Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Carmody Wilson reviews her ten favourite films, part 2

The Big Lebowski
USA 1998
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenwriters: Joel and Ethan Coen
Runtime: 117 min
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: Universal Pictures

Vietnam, cremains, bowling, nihilists, and philanthropy; The Big Lebowski’s got it all. This completely anarchic, crazy, subversive and hilarious film is probably the most “popular” movie on my top ten, and I have to say, it does hurt me that so many frat boys love it as well. It’s telling that this very commercial film is so popular with nerds, stoners, academics and philosophers alike, as there really is something in it for everybody.

The character that, like the rug and the room, pulls it all together for me is The Dude. Jeff Bridges, in his housecoat and jelly shoes, is the perfect embodiment of a lacklustre, latter-day anti-hero. When he intones, after taking a post coital pull off of a joint, that the Seattle Seven were “me and, you know, six other guys” I knew this was the movie for me. His transformation from laid-back non-entity into the guy at the centre of it all visibly frazzles and irritates him, the best example of this being when he confronts the private investigator hired by Mrs Lebowski’s family. By the time the Dude shouts “Who the fuck are the Knudsons?!” I’ve already creased up in anticipation.

Having said this, however, I didn’t like The Big Lebowski when I first saw it. I though it was juvenile, predictable, and much too busy. The second time I watched it, years later, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t immediately love it. Perhaps this indicates a taste regression on my part, but I seem to find everything I hated about it now enormously funny. I remember rolling my eyes at the weasel in the bathtub scene, but when I see it now, once I stop laughing, I am always struck at the big, abrasive, absurdity of that scene. What could possibly be worse than nihilists breaking into your flat and throwing a live animal into the tub with you? I can’t really think of an equivalent.

Like all Coen Brothers movies, The Big Lebowski is filled with memorable quotes (“The Dude abides.”), and bizarre supporting characters that appear to have stepped out of some half-remembered dream of the American near-past (The Stranger, for one). What makes this film my favorite above the others is the combined excellence of all these elements. There are no better quotes, no better characters, and no better examples of the total human insanity than in the plot. The Big Lewbowski will long abide in my top ten.

Brain Dead
New Zealand 1992
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriter: Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Runtime: 99 min
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: Universal Pictures

Most zombie movies are terrible, terrible crap. And Braindead, Peter Jackson’s ode to that genre, is no different. It’s crap, but with a difference. While it is not exactly a comment on zombie movies, like the more recent Shaun of the Dead, it is certainly aware of the absurdity its own zombie situation, and as such, marvelously revels in the awkwardness and the gore that comes with it. I loved this film from the moment of the introduction of the catalyst, the Sumatran Rat Monkey, and its savage desire to bite and infect people with its particular brain-killing poison. When the weirdly poorly-animated monkey is shown killing and attacking another monkey, I laughed. When its pedigree is described as being a violent commingling of slave-ship rats and island monkeys, I laughed. When it turns its malevolent intentions onto Vera Cosgrove and she shouts “I’ve been savaged!” I laughed.

This is a very funny movie. Lionel Cosgrove, the desperate hero who just wants to please his mum and get the girl, runs around desperately trying to pretend everything is alright, and fails abominably. One of the best scenes in the film is where two Ladies’ Auxiliary representatives come to call and Lionel’s half-zombified mother, among other horrifying things, eats her own ear and bleeds into the custard. Later, when things get really out of hand, Lionel is relegated to imprisoning the fornicating, quarrelling, biting zombies in his basement where their groans and grunts are mistaken to be pornographic videos by Lionel’s ne’er do well uncle.

Braindead’s real attraction for me is the high-end gore factor. The zombies and the attacks they subject their victims, and each other, to are just beyond the pale. A zombie nurse, locked in a lip lock with a zombie priest, loses the lower part of her face when the kissing turns a bit intense. This hardly seems to lessen the attraction as they later conceive a zombie child together. Several ravenous party-goers rip the flesh off the legs of a fellow guest only to leave him skittering away on skeletal legs.

At the bloodstained climax of the film, Lionel is forced to adopt several cringingly ingenious ways of “killing” the zombies, which include various weapons, and finally, most effectively, a lawnmower. There may be more “quality” Peter Jackson or zombie films to choose from, but the dreamy pairing of the two makes for some of my favorite viewing.
Read part 3 tomorrow

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