Monday, September 6, 2010

Film # 70: The Big Lebowski (Sep 5) with Scavenger Hunt!

The Big Lebowski

1998, 117 min.
Directed by Joel Coen

This afternoon's screening of The Big Lebowski looked to be perhaps the most fun event of them all, yet I was unable to uncover any details in advance. Seriously. All I knew was that it was to be a scavenger hunt by Red Diversions, and that they had a similar event last year. Oh, I thought, if they had a hunt last year I can do research and find out what to expect. Yeah... That didn't happen. Google searches yielded no clues, and people I asked didn't have any new information either. Now, I wasn't planning on competing, but I wanted to know what was going on so I could document the adventure for you, my dear readers. Looks like I was going to have to wing it. My first curveball arrived as soon as I got there. I entered and was ushered to a table where the Red Diversions staff was greeting everyone. A pleasant young lady started to give me a wristband.

"Is your team already here?" she asked while fastening it around my wrist.
"Uh.. well. I don't have a team. I was just coming on my own."
"Oh. The instructions are about to begin in the auditorium. You can find a team inside," she assured me. "Just ask a group if you can join them."
"Eh, well, actually... I- uh, (exhales) okay."

Deciding against engaging in a debate and holding up the line, I sauntered into the auditorium where rules were being explained to the teams. Sitting off to the side by myself, I was getting kind of getting excited as I was listening. Next year I'm going to have to field a team so I can participate. It was all very Midnight Madness, except.. you know, it was daytime (and there was no Michael J. Fox present). The teams were given an envelope with a clue that would lead to a nearby location. There they check in with a Red Diversions rep (receiving points for every station the arrive at) and get the next clue. Opportunities exist for bonus points in the form of trivia, tasks (like physical challenges from the show "Double Dare"), and from a scavenger hunt list. After the teams get to the final checkpoint, the one with the most points wins! Sounds pretty neat, huh? It was.

With a proclamation of "go!" the teams made off like a dash. Not wanting to be left behind in my own pursuit, I acted quickly. I tracked down the remaining members of the hosts at the theatre, I explained my role to the Red Diversions team. They, however, were initially reluctant to provide this loner with any assistance. It was understandable. Heck, for all they knew I could have been an impostor passing along info to some team via text message (note to self: see if The Paramount can provide me with some ID or lanyard badge for future instances like this). After convincing them that I would maintain the integrity of the game, they agreed to send me to the first location (which happened to be just across the street).

Once there, I was assisted by another Red Diversions member. I was lucky enough to glance at a clue after most players had moved on. From that point, I was just following whomever I could. I basically had to pick and choose players to follow in my effort to keep pace with packs in my efforts to document the chase. I did pretty well, making it to location 3 and then 4 (which ended up at the Capitol). The huffing and jogging was starting to take its toll, since I wasn't dressed appropriately. If I knew I was going to be running in this heat I would have not worn jeans and an oxford shirt. Yet I continued, because it was my self-appointed duty.

But fate had other ideas in mind. After seeing many mill around the Capitol, I spotted a couple out of the corner of my eye that were heading back south on Congress with a determined pace. A ha! These people are clearly on to the next station. I followed briskly, but kept my distance. No need to look like some stalker. Although now that I think about it, that is the correct verb for what I was doing. By the way, it's difficult to inconspicuously follow someone while power walking and sweating profusely.

I followed them for a few blocks, and then they stopped. Yikes! Did I spook them? I kept my distance and noticed they kept looking at their envelope and clues. All of a sudden, they cross Congress and double back. Well, [BEEP]. I glanced back towards the Capitol, but I didn't see much of the other squads. That's my luck. I followed the one group that went the wrong way. My enthusiasm deflated like a balloon. Too late to find another team, I lowered my head and walked dejectedly (Charlie Brown-style) back to The Paramount.

Below is photographic evidence of my attempts at following intrepid gamers who were evidently impervious to the heat. included at the end are also some shots of the winners.

Despite losing the trail, I was grateful for a recovery period in the air conditioned building. I was also grateful for a cold beer. Making my way upstairs, I settled in, relaxed (Dude-style) and waited for the movie to begin.

Before I begin talking about the film, I need to clarify something. Although I've been a fan of movies my whole life, I've never been one to throw the term "cult classic" around. Why, you ask? Frankly, it's because most of the movies I hear that label attached to aren't very good. While many would categorize these as the "so bad, they're good" kind of films, I do not. Sometimes, they are just "sooo bad." Off the top of my head, examples of this sort are: Plan 9 from Outer Space, Showgirls, The Valley of the Dolls, Mommie Dearest, and Pink Flamingos. All of these movies I consider to be completely freaking awful, by the way.
The granddaddy of them all is, in my experience, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a movie that I guess has some remotely fun songs but is, in itself, absolutely terrible). I'm not big on corporeal punishment, but if these films were people, I'd beat the hell out of them for being so bad. No wire hangers, indeed.

For those movies, I guess the appeal is to be hip about its awfulness. Let's be real. No fan of those movies, no matter who ardent, will ever claim that any of those movies deserved more acclaim or even an Oscar. Even cult classics that are genuinely very good movies, like Office Space, Brazil, and Night of the Living Dead (the original Romero one, thank you very much) have some detractors, believe it or not. But there exists one cult classic that I truly believes stands above all others. That is The Big Lebowski, the 1998 comedy by The Coen brothers. Made with the same high quality that marks most of their films, it was woefully underrated when first released (and Jeff Bridges is so good in this. Seriously). But in its current cult status, it is worthy of the rabid fanbase. The only criticism I've ever heard about the movie is in regards to the vulgarity of its language. Nevertheless, it is one of funniest [BEEP]-ing movies I've ever seen.

Joel and Ethan Coen have proven to be some of the elite American film makers over the past quarter century. Their unique brand of cinema have an absurdist view of the world, and are largely populated by idiots. But oh, what a lovely bunch of coconuts they often are, and Lebowski is possibly one of the most crazy and quotable comedies of all time.

Come to think of it, comedy is too limited a label for this genre-less movie. There's intrigue, mystery, crime, sorrow, sex, and a tiny splash of drama. The Big Lebowski starts as a case of mistaken identity, and evolves into a tale of zaniness and unpredictability that only the Coens can create.

Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is an unemployed stoner who prefers to be called "The Dude" and is so Zen that he gravitates far into a state of perpetual laziness. When two thugs break in and vandalize his rug because they mistake him for someone with the same name, he goes to this other Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) and seeks restitution. The "Big" Lebowski is a millionaire philanthropist with a sycophantic assistant (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a nympho trophy wife (Tara Reid), and a hardened conservative attitude. Lebowski chastises The Dude and dismisses the idea of compensation. Shortly, thereafter, he calls on The Dude to aid him when his wife is kidnapped and held for ransom. That's the setup, and what follows is nothing short of complete mayhem.

Walls start crashing around The Dude and his calm little corner of the world. Aided only by his friend Walter (John Goodman), they dig themselves deeper and deeper into a plot that involves pornographers, nihilists, pederasts, artists, private investigators, marmots and bowlers. All The Dude wants is his rug back and some quality bowling time. But as far as handling the situations that he becomes entangled with, let's just say he rolls way more gutters than strikes.

The choice of making such a bizarre comedy threw many people for a loop, considering it was the Coen brothers' next film after the critically lauded Fargo. In retrospect, it seems just about right. They have a penchant for throwing audiences for a loop, and have historically always done an outright comedy after a critical dramatic success. After their debut Blood Simple, they came back with Raising Arizona. And more recently, after No Country for Old Men (which won them Oscar gold), they made Burn After Reading. They are intent on not following any rules or conventions; the cardinal sin for them is settling into a routine. The Big Lebowski is eclectic in every sense of the word. The soundtrack is catchy, the characters are all bizarre, the situations are even more screwy, and the humor displays the flippant attitude that the Coens are known for.

Since the theater was filled with fans, it was a great experience. The laughs came loud and hard, and certain lines brought the audience to cheers. I even heard some someone singing along with the soundtrack. The Dude may hate The Eagles' music, but not whoever was sitting a few rows behind me.

More than just a celebration of dunces, the film does have themes to consider. But, by design, they can remain vague at best, so there is no wrong way to enjoy the movie. In fact, trying to figure out the deeper meaning is a pointless exercise here. If one wants to try a political slant, there is evidence that the film makes fun of the neo-conservative culture, as evidenced by the references to the first Gulf War, Walter's right-wing rantings and The Big Lebowski's abrasive attitude. It's a riff on both the right and left, while also pointing out that maintaining balance is pretty much impossible. As said in the movie, "sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you." Ultimately, it's meaningless, but not nihilistic; since the Coens made sure to poke fun at that tenet also. The Big Lebowski remains as elusive as it is aloof, while maintaining a level of cleverness (and self-awareness). Even the narrator, played by the sonorous Sam Elliott, starts waxing philosophical until he catches himself:

"I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until- aw, look at me, I'm ramblin' again."

It's best to enjoy it as it is, Joel and Ethan's funniest film. Often odd, mostly hilarious, and never boring, The Big Lebowski is- if nothing else, one hell of a trip. Just enjoy the wild ride, and roll with the punches. If The Dude can abide, we all can.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some bowling to do.

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