Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix)is a former U.S. seaman, suffering from some kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that leaves him unable to function in civil society, and sees him perpetually fleeing the situations he finds himself in. One such escape attempt sees him stow away on a party boat that is commandeered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a visionary, philosophical leader, who takes a shine to Freddie and invites him to join their program, along with Lancaster’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and the rest of their family (Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers and Rami Malek). However, the program’s gruelling processing scheme may be too much for Freddie to take, and he must decide for what benefit is it all for, anyway? Continue reading
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a little bit different. He runs a plastic plunger company with his business partner Lance (Luis Guzman), and is constantly being hassled by his seven sisters, who belittle him and essentially ruin his life at every turn, as they have his entire life. One day, a harmonium (kind of like a small piano, I’d never heard of them before) is dropped outside the industrial estate on which he works, and shortly afterwards a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) shows up too. Then some more stuff happens involving a phone sex line and an awful lot of pudding.
In the San Fernando Valley, a selection seemingly disconnected group of people are going through some fairly heavy moments in their live. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying in bed, being cared for by his nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is tasked with finding Earl’s estranged son. Earl’s much-younger trophy wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is struggling to deal with the imminent death of her husband. Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) is called to investigate a disturbance, which leads to a potential murder case. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a genius child contestant on the TV Game Show What Do Kids Know?, and is just a few days away from breaking that show’s record of most consecutive wins. Jimmy Gator hosts the show, and has done for decades, but has just been diagnosed with cancer, with just months to live. Jimmy’s daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), has a difficult relationship with her father, as well as a cocaine habit and various other issues in her life, whilst Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former child star contestant on the aforementioned TV show, has seen his fame squandered and life thrown in turmoil when he loses his job at an electronics store. Finally, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) runs a self-help seminar on men who wish to be more successful with ladies. Mid-show, he gives an interview to a reporter (April Grace) that doesn’t necessarily go as he plans. All these stories, and more besides, will become interwoven over the course of the film’s next 24 hours.
Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is a seasoned, respected gambler and occasional con artist. He knows all the tricks, but is getting a little long in the tooth in an increasingly modern world. John (John C. Reilly) is a fool who lost all his money in Vegas trying to win enough to pay for his mother’s funeral. Sydney takes John under his wing to show him where he went wrong. Continue reading
Charlie Kaufman has often been described as a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. The legend goes that there are twelve different stories in every film in Hollywood, and with his debut script Being John Malkovich, Kaufman wrote the thirteenth, and there’re so many ideas in Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that they probably count for numbers fourteen through twenty, and fortunately they’re all on the List. So after working on so many inspiring and imaginative modern classics, Kaufman’s directorial debut is a disappointingly convoluted tangle, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s theatre director Caden Cotard struggles to create a play based on his own life, whilst struggling with a myriad of relationships and a mystery illness.
Whilst the entirety of the plot – also written by Kaufman – is positively brimming with ideas and ingenuity, from Caden seeing himself in cartoons and commercials, to a character living in a perpetually burning house, the lack of clarity between how much takes place in the real world, how much is in the obsessive director’s head and how much is part of the play is at best frustrating and at times infuriating. It doesn’t help that many of the actors look alike, possibly on purpose, with Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Emily Watson all used to play the same character in different levels of life, with the play being featured in the play, requiring Caden to cast himself, casting himself in the play of his own life. Time skips in the blink of an eye for us and for him – his four year old daughter with Catherine Keener’s bohemian artist ages seven years in a matter of days.
You get the feeling that the end result of the film is exactly what Kaufman set out to achieve, with every layer of obsession and confusion being carefully planned and perfectly executed, but when I tried to make some sense of it all, my brain started to run out of my ear.
I’ve made the point before that the list contains films of three varieties; great, popular and important. The greats arrive via the Empire 5-star 500 list, the popular from the two lists voted by the general public, and the important ones are provided by the 1001 Films to See Before You Die. Many films, though arguably important, aren’t actually very good, so one could argue that they should be remembered and acknowledged for their gifts to cinema, but not necessarily watched, as was the case with the Jazz Singer, marking the introduction of spoken dialogue to the big screen, which nowadays is dull, racist and features too many unnecessary songs. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is also an important film, spawning a cult following so vast there is a fan club (the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers), several books and an annual festival (creatively named Lebowski-Fest, I hope to attend one day). And yet, it does not appear among the important list, appearing here after being awarded a 5-star review and obtaining positions on both nominated lists. This is less a crime and more a cultural injustice, as the impact this film has had on society is measurable from space. Hell, they even played clips of it recently on Something for the Weekend.
So just what is it that resonates so much with the public? Maybe it’s the snappy, endlessly quotable dialogue (“Obviously you’re not a golfer), particularly everything said in the bowling alley. Or perhaps it’s the borderline caricature roster of characters on display, from John Turtorro’s lilac-hued pederast Jesus (whom nobody fucks with) to Julianne Moore’s naked yet cultured Pollock-esque artist Maud and of course John Goodman’s psychotic ‘Nam vet Walter. It’s probably got something to do with the extremely crowded plot that bears little effect upon the characters it happens to. But mainly, it has to be Jeff Bridges turn as The Dude, a man shambling and smoking his way through life, following the flow it leads him on via nihilists, urinating Chinamen, porn moguls and private detectives. That, and it’s the first great film to feature a pot-smoking lead since Cheech and Chong, and one must conclude that many of those attending Lebowski-Fest, drinking white Russians in their dressing gowns and sunglasses have similar feeling towards the weed as his Dudeness.
Me? I love it because it’s a quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It features everything you need to make a great film – a twisting plot, stellar cast (I haven’t even mentioned Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot, David Thewlis, Aimee Mann or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea), terrific performances all round and a cracking soundtrack. The film introduced me to my cocktail of choice – Vodka, Kahlua and milk, easy on the Kahlua and heavy on the ice – and every time I watch it I either see something new or am reminded of a moment of pure gold I’d previously forgotten.