Review: Big Lebowski, The (1998)

>> Thursday, June 28, 2007

USA/C-117m./Dir: Joel Coen/Wr: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen/Cast: Jeff Bridges (Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi (Donny Kerabatsos), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), David Huddleston (Jeffery “The Big” Lebowski), Sam Elliott (The Stranger)

Like most films that have developed a rabid cult following over the years, The Big Lebowski was an initial disappointment. Having produced a critical and commercial smash with Fargo (1996), the Coen Brothers’ follow-up film was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 1998. Unfortunately, when the project was actually released, it was met with mediocre reviews and tepid box office (which barely earned back its budget). I doubt the Coens were surprised by the reaction. I can’t imagine they foresaw much mass audience appeal for a cowboy-narrated, hardboiled mystery film dressed up like a bowling comedy with a White Russian-sipping, stoner hero.

Jeff Bridges stars as that hero--Jeff Lebowski, an unemployed, bowling-obsessed free spirit, known to his friends as “The Dude.” When some thugs mistake the Dude for another Jeffery Lebowski (and subsequently pee on his rug), our hero gets sucked into a mystery involving kidnapping, a severed toe, porn production, a teenage car thief, and nihilists. Surprisingly, that’s only a small portion of the weirdness the Dude encounters, because the Coens have stuffed the picture to overflowing with wonderfully odd characters and situations. It doesn’t matter that some of those strange touches are merely window dressing and ultimately don’t add anything to the plot. As long as it’s fun, who cares?

The Big Lebowski deserves the ever-growing group of passionate devotees it has built up over the years. Although it’s a strange cocktail, the picture is well-written, expertly directed, and beautifully acted (especially by Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, who have never been better).

Speaking of cocktails, this cult classic gains its “booze movie” status on a number of fronts. Firstly, the Coen Brothers have described The Big Lebowski as their Raymond Chandler story, and it contains all the trappings of the author’s hardboiled mystery novels, including the alcohol. Secondly, as a bowling-themed comedy, liquor is a given. Finally and most importantly, The Big Lebowski is the ultimate movie for White Russian fans. The Dude fuels his detective work with numerous helpings the sweet drink, which he often refers to as “Caucasians.” As long as there is ‘half and half’ dripping from his mustache, the Dude abides.

Drinks Consumed--White Russians (vodka, KahlĂșa, and 'half and half') and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Drunk driving, swearing, and bickering

Potent Quotables--THE DUDE (holding a White Russian, whilst being forced into a limo): Hey-hey-hey- Careful, man. There’s a beverage here.

Video Availability--The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary Edition DVD (Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For more boozy bowling, check out Kingpin (1996). However, if it’s a whiskey-soaked detective film you crave, seek out Murder, My Sweet (1944) based on Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely.


Review: Kingpin (1996)

>> Sunday, June 24, 2007

USA/C-117m./Dir: Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly/Wr: Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan/Cast: Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael Boorg), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken)

Few sports are as closely associated with strong drink as bowling, and few films have milked more laughs from that association than the Farrelly Brothers’ 1996 comedy Kingpin. Woody Harrelson stars as Roy Munson, a rising star in the professional bowling world, who hits rock bottom after losing a hand through an encounter with a slimy rival bowler, Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken (Bill Murray). Seventeen years later, the boozing, balding, rubber-handed has-been gets another chance at the big time in the form of Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), a talented amateur bowler who also happens to be Amish. Roy convinces Ish to leave his religious community to train for a million dollar tournament in Las Vegas under Roy’s tutelage. Along the way to the contest (featuring a final showdown with Big Ern), Ishmael breaks several commandments while Roy regains a bit of self respect.

Although, Kingpin was a box office disappointment for the Farrellys, sandwiched between their mega hits Dumb and Dumber (1994) and There’s Something About Mary (1998), it is arguably their funniest movie. Their films have always been an untidy mix of gross-out humor and heart, but with Kingpin, that unstable cocktail holds together well and goes down smoothly. The script is very funny and the leads (especially Harrelson) do a great job selling each gag. However, it is Bill Murray who steals the film, adlibbing his way through the small but significant role of sleazy villain Big Ern.

The movie is plenty entertaining on its own, but to give your viewing an extra kick, try taking a drink every time someone uses the words “Munson” or “Munsoned.”

Drinks Consumed--Gin (Tanqueray & Tab), beer, bourbon, and champagne
Intoxicating Effects--Drinking & driving, passing out, vomiting, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--INTERVIEWER: So, Roy, let me ask you. What have you been doing all these years?
ROY: Ah, well, the-the-uh-- After, after the hand, I-- There-there, no, there was the ‘80’s. You know, for a while, I-- (clears throat) Drinking. Yeah, a lot, a lot of drinking.
INTERVIEWER: Are you still drinking?
ROY: No-no-no-no, I-I don’t-- That-that’s behind me now. I just-- Why, are you buying?

Video Availability--Although originally released theatrically in a 113-minute PG-13 cut, the Kingpin DVD (MGM) presents a slightly raunchier 117-minute, R-rated version.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Jeff Bridges stars as “The Dude,” a lazy, White Russian-sipping, bowling-obsessed, stoner in the Coen Bros.’ Big Lebowski (1998).


Booze News: Update on Clive Owen's Philip Marlowe Project

>> Thursday, June 21, 2007

Anna Halsey was about two hundred and forty pounds of middle-aged putty-faced woman in a black tailor-made suit. Her eyes were shiny black shoe buttons, her cheeks were as soft as suet and about the same color. She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like Napoleon's tomb and she was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as a rolled umbrella. She said: "I need a man."
That's the opening of Raymond Chandler's short story, "Trouble is My Business," which has been selected to be adapted for the screen with Clive Owen in the role of Philip Marlowe. It's not a bad choice. All but one of Chandler's Marlowe novels have been previously adapted, so selecting a short story allows the production to tackle virgin screen material.

What worries me about the announcement is that Frank Miller has been hired to adapt the story. I have nothing against Miller. I'm actually a big fan of The Dark Knight Returns and his Sin City comics. However, he's not exactly the most subtle writer in the world, and his recent comic work has seemed like self-parody. I'm afraid he may try to improve upon Chandler, which is always a losing proposition.

Anyway, it will be good to see my favorite drunky detective hit the big screen again. I'll be hoping for the best (and keeping my fingers crossed). Here's the full story from Variety: "Frank Miller Takes On Trouble"

Trouble Is My Business (Paperback)


Booze News: 100 Years... 100 Movies, not necessarily booze related

>> Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tomorrow night the American Film Institute unveils its 10th anniversary list of the 100 greatest American films with its 100 Years... 100 Movies special (shouldn't it be 110 years?). If you're a movie fan, booze movies or otherwise, you won't want to miss this clip fest of some of the greatest films from the silent era forward.

To tie in with the big show (CBS, 8pm Eastern), the AFI has started a special blog to find out your favorite film. If you want to leave your two cents, here's a link-->

If I were to choose my top ten favorite American movies, in descending order they would be:

10) The Wild Bunch (1969)
9) City Lights (1931)
8) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
7) Mary Poppins (1964)
6) His Girl Friday (1940)
5) The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
4) The Bank Dick (1940)
3) The Third Man (1949) (Technically a British film, but it has made the AFI's list before)
2) The General (1927)
1) The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

A couple of them might make the AFI's list (probably not Phibes). Tomorrow night, I'll be parkin' it on the couch with a bowl a popcorn and a couple of fingers of whiskey to find out.

What are your favorite films (alky-content encouraged but not mandatory)?


Review: Tales of Manhattan (deleted W.C. Fields sequence, 1942)

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2007

USA/B&W-12m./Dir: Julian Duvivier/Wr: Edmund Beloin & William Morrow/Cast: W.C. Fields (Professor Postlewhistle), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Langahankie), Phil Silvers (Tailor), Chester Clute (Mr. Langahankie)

Universal Studios unceremoniously dumped W.C. Fields after the completion of Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), and the Great Man never found another opportunity to create and star in a film of his own. Of course, W.C. was not completely idle during his later years. He engaged in a lot of elbow bending, did a little radio work, recorded an album (featuring the monologues “The Day I Drank a Glass of Water” and “The Temperance Lecture”), and made brief appearances in four other movies. The first of these films was Tales of Manhattan, a Twentieth Century Fox all-star vehicle which followed a tuxedo tail coat as it moved from owner to owner, each portrayed by one of Fox’s biggest stars (Charles Boyer, Henry Fonda, Edward G. Robinson, etc).

Fields plays Professor Postlewhistle, an unscrupulous huckster who is scheduled to deliver a temperance lecture at the home of the wealthy Mrs. Langahankie (Margaret Dumont). On his way to the engagement, Postlewhistle stops to purchase suitable attire, and he is swindled into purchasing the secondhand tail coat, which he believes to contain the wallet of its previous owner. Dressed in the ill-fitting dinner jacket, Postlewhistle delivers an address on the evils of alcohol and the medicinal benefits of coconut milk. While the Great Man speaks, Mrs. Langahankie and her guests get shellacked on coconut milk (spiked with gin by Mr. Langahankie).

When Tales of Manhattan was previewed for critics, they praised Fields’ work as the highlight of the film, but the picture was overlong, and the studio cut his segment before the movie was released. Today, the public can finally evaluate this late entry in the Great Man’s catalog, because the scene was recently restored. The Tales sequence is far from Fields’ best work, and it is a tad shocking how much his face displays the ravages of age, illness, and excess. Still, the Great Man was incapable of being unfunny, and his numerous adlibs make the brief segment breezy, boozy fun. It should also be noted that this film gives us a rare opportunity to see Fields play a scene off another great huckster comedian, Phil Silvers.

Drinks Consumed--Gin and unnamed liquor

Intoxicating Effects--Stumbling, destruction of property, punch-spiking, and passing out

Potent Quotables--POSTLEWHISTLE: My subject tonight will be “Will alcohol ever take the place of rover as man’s best friend?”

Video Availability
--The deleted scene was reinserted into the VHS release of the film (Fox). On DVD, the segment and alternative takes can be viewed on Hidden Hollywood, Vol. 2 - More Treasures from the 20th Century Fox Vaults (Image). Catch the latter if you can, because Fields’ adlibs in the outtakes are often funnier than what was left in the picture.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Fields also decries the effects of demon alcohol in the funniest short subject ever made, The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933).


Booze News: Get Knocked Up Today!

>> Sunday, June 3, 2007

Do yourself a favor. Visit your local movie theater, and buy yourself a ticket for Knocked Up, the new laugh-out-loud comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow. Like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, The 40-Year Old Virgin, and other Apatow projects, Knocked Up draws smart comedy from truthful, human situations. This film once again proves that Judd Apatow is the master of capturing the natural rhythms of real speech, while magnifying the laughs that lie within that discourse.

The cast is fantastic, starting with Seth Rogen, who really shines as the movie’s sweet, underachieving hero. Rogen’s understated comic delivery has been impressive from his very first performance in the Freaks and Geeks pilot. Hopefully, Knocked Up will be the project that catapults Rogen to celebrity status. The supporting actors, made up mostly of Apatow’s troupe of regulars, are excellent across the board. However, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann deserve extra praise. Their performances as bickering marrieds garner some of the film’s biggest guffaws.

If you are easily offended, be warned. This is an R-rated movie, and it’s a hard “R.” The film can be quite vulgar at times, so keep the kids at home (unlike the morons that brought their 4-year old to the showing that Mrs. BoozeMovies and I caught). At the same time, this film is surprisingly sweet, with good-hearted life lessons throughout. With equal parts frat comedy and chick flick, Knocked Up would make an excellent date movie.

For booze movie fans, Knocked Up contains a number of liquor and drug-based jokes. In fact, the titular problem at the film’s center is the result of an evening of overindulgence. This film is a testament to the fact that a dumpy, average-looking guy can get into the pants of much hotter woman with a little humor and a whole lot of booze!

Knocked Up - Unrated (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)


Review: Caught Plastered (1931)

USA/B&W-68m./Dir: William Seiter/Wr: Douglas MacLean, Ralph Spence, & Eddie Walsh/Cast: Bert Wheeler (Tommy Tanner), Robert Woolsey (Egbert G. Higginbothom), Dorothy Lee (Peggy Norton), Lucy Beaumont (Mother Talley), Jason Robards, Sr. (Harry Waters)

Popular prohibition-era comedians, Wheeler and Woolsey, inadvertently dispense moonshine-spiked drinks from a drug store soda fountain in Caught Plastered. The duo portrays out-of-work vaudevillians who stumble across a little old lady in distress. The elderly woman is in danger of losing her drugstore to a medicine wholesaler (and secret bootlegger) to whom she owes a great deal of money. Although the boys know nothing about the drug store business, they agree to help the old woman run the store and soon turn a profit by stocking the shop with everything but drugs. When it looks like the old lady will be able to pay off her note, the bootlegger tries to gain control of the business by framing the widow and the boys by spiking their lemon soda.

Although Wheeler and Woolsey are virtually unknown by today’s audiences, they were box office champs during the Depression and kept RKO afloat almost single-handedly. Their best comedies--Peach O’Reno (1931); Hips, Hips, Hooray (1934); and Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)--are as good or better than those of their contemporaries (such as the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy). Unfortunately, Caught Plastered is not one of the team’s best efforts. The plot creaks and the wisecracks the boys are forced to deliver are mostly unfunny or corny. Being professional funnymen, Wheeler and Woolsey still manage to wring a few chuckles from this weak material.

After a slow start, the second half of the film contains some genuine laughs. Bombed on 100-proof lemon soda, the patrons of the store (including the most recognizable movie drunk of the 1930’s, Arthur Housman) raise out-of-control havoc--making slurred pronouncements, singing Sweet Adeline, and playing London Bridges. Dorothy Lee, the boy’s most regular co-star, is also amongst the accidental drunkards. Dottie was always an enormous asset to W&W vehicles, with her kewpie doll cuteness (imagine a blonde Betty Boop), natural humor, and musical talent. Her inebriated scenes in Caught Plastered are amongst her best. She is absolutely adorable whilst getting giggly amorous on joy juice and bouncing her way through a musical duet with Bert Wheeler. All in all, Caught Plastered is a mixed bag, but the delightful moonshine-fueled scenes toward the film’s end are enough to recommend it.

Drinks Consumed--Lemon soda (spiked with moonshine)

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, and loosened inhibitions

Potent Quotables--COP (doing a spit-take): Chief, this stuff is just full of booze.
TOMMY & EGBERT (in unison): Booze!

Video Availability--Not officially released on DVD, but Hollywood's Attic provides a collector's copy of Caught Plastered

Similarly Sauced Cinema--In their first film together as a comedy team, Rio Rita (1929), Wheeler and Woolsey get spifflicated on old Aztec wine.

Wheeler & Woolsey: The Vaudeville Comic Duo and Their Films, 1929-1937 (McFarland Classics)

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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