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The Big Lebowski at Malco Paradiso

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"Sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there, and that's The Dude." — The Big Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski was not the movie for its time or place. This here story I'm about to unfold took place in 1998 — just about the time American movie fans were having a tragic love affair with Titanic. I only mention it because The Big Lebowski sank at the box office.

Coen Brothers associate Bill Robertson said it best in a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone. By following a perfectly austere, Academy Award-winner like Fargo with a gaudy bauble like Lebowski, the brothers were like, "opera stars who sang a perfect aria – and farted as they walked offstage." Within five years of its underwhelming release, the Coen's marriage of gritty L.A. noir (Raymond Chandler-style) and wordy screwball comedy (Preston Sturges-style) had become a generational touchstone. In 1998, it baffled audiences and split critics down the middle. TV critic Gene Siskel described The Big Lebowski as a "big disappointment."

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As Malco prepares for a 20th anniversary screening of this late-blooming landmark, we looked back into the movie archive to see what the Flyer thought about this once-divisive, now-beloved comedy about a man and his area rug. According to reviewer Susan Ellis, "The Big Lebowski possesses none of the dark undertones that flavored [the Coens'] last big hit, Fargo. Nor does it — despite all of its sundry characters and brief plot detours (such as the dream sequences) — try to do too much, as in The Hudsucker Proxy. Rather, this film harks back to Raising Arizona, another happily goofy kidnap caper ... Laugh out loud funny."

It was a good review. And thorough. And if it makes you want to see Dude, Donny, Maude, Walter, Jesus, Bunny, The Stranger, and a whole bunch of nihilists, the Malco Paradiso theater participates in TCM's 20th Anniversary screening of The Big Lebowski Wednesday, August 8th.

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