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The Dude abides.

The Ambler Theater, one of my favorite local theaters, runs a Hollywood Summer Nights series during the summer months, highlighting great films past and present. The big highlight during the summer is the annual Little Lebowski Nite. The night in general is great fun, with a quiz, costume contest, and then the movie.

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The quiz was entertaining, as the associate director of the theater, Chris, asked a series of questions based on the film. He asked a broad range of questions in the hope of stumping the audience, but from what I remember last year, he wasn’t that successful. This year though, he got an intern for a few questions, and he got the audience on a couple of freeze-frame moments (one of them being: name a song from the Autobahn album), much to his delight.

The costume contest was a hit, with eight people lined up on stage in various dress. There was only one Dude this year, but there was also a Jesus, a couple of Strangers, Smokey, a Jackie Treehorn, and a Walter. The far and away winner though was Saddam, and his costume was amazing.

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After that, the film. This was the second time I’ve seen the film in its entirety (the first time being last year’s Little Lebowski Nite), and it was a lot funnier than I recall it being. I laughed a lot harder than I normally would in a movie theater (well, that seems to have changed in general with some recent stuff like This is the End and Frances Ha). In case anyone has never seen it, it involves an unemployed loser known as the Dude getting involved in a stupidly complex plot involving a kidnapped model wife, a crippled millionare who shares the same name as the Dude (Jeff Lebowski), an avant-garde artist, a trio of nihilists, and a porn producer. Oh, and all the Dude wants is to get his back. It’s all pointlessly absurd, and it’s great.

If anyone is in the Philly area next July, I highly recommend getting tickets for this event. They run “achiever” level tickets for the event, which includes a T-shirt (this year’s design is great) and your choice of a White Russian or sarsaparilla. It’s a fun way to spend an evening at a great theater.

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Oh, and just a few Dudes enjoying the film. (Picture from Ambler Theater; pictured: myself, Kim, and dad)

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For more info on the event, click here: http://www.renewtheaters.org/blog/films/the-big-lebowski/#.Ud4VD-V_Ab4

Let’s get this out of the way first: ignore everything except for the visuals you’ll be seeing on the screen. Disney, for some unfathomable reason, hasn’t had the original Tron available on DVD for months now (the last release being the 20th anniversary edition). For people like me, looking to see this sequel, having the original would have helped at least introduce the world of Tron. Luckily, the sequel tells us about Tron without having to worry about seeing the first film.

Unluckily, you’ll need a doctorate in computer engineering to try to get through the plot. You’ll also need sugar pills or adrenaline shots just to stay awake at times. The exposition is so heavy that it slows the film down to an absolute crawl. And it doesn’t make a lick of sense either. Inception, even when it didn’t make sense, had the decency to keep things moving. Tron Legacy just stops dead. Several maddening plot holes occur throughout, especially towards the end, during the final battle and climactic sequence.

The characters are severely two dimensional or less as well. Kevin Flynn is Zen-like and passive, who only accepts change because of his son Sam (Hedlund as a thankfully less whining Hayden Christensen), who seems to get everything his way. Also, why doesn’t Sam just run ENCOM anyway, or at least put competent people on the board? You’re a majority stock holder. Wield that power you have. Moving on: Quorra doesn’t move much beyond naive, CLU doesn’t change at all (but he’s the bad guy, so there’s no requirement), and everyone else just moves along as computer constructs. Only Michael Sheen brings any life in the film to his role as Caster, and he’s still just a cipher.

Got that out of the way. Now, for the visual treat. The Grid, or Tron (whichever you want to call the place), is beautiful. A friend called it “retro-futuristic eyegasm”, and she’s right. All the buildings are tall and strictly angular, with only a few choice colors used to define the city (white and black, primarily, with blue and some orange added to define sides). The 3-D, while darkening the screen (removing the glasses makes the screen brighter), is actually used properly for once, like Avatar. The emphasis is on depth, not on throwing objects at you endlessly (Tron, thankfully, did not do this once). And, the 3-D is wisely limited to the Grid as well. The producers added a warning at the beginning saying that the film was meant to be seen in 2-D, with 3-D added in post. I was not annoyed.

That said, I wanted more out of the Grid too.  Yes, we have our light disc fights and light cycle battle, but because of the heavy exposition, it feels very limited.  I found each of these sequences to be very exhilarating – the tension was heightened when Sam found out he could die in these battles – yet they were spread too wide apart.  The final battle was decent, but not as thrilling or involving as the light cycle battle.

Not terrible by any means.  Rather… underwhelming?  Or just disappointed?  Then again, I knew what I was getting into when I saw the film, so I’m not upset about the money spent on the film with 3-D.  Rather, I think I just wanted more.  Eyegasm indeed, and nothing more.

C

Sometimes, it takes something truly horrifying to realize that the way you live your life is completely destructive, not only to yourself, but to the people around you.  There are multiple instances that lead up to that point, but it isn’t until that single defining moment, when you’re caught doing that destructive measure that caused this single moment, that you realize that you truly messed up.

That is the heart and soul of the character of Bad Blake, a down on his luck country singer who travels around in his ’78 Suburban, smokes heavily, and drinks even harder.  He plays his gigs, at small places, far smaller than he’s used to: a bowling alley, a small bar, any place that his agent can find him.  He hasn’t written a song in several years, and he can’t get an album deal until he writes songs.

He meets a woman along the way: Jane, a music journalist from Santa Fe.  The two instantly become smitten with each other.  Jane has had a history of bad men, while Bad has had five wives, all probably leaving him for the same reasons: the constant touring, the constant boozing.  Jane has a son, Buddy, who is four years old.  She tells Bad one thing: don’t drink in front of Buddy.

You can see where this is going.  Suffice to say, the everyday story is done quite well here.  Jeff Bridges is stellar here, both in his acting (he owns the role completely) and his musicianship (a fine singer and guitar player, even at his old age).  The movie that was originally doomed for a DVD release became a late season hit for Bridges, and he deserves all the awards he’ll be getting, including the Academy Award next week (he’s all but assured of it).

The supporting roles are excellent as well: Maggie Gyllenhaal is Jane (balancing both single motherhood and journalistic engagement quite, as well as a stumbling, bumbling Blake), Robert Duvall as Wayne, a bar owner in Houston who acts as a mentor to Blake (probably his best role as the father figure in Duvall’s old age), and Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet, a fellow country musician who made it big as a result of Blake’s mentoring, who also didn’t forget about Blake.

It’s actually this character that I was most surprised about in this film.  The normal cliche would be for the student to forget about his mentor and to say he did it all on his own.  Tommy doesn’t: he recognizes Bad for what he did and offers him whatever help he can give him: opening on his tour, song writing credits, anything.  Bad alludes to bad blood that happens between them early on, but as we learn when they meet, it was a matter of life catching up to them and setting their priorities: Tommy had his priorities, and so did Bad.  Both chose different, and while it strained their relationship, it never completely set them apart, as shown by Tommy’s repeated insistence in helping his mentor.  Note: Colin Farrell can actually sing quite well too, which was a surprise in itself.

So we shall have to thank the forces to be, whomever they are or were, that saw this film and saw how great Jeff Bridges was in it and gave it life.  It’s often compared to The Wrestler in terms of its story (and bringing universal accolade and revival of Mickey Rourke’s career), but I think there is a better film to compare it too, and from the same year: Slumdog Millionaire.  The little film that could also was brought to life from a potentially crippling straight-to-video release, and it went on to win the Academy Award for best picture last year.  While Crazy Heart doesn’t have the best picture nomination, it’s assured of winning two of its three nominations (Bridges for best actor, the song “Weary Kind”), which is stellar indeed.  See this film.

A