Double Feature Club!
My brother Dave had the great idea, recently, to start a Double Feature Club. This is a movie-version of a book club, in which a group of friends will gather, approximately once a month, to enjoy a Double Feature on a certain theme.
Dave hosted the first installment last week — two movies starring Jeff Bridges: Arlington Road and The Big Lebowski.
Arlington Road (1999) — Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday (no connection to the time-traveling Daniel Faraday on Lost), a widowed college history professor who teaches courses on terrorism in America. He becomes friends with new neighbors, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack). However, he grows increasingly suspicious of Oliver, and when he begins looking into Oliver’s background he becomes convinced that Oliver is plotting a terrorist act on American soil.
Arlington Road is a nice taught thriller that has a dynamite twist ending. It really stunned me when I first saw it in theatres back in ’99. Because movies like these, with twist endings, tend to lose something upon repeat viewings… and also because the film is, frankly, quite a downer, I’d never re-watched it in the years since. I was very curious, now, to see how the film held up.
No surprise, it loses a lot of its power once you know the ending. However, there is still fun to be had in watching the film through while knowing the end, and seeing how that knowledge colors scenes that you’d previously thought of differently. The plot holds up pretty well to scrutiny. In a post 9-11 world, this story about the fear of terrorism, and possibility of hidden dangers even among our suburban neighbors, has a lot of extra weight. The film is completely colored by that now, but I don’t think that’s altogether a bad thing.
The main joy of the film is watching Bridges slowly unravel as Faraday becomes more and more obsessed with his neighbors. Robbins and Cusack are also a blast, alternately playing friendly & gregarious and very, very creepy.
The Big Lebowski (1998) — Jeff Bridges is Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a stoned LA lay-about who gets mixed up in a Chandler-esque tale of intrigue and mistaken identity. I’d loved this film back in college, but it had been years since I’d seen it last. As with Arlington Road, I was eager to see how well this film held up.
Well, I am pleased to say that it remains ferociously entertaining. Bridges is just terrific as The Dude, conveying an eminently likable slacker/stoner without laying on the shtick too thickly. As always in a film by the Coen Brothers, our lead is surrounded by an ensemble of wonderfully bizarre characters. There’s John Goodman as The Dude’s bowling buddy Walter, a gun-toting Vietnam vet who takes his Judaism very seriously. Steve Buscemi is Donny, another bowling buddy who, as always seems to happen to Buscemi in Coen Brothers movies, meets an unfortunate end. David Huddleston is the rich, “Big” Lebowski with whom the Dude is confused in the opening of the film. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives great sycophant as the Big Lebowski’s aide, Grant. Julianne Moore is Maude Lebowski — even after seeing this film several times I’m still not exactly certain what her story is. John Turturro makes the most of just a few scenes as scary bowler Jesus Quintana, as does the great Sam Elliott (sporting one of the best mustaches ever to grace the silver screen) as The Stranger.
The plot of the film is wonderfully complex and, in the end, also pretty much irrelevant. The fun of this film is watching all of these crazy characters careen off of one another in increasingly bizarre ways. The dream sequences are also a hoot.
All in all, our first meeting of the Double Feature Club was a great success. After watching the intense, very serious Arlington Road it was a pleasure to relax and enjoy the nuttiness of The Big Lebowski. Two great films that have both aged well. (Though it will be Lebowski that I will re-watch more often in the future, I am sure.)
I will, of course, continue to report on future Double Feature Club installments as they happen!