2 items from 2000
Trust the Coen brothers to mine comedic inspiration from Homer, but that they do in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," a wildly ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying goof on "The Odyssey".
Gorgeous to look at and filled with those Coen-esque absurdist touches, the picture is considerably more substantial than the siblings' last outing -- the amusing but slight "The Big Lebowski" -- but despite a number of clever set pieces, it fails to capture the cohesive, loopy bliss of a "Fargo".
While it will no doubt play well to the Coen's faithful following, particularly in Europe, it will unlikely broaden the fan base.
Taking its name and initial jump-off point from the life-affirming film-within-a-film in Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels", the Coens' bluegrass-fueled epic journey is set in 1930s Mississippi, where dapper, articulate Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), moody Pete (John Turturro) and sweet but simple Delmar Tim Blake Nelson) have just cut themselves loose from a prison chain gang.
Heeding the words of a blind railroad prophet (Lee Weaver), they embark on a quest for buried treasure, remaining barely one step ahead of the law. Along the way, Everett, Pete and Delmar encounter a colorful assortment of characters including a gifted black musician who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for better guitar playing (blues musician Chris Thomas King); a conniving, one-eyed Bible salesman named Big Dan Teague (Cyclops by way of John Goodman); a blustery campaigning governor (Charles Durning), and even a cow-hating George Babyface Nelson (a terrific Michael Badalucco).
They manage to stop just long enough to wax a hit record as the harmony-singing hillbillies, the Soggy Bottom Boys, and break up an enormous Klan meeting that seems to have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley.
In short, the film is full of the kinds of characters and situations that Coen aficionados have come to know and love. It even gives "Fargo" a run for its dialectic money with a mighty backwoods drawl that at times is a little tricky to decipher.
But somehow all the amusing parts don't amount to all that much. Joel Coen's direction ambles along agreeably, although after a stretch there's a certain sameness to the narrative terrain.
Among the players, Clooney, looking like a sun-scorched, wild-eyed Latin matinee idol, has fun as the group's pomade-obsessed spokesman, but relative newcomer Nelson practically steals the show as dim bulb Delmar.
The under-utilized Holly Hunter, meanwhile, puts in a couple of brief turns as Clooney's estranged wife.
With everyone gamely up for the trip, it's too bad this Odyssey wasn't able to arrive at a better destination.
First-time director Joe Mantegna and a hardy crew of veteran screen and stage actors ship out on an early, loosely-autobiographical work of David Mamet in the satisfyingly gruff, funny and poignant "Lakeboat". The opening night film of the 6th Los Angeles International Film Festival screened Thursday to a mixed-to-positive reception from the sold-out crowd at the Directors Guild of America.
With a salty ensemble cast, led by Mamet's younger brother and "Lakeboat" co-producer Tony Mamet, the less than $5 million production is certainly worthy of limited theatrical exposure on its course toward rendezvousing with cineastes and Mamet fans in ancillary waters.
Recalling the superb John Ford classic of 1940, "The Long Voyage Home", which was based on four short plays by Eugene O'Neill, "Lakeboat" has a minimal plot that's centered on the summer journey of a steel freighter on the Great Lakes, in more or less the present day. Mamet wrote much of the material 25 years ago, based on his own college-years experiences on a lakeboat, and a full-length stage version was mounted locally to much acclaim at the Tiffany in 1994.
Mantegna does not have an acting role in the movie, but he's not a disappointment behind the camera, with the visual opportunities of the story amply exploited. Filming on a real ship and using the interior and exterior spaces to accentuate the action or mood, Mantegna and cinematographer Paul Sarossy ("X-Men") let the material breathe and the characters roam. Another Mamet brother, composer Bob, contributes a jazzy Chicago-style score that's helpful in the many transitional sequences and generally keeps the mood light.
The story begins and ends with the brief stint of fresh-faced virgin swabby Dale (Tony Mamet), who is in graduate school studying English and seemingly eager for experience and just maybe on the lookout for colorful characters to write about. Well, on the Seaway Queen, there's nothing but cranky guys stuck in routine lives who push each other around verbally but otherwise keep a lid on their collective anomie.
The movie cruises along episodically, with Dale getting to know, in no particular order: sad-sack Joe (Robert Forster), who knows he's one of life's losers; abrasive, tough-loving Stan (J.J. Johnson), who loves to break the rules; weary boss Skippy (Charles Durning), who has much pride; disciplined but cynical firstmate Collins (George Wendt); the creepy but friendly fireman Fireman (Denis Leary); and past-his-prime Fred (Jack Wallace), who has a thing for Steven Seagal movies
Several times, crewmembers speculate on the fate of missing mate Guigliani, with black-and-white fantasy sequences featuring a well-known actor in a surprise cameo and a prostitute (Roberta Angelica). Other stories told by characters are brought to life, but the agenda is frustratingly unfocused. One experiences wicked pleasure from the many hilarious, expletive-loaded exchanges about women, work and life, among other subjects, while waiting for the quieter moments, with Forster in particular delivering a haunted, heartfelt performance.
Oregon Trail Films
In association with One Vibe Entertainment
Producer--Joe Mantegna, Eric P. Epperson, J.J. Johnson, Tony Mamet, Morris
Executive producers--Eric Epperson, Alan James
Director of photography--Paul Sarossy
Production designer--Thomas Carnegie
Costume designer--Margaret Mohr
Dale Katzman--Tony Mamet
Running time -- 97 minutes
No MPAA Rating
2 items from 2000
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