, 1972)

A burn-out private eye (Robert Culp) and his thoroughly bummed-out partner (Bill Cosby) make their last stand via a great script by Walter Hill, and it sank without a trace when it was released theatrically. Vastly darker and more cynical than I Spy, but the Culp/Cosby chemistry is, if anything, even more palpable. There's a new DVD version coming in a few weeks; hopefully, somebody out there will notice what a terrific little movie this is.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?