@JFLMTL: The Big Lebowski

Michael Fassbender as The Dude? Patton Oswalt as Walter? Jennifer Lawrence as Maude? Mae Whitman as Donny? Dennis freakin Quaid as the real Lebowski? Mike Judge as Sam Sheppard's deep voiced, wise - ish narrator? It shouldn't work, right?  On a humid Friday night in Montreal, a live reading with the aforementioned culprits happened and it DID work, gloriously in fact. All part of the 33rd edition of the Just For Laughs festival.

The Coen Brothers classic is a peculiar  film, one greeted with mixed to divisive reviews upon its release, yet gaining a rich cult following over the years and comedy classic status - a fate I sure hope their much maligned but underrated "Burn After Reading" will one day get. The live reading this past Friday night was greeted with buzz - tickets sold out quickly once Lawrence was announced, and the show was  moved to a bigger theatre. But if there was any reason why these now iconic live readings created by Jason Reitmam were created, it was to read a Coen Brothers script.  Those kooky brothers have a flair to their dialogue that is second to none and is brought to life on a stage setting.

Patton Oswalt brought a whole new layer to John Goodman's deranged, Shabbos-observing vet, and every time he spoke the crowd went nuts. He brought out the iconic, anger-driven performance of the original character. At every "shut the fuck up Donny", the crowd couldn't hold still, hollering and cheering the legendary line.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was the fact that Michael Fassbender was actually smoking joints rolled up by Jennifer Lawrence on stage. One joint after another was lit up as Fassbender brought out a whole new meaning to the term "method actor". Lawrence, a self proclaimed "Lebowski fan", seemed to be happy to just be there. Her Maude had a scant amount of dialogue and she seemed to struggle with some of more high brow Maude words, such as satyriasis, but just hearing her struggle to utter the word "Vaginal" was worth the over 2 hour wait to get into the 700 capacity Olympia theatre.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the, as of then unannounced, actor who would play the wheelchair bound Lebowski. None other than Dennis Quaid was introduced as the audience went batshit crazy when 61 year-old actor made his way onstage. Quaid not getting nominated for "Far From Heaven" is one of the biggest crimes in recent Oscar history.

Mike Judge, the creator of "Silicon Valley", did a great job emphasizing the deep montone voice of the narrator of the film. The man behind "Office Space", another cult classic in the same vein as Lebowski, used his skills of impersonation and sounded exactly like Sam Shepard. The rest of the cast was filled up by actors from HBO's brilliant TV series "Sillicon Valley". In fact, the day after the live reading I attended a Q and A with the entire cast of that show, which only made me appreciate the actors and writing even more.

Mae Whitman also shone. A female  playing Donny was a risky endeavour, but the "Parenthood" actress made it work so well.  The loose, liberal, almost European-esque atmosphere the city of Montreal brings was clearly felt by the actors, who were so high and inspired on stage that you almost forgot about the original incarnators of the film. Drinks and joints kept flooding the stage as the actors tried to get the loose vibe of the Coen film right.

The Coen dialogue has aged well, and so has the inspired lunacy that drives the film. We didn't need Fassbender, Lawrence,  Quaid and Co to remind us of that, but the night I and 700 others witnessed on Friday night was mighty in abidance to The Dude. The lineup outside was a what's what of Dude-ism: smoking joints, reciting famous lines, and even bringing bowling balls on a Shabbos night of all nights. 17 years after its release, it felt like the Coens created a monster.


2015 mid year recap

After 6 months of moviegoing in 2015, one thing has become very clear: Female driven cinema is here to stay. If you look at my list of the best of the year so far you will find that most of the movies that were worth seeking out had a female lead or a female driven psyche infused to their DNA. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes me think that Hollywood has finally realized the importance of the female voice. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do, but how refreshing it is to bypass the testosterone fueled barrage of superhero sequels and uncover an endless amount of counter-programming that relies on feminist ideals and themes instead of the usual one-dimensional bollocks we’re so used to.
In “Mad Max: Fury Road”, George Miller set the stage for a towering performance by Charlize Theron as a relentless seeker of freedom and justice. At this point in time she more than deserves an Oscar nomination by not only giving one of the best performances by a female this year, but one of the best performances by anybody this year period. It eclipses her towering work in “Monster” by being less showy but more powerfully subtle. It is the crowning achievement of Theron’s career.
Who can forget the gorgeous dissection of young Riley’s feelings in Pixar’s masterful and imagination-filled “Inside Out” — a film that stands alongside “WALL-E”, “Up” and “Toy Story 3″ atop the mighty Pixar shrine. The animation company has never made a brainier, trippier movie than this, nor have they ever concentrated the bulk of a movie into investigating the raw feelings of a teenage girl in her everyday life. She’s the anti-Disney princess and all the better for it.
The horror genre was rejuvenated last year with “The Babadook” -– a smart, snappy, and darkly twisted tale that dealt with death, mourning and the matriarchal role. “It Follows” continued that trend in a film that will probably make my top ten list at the end of the year. What a treat it was to watch “It Follows”, a darkly brilliant horror movie starring the indelibly talented Maika Monroe as a girl who gets cursed by a selfish young man and has to deal with the consequences throughout the film’s tightly-knit 107 minutes. Maika more than handles her own and then some.
How about the triumphant, intense fireworks that Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart create in “Clouds of Sils Maria”? Stewart’s mature performance will quiet all the haters once she gets a well-deserved nomination come next spring. I stumbled upon a list from a reputed website of the worst actresses in Hollywood and Stewart was in the top three! The kind of research that goes into having such blasphemous idiocy in a top ten list could make for a great topic in a separate writeup. Stewart is proving herself to be quite the actress: Her Cesar-winning performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria” isn’t the only time she exuded greatness. Check her out in “Adventureland”, “Into the Wild” and “Still Alice” just to name a few, you’ll see what I mean.
Want more? “Ex-Machina” gave us the iconic Ava, a beautiful and seductive android handmade by a man to fit and comfort his sick needs, that is until … just watch the movie, a brilliant movie, that goes past its themes of the dangers of artificial intelligence and locates the heart and soul of a female android who wants to stop being controlled by the men around her. Alex Garland’s “Ex-Machina” is a movie that works on so many levels, it’s like the beginning of something new. Its agenda just feels so clear and concise: it’s the prophetic announcement of a charge that’s coming at us full throttle without warning, the tossing over of a cinematic voice and the birth of a new one.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road
2) Inside Out
3) Ex-Machina
4) It Follows
5) Clouds of Sils Maria
6) The Tribe
7) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
8) Predestination
9) Amy
10) While We’re Young
It doesn’t just stop at mid-year -– watch out for Amy Schumer’s hilariously relevant “Trainwreck” to continue the trend this summer, Meryl Streep teaming up with her daughter Mamie Gummer for Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash”, Lily Tomlin giving an award-worthy, career-best performance in “Grandma”, and Noah Baumbach continuing his “Frances Ha” dissection of the 21st century young female in “Mistress America”, starring Greta Gerwig. Good times ahead.
There you go, I have to admit that going past 10 films would be stretching it, but this is a solid bunch of films that definitely deserve your attention. It’s time for you guys to share your mid-year movie experiences. I look forward to reading them.