“Hail Caesar!” (2016) scr./dir. The Coen Brothers

Just saw “Hail Caesar!” … Absolutely loved it!   If the Coen Brothers’ brilliant, but ultra-bleak 2009 film “A Serious Man” was about an absent, or indifferent God, “Hail Caesar!” concerns the opposite.  Easily their sunniest, most upbeat film …  “Caesar” could be the first Coen Brothers film that could be screened in churches.  Of course, it won’t be, because it’s the Coen Brothers and it’s highly irreverent, off-kilter, and weird.  But … it’s the first film in their 32-year filmography that indicates their hearts are not as black as they’ve always implied.  I’m a religious skeptic these days, but if there is a God, you could do a lot worse than Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix character.  Trust me, this is a VERY deep film if you analyze it, but it’s done with such a light, goofy touch, it’s incredibly entertaining and fun even if you don’t dig deeper.   There’s even some affectionate digs at Hollywood liberalism gone amok … with George Clooney front and center gleefully sending himself up.   Critics and audiences have been lukewarm about “Caesar,” but you need to remember that “The Big Lebowski” had the same reaction when it first came out and is now one of the Coen’s most beloved films.  Mark my words, “Caesar” is one for the ages.

“The Big Lebowski” (1998) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

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I’m a day late, but not a buck short on this 15th anniversary greeting for one of the greatest cult movies of the last 25 years. “The Big Lebowski” was the Coen Brothers’ follow-up to the the critically-acclaimed, multiple-award winning “Fargo” from 1996. Having loved “Fargo,” I went to see “The Big Lebowski” on its opening weekend in 1998.

My initial reaction? I enjoyed some parts of it, but ultimately thought this was a kind of “f–k you” film they made after the success of “Fargo.” There were just so many weird parts that (at first) didn’t seem to fit together that I concluded that this was a film that was going to be repository of every weird and cool idea that the Coen Brothers had, but weren’t able to put into their other movies.

It wasn’t until I watched it again a few years later that I (finally) got what made “The Big Lebowski” one of the best films the Coens ever had any involvement with. The film is not a mere depository for strange ideas. It’s a wonderful take on Raymond Chandler L.A. detective noir, only instead of a a cynical detective with a secret heart of gold as the hero, we get an aging, overweight stoner who just wants his damn rug back, man. I don’t know why this second viewing struck me more funny than the first, but it did. And I laugh more and more each time I see it. This would make a great double-bill with Robert Altman’s piss-take on Raymond Chandler “The Long Goodbye.”

“The Big Lebowski” arguably contains Jeff Bridges’ best-ever performance as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, John Goodman’s best-ever performance as Jeff’s gun-crazed bowling partner Walter, and a host of other stellar supporting performances by Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Tara Reid.

The scene here is Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski’s porno film fantasy based on his love of bowling and his general dudeness. Nothing too salacious here, but probably not safe for work. The Dude abides!