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Certainly, the Cohens have enough decency to know when a task should be
left undone, and when that task is the re-creation and improvement of a
comedy classic,they know better than to regurgitate old gags infused
with modern flair, or do they?
I will admit that I did enjoy this novel retelling of the Mackendrick classic. I enjoyed Hank's brilliant, earnest, and flawless delivery. I also enjoyed Irma P. Hall's sincerity. I enjoyed the score, the locale, the warm-lazy essence of Mississippi, and the mythological progression of events that is so common in the Cohens' films. Most of all, I enjoyed the charm of this film more-so than its predecessor.
Of course, in deference, the originators deserve their due praise, but this is certainly no simple remake--it's a retelling. Retellings don't need to improve, dazzle, or impress by comparison--they simply are what they are, and this was enjoyable.
This is not as bad a bad movie as many other would seem to want you to believe. It does not really bear comparison to the original because it has been made differently and updated for a modern audience. Tom Hanks, contrary to other comments I have seen here, is quite excellent in the lead role. His hammy, Poe-esquire disguise, is clearly compensating for the lack of intellectual gravity to which he so anxiously aspires. And, although I understand that Hanks did not watch the original prior to filming, it is a neat coincidence then that he chose to insert false teeth (see Alistair Simm in the original). The supporting characters are nicely fleshed out with some helpful introductory vignettes and although some of the film comes across as a little too "Uncle Tom's Cabin" at times; I think we can forgive the Cohens. There are some great laugh out loud moments of pure slapstick and some nice subtle touches of more gentle humour. This does not stack up against some of the more lauded of the Cohen's work - Fargo - Barton Fink - but it is an enjoyable and worthwhile slice of cinematic time. Beware of plenty of (uneccesary) bad language.
Falling short of a Coen masterpiece (such a Fargo), The Ladykillers can be described as a Coen gem. The style is evident right from the opening shot. Where else can you find a garbage barge and a garbage dump transformed so magically by the movie camera into what looks like an idyllic paradise. Equally sparkling is the audio pleasure proffered, with the beautiful background of barber-shop like chorus leading into an on screen duet of snores of the sheriff and his deputy. While on that score (no pun intended), lively, exciting swinging gospel music provides excellent interludes as well as background throughout.
Knowing that this is a remake of a 1955 version lead by Alec Gunnies, I'll make no further reference to something that I have not had the pleasure of watching. Instead, I would make reference to the assembling of the team for the caper, an enjoyable prologue as found in many similar films, from the good old classic The League of Gentlemen to the more recent Italian Job (also a remake). The slight difference here is that instead of seeing the mastermind (Tom Hanks) actually recruiting each one of them, we are shown what looks like a cartoon quip of each, with some good laughs but at the same time highlighting their individual characteristics.
Tunnelling for a robbery is not new, and the classical one has to be The Red Headed League in the Sherlock Holmes short stores. Here, under the pretext of researching Renaissance music, Hanks and company rent the basement of a widow, played by Irma P. Hall. One source of amusement to the audience comes from the scenes between these two, the church-going Southern black woman whose every nuance overflows with simple, principled honesty (but earthly smartness) and the completely cunning crook who tries to wriggle out of her recognition at every twist and turn. Another contrast played upon a lot by the Coen Brothers is the Hanks' talking 'genteel' (as Eliza Doolittle would have said) and the proliferation of obscenity from the 'punk', the insider member of the gang.
Funny right from the start, this movie gradually reveals more and more of the Coens' brand of dark humour when eventually the title 'ladykillers' take on a literal meaning. An 'In competition' film at Cannes this year, this Coen gem is well worth checking out.
I could not stop laughing and enjoyed it tremendously. Tom Hanks was simply delightful pretending to be refined, highly educated, charmingly polite and smooth talking Rococo music lover Professor G.H.Darr who in reality was a very dangerous, ruthless and devious criminal that assembled the most hilarious gang of thieves (each has his special talent) to dig the tunnel through his landlady's root cellar to a casino vault and to steal 1.6 million dollars. As good as Hanks was, he was completely upstaged by Irma Hall who steals the movie as Marva. She received many awards for her acting and very deservingly. I know that many Coens' fans don't like The Ladykillers because 1. it is a remake of the 1955 movie with the same title and 2. because it is one of their most mainstream films. I don't care - "The Ladykillers" has Coens' signatures all over - it is very funny, very dark, and uniquely beautiful visually - just remember the opening scene with two scary gargoyles and the garbage barge.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
CRITIQUE CONTAINS SPOILERS The original 1952 film was about a group of
crooks, posing as musicians, who rented a room and an old lady's house
in London. She was unwittingly drawn into their plans to steal a large
sum of money. The old lady was portrayed by Katie Johnson as a
vulnerable woman who, nonetheless, was saved from being implicated in
the plot and rose above it.
The remake takes the central story, transfers it to the United States, and makes the old lady anything other than vulnerable. That being the case, the outcome of this film is always clear. She is not and never will get drawn into the plot of the gangsters living in her midst, unwittingly or otherwise. Also seen in the remake is the old lady routinely attacking her lodgers, something only fleetingly glanced at in the original.
When old, classic films are remade the authors should bear in mind what makes them special and try to keep it. In The Ladykillers (2004) this was lost. The studio thus served up another film which didn't benefit the world of cinema one iota.
In the annuls of cinema, Character is king. Many can come up with a winning
high concept idea but unless you fill it with a rich tapestry of Characters
you've wasted time. For the greatest plot idea can become mundane if you've
put the wrong character in the wrong place. Joel and Ethan Coen's THE
LADYKILLERS is a mundane story that is saved by top notch and very rich
Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall, Soul Food) is a simple woman. She lives at home
alone, she goes to church every Sunday, and she prays for the souls of those
young kids listening to that "Hippity Hoppity" music. So when she rents a
room to Professor Dorr P.H.D (Tom Hanks, Philadelphia) little does she know
that her annual contribution to Bob Jones University will never be the
Dorr turns out to be a criminal mastermind, trying to pull off a simple casino robbery. He's acquired a crack team of losers and creeps to pull it off: Gaiwan (Marlon Wayans, Dungeons and Dragons) The Inside Man, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons, The First Wives Club) The Munitions Expert, The General (Tzi Ma, The Quiet American) the tactical man, and Lump (Ryan Hurst, Patch Adams) is the muscle. Will they pull off their brilliant plan? Only time and the two-hour running time will tell.
What the Coen's have crafted here is an acquired taste. The comedy is a little bit esoteric. The story plods along with almost reckless abandon, and they use swear words like their trying to buy a Ferrari with their swear jar. But something else is going on under the surface, a great character drama is unfolding.
Hank's overplays Dorr, but only to hide the fact that he might not be nearly as smart as he might claims. It's so subtle, and yet so garish I could see many thinking the performance is too over the top. But Hanks plays it so smartly and charming, you can't help but be enveloped into its complex layers.
I also liked how the Coen's screenplay polarizes it characters by playing the actors against each other. Dorr and Munson relationship works because it's the classic battle between brains and innocence. You may be able to quote Edgar Allen Poe, but if you can't do the right thing maybe you should get a real job.
The other great struggle is between Gaiwan and Garth. Gaiwan is a young black male with no conscience. Garth is a liberal white guy trying to knock sense into this stupid kid. Their escalating story builds from an almost a playful game of Older Vs Younger, but then raises the bar as it escalates into violence.
The Coen's have always had limited appeal because their films are dependent on audience involvement. You have to care for the characters; you have to put yourself in the characters place. Those who don't will leave the theater going that was weird, that was stupid, and that didn't make any sense. But that's why I like their films so much.
THE LADYKILLERS is worth the price of admission if you're interested in a silly and subtle character
drama but fails in plot. But boy it's a lot of fun, and if you give it a chance you might just walk away without that look of confusion you had on your face after THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.
**** out of 5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've admired some of the Coen's other movies, and Tom Hanks gives a
smooth comic performance here.
That's about it.
It's not a very funny movie. It's not entirely lacking in the Coen's sort of irony and wit -- two of the gangsters constantly at each others' throats are a jive-talking rastafarian-looking black kid and an older white guy who was a freedom rider. But the humor is driven in with a sledgehammer, what there is of it. While demonstrating how safe it is to handle a kind of explosive, the expert hits it with a hammer and blows his finger off. There follows an argument about whether or not it can be sewn back on like Bobbitt's penis. The black kid claims it can be although it might "maybe look like a chewed up frankfurter." In the original the crooks execute a simple but nicely choreographed heist on a city street and involve their old landlady in the retrieval of the money. Here, the crooks tunnel into the vault. Why? Digging tunnels and having accidents (the fuse that stops, then restarts at the wrong moment) are easier to do than figuring out jokes that might take place during a street robbery. And the old landlady is in no way involved in the plan. She stumbles on the gang by accident while the air is filled with fluttering bills. She's also not old and delicate. She's in late middle age, energetic, and robust.
Well. Others might enjoy it more than I did, especially if they're not familiar with the unsurpassable original. I personally am getting awfully tired of remakes. What a dearth of creativity they portend. They are beginning to make parodies of parodies. Shot-for-shot remakes of classics that were in no need of remaking. What next? "Citizen Kane" starring Keanu Reeves in Splendocolor? "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Part Two: The Return of Gold Hat"? "Viagra Comes to Golden Pond"? Another remake of "Reefer Madness"? You see where I'm going with this. The MBAs have taken over the asylum.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Ladykillers (1955) is an enduring classic of British cinema. It was
far and away Ealing's finest hour as a studio. Smooth, polished and
blackly funny, its one of the best British comedies ever made. Now the
classic tale gets the 21st Century makeover from Ethan and Joel Coen.
The basic story is just as Ealing left it. Five men plan a robbery while posing as musicians for the little old lady putting them up. She eventually finds the money, and the gang have no choice but to bump her off. But everything that can and will go wrong does.
Ealing comedies have always been a big influence on the Coen Brothers. Especially The Ladykillers. They love to make films where hapless folk fall victim to cruel and unusual circumstances. The Ladykillers should have worked really well in their hands. What a crushing disappointment that it doesn't. The Coens have made many marvellous films over the years. But this is one film on they're resume that misfires.
The Coens' have radically reworked the story to suit themselves. E.g. A pet cat instead of pet parrots, bodies dumped into garbage barges and not train carriages. And the Deep South as a setting. I have nothing against changes. The mark of a good remake is to take the original story and find some new novelty on it. But its the approach the Coens' take that kills the story.
Much of the appeal of the original film was the way it took place in a cosy, English domestic setting. Beneath a placid demeanour was a very sinister crime story. As violence and murder began to spiral, it pushed the film from the blackly comical into the truly hysterical.
The anonymity of the original made the violence in it that much more disturbing. And that all the more funny. But the mistake of the Coens' is to make it disturbing, but not to rein any of it in.
Coen films are frequently bizarre. But its an approach that doesn't sit very well with the story. Alec Guinness' Professor Marcus was hardly normal. You could tell that just by looking at him. But he didn't have to do much to convince you of that. One of the major problems with the remake is the way the Coens' have rewritten his character.
Professor Marcus has now become Professor G.H. Dorr, Ph.d. This was Tom Hanks' first time out with the Coen Brothers, and in interviews, he said he'd never seen the original film. If he had, I can guarantee he wouldn't have wanted to do a remake. Because the original film was perfect. The remake only reminds you of how well written and well acted the original was.
Tom Hanks' performance is more distracting than it is engaging. He plays the role with a series of peculiar squeaks, grunts and double-takes. Its impossible to form a connection with such an unusual character. Hanks draws too much attention to himself. Where Alec Guinness was more subtle. He could communicate volumes with a simple look.
The other members of the gang are not much better either. We care little for these people. And like Hanks, they're much too bizarre to identify with. Considering they're supposed to be criminals trying to keep a low profile, it just doesn't make any sense that the Coens' play up their quirks to shrieking, absurd levels.
One thing that seriously works against the film is Marlon Wayans. I must admit to an intense dislike of him as an actor. His performances are annoyingly over the top. And The Ladykillers is no exception. He spends half the time swearing his way through the film. He does more swearing than he does talking. Which feels out of step with the rest of the film. Every time he's on the scene, I wanted to leave the room. I was relieved when he was killed off. The film is all the better for it.
An otherwise fine actor like JK Simmons is wasted. He doesn't get much to do, and his irritable bowel syndrome isn't nearly as funny as the Coens' think it is. Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst make no distinction on the story at all. They're not the smooth, attuned ensemble Guinness' gang were.
In the role of the little old lady, instead of Mrs Wilberforce, we have Mrs Munson, played by Irma P. Hall. Her sassy, energetic presence is the one ray of sunshine to the film. She's the one thing about the remake the Coens' get right. She's an amusing reversal of what we were expecting. Not too knowing. But not too naive either.
The film is slightly more successful in its second half. As soon as it gets to the point where they have to kill Mrs Munson off, it forces the Coens' to stop springing oddball quirks on us and get on with telling the story. A point where the Coens' trademark black humour finally starts paying off. They die just like the last time, with Mrs Munson completely none the wiser. But the Coens' put they're own sadistic spin on them. Tzi Ma's death is particularly hilarious.
But that's all of 30 minutes before the credits roll. And that's too late in the film to save it. And even then, we never get the feeling that things are getting worse by the second the way we did with the Ealing version. Or the way the Coens' did with Fargo. They fortunately recovered with their next film, the superb No Country For Old Men. But if that film showed the Coens' at their best, The Ladykillers is them at their worst.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has it's moments, and I didn't consider it a complete waste
of time, but it is not nearly up to the standard of any other film by
Everybody tanks now and then, but it is hard to believe the same guys who made ANY of those other movies made this.
The odd thing is, it's hard to put your finger on exactly what went wrong. The story and the script are fine, although the irony is somewhat overdone by the time the last body drops off the bridge, and that detracts from the more subtle irony in the final disposition of the cash.
There is a lot of talent on screen, all people who have done much better work, but only one Coen regular that I recall(Stephen Root).
After watching the movie a second time, just to see if I 'missed it' somehow, I decided that it was over the top and out of control performances (Wayans, Hanks and Simmons being the worst offenders) that brought it down.
It's odd, because but the Coen's have handled exuberant and highly creative actors playing outrageous characters in their previous films and managed to make them hilarious yet believable (ie almost every character in 'The Big Lebowski' or 'O Brother'), but this time I guess the monkeys got control of the zoo.
Anyway, for whatever reasons, it just doesn't feel like a Coen film to me, and certainly doesn't have the 're-watch' appeal of ANY of their others, many of which I have watched and enjoyed a dozen times or more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers. I liked their movies "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "No Country For Old Men," "Fargo," and "The Man Who Wasn't There." But this? This wasn't even close to what they did before. Sure, it's a different movie, but they could've at least tried to make it funny. This had no humor and no story to it at all. Even Tom Hanks couldn't save it. It was basically a bunch of ne'er do wells trying to do away with an old lady, but they kill themselves instead. Exciting? Funny? I think not! I was completely ashamed of the Coen Brothers when I saw this. I will never see this movie again as long as I live.
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