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The Ladykillers (2004)
Colorful moral fable with lots of big laughs: not without its flaws, but very entertaining
As another reviewer commented, I missed quite a few lines of dialogue because everyone in the audience was laughing so loudly (myself included), and that goes to show one of the greater strengths of the Coen brothers' new film. It is really truly ridiculously funny. The humor is broad at times, often dark, often quirky and bizarre, and may not appeal to an audience that cares for more routine humor and straightfoward punchlines or pandering to the lowest common denomenator. Much of the humor comes from the Coens' trademark dialogue. As usual it is immaculately manicured, beautiful to behold, and hilarious to hear: their use of colloquialisms, slang, jargon, accents, dialects, archaic language, and just plain funny words that one may or may not have ever heard before is simply tremendous. And when put into the mouths of capable character actors those words work magic on my funny bone.
The casting, again as usual, is awesome. The whole cast pulls off the not so easy task of creating consistent caricatures whose absurd actions they have to make sense of.
However, my favorite part of the film was the highly stylized narrative style. It felt more like a fable or moral tale than any kind of story that one is supposed to take as seriously realistic. The film is set in Mississippi, but presents itself as more of an imagined caricature or archetype constructed of various images and anachronisms that add up to some vague notion of "Mississippiness", rather than an actual earthly location. Whatsmore, the obviously allegorical qualities of the principle characters make for some delightful religious and literary symbolism, that treads the fine line of parody: seeming at once oddly serious but with a healthy dose of dark parodic humor.
All in all I recommend this movie rather highly. Mainly because it is so different from the formulaic, prepatterned, pandering drivel that constitutes the majority of mainstream comedy film. It is nice to see a screwball farce that is not afraid of being misunderstood, that does not have to follow the lead of whatever popular trash came before it, and that is willing to at least attempt to conflate broad low-brow humor with intelligently crafted structure, content, and satiric wit.
9 out of 10...I hardly ever stopped laughing.
Big Political Spectacle: depressing but ultimately optimistic
When watching this film one first has to take into account the fact that it was made in 1944, the heyday of patriotic Hollywood propaganda. Hollywood had joined the war just like the rest of America, and its job was to keep up moral, foster hope for a better future, and keep people doing their jobs in the war machine with enthusiasm.
If you can take all that with a grain of salt, then you will probably like Wilson, because the goofy and embarrassingly obvious moments of propaganda (and Wilson idolatry) are the movie's only major flaw.
What this movie has going for it is Henry King's direction, many very impressive big crowd scenes and great sets (where you can actually see the ceilings), Woodrow Wilsons somewhat tragic life story, and Alexander Knox who plays Wilson. Knox gives very endearing, powerful, and emotionally resonant performance. He makes Wilson a real character that comes through even the thick layers of propaganda. The rest of the cast is good as well (especially the women in his life), but it is Knox and King that carry the movie.
See it for Wilson's excruciatingly intense final political speech. It's forceful.
7 out of 10 (for great spectacle and emotional effectiveness).
Morte a Venezia (1971)
Suffers from an inexusable overabundance of "acting" and the addition of unnecessary backstory.
I like art movies, and slow mood movies, but this film was laughable. I watched it right after reading the novella, and for the work that the filmmakers put into getting many of the details and all of the dialougue close to being exactly the same, they totally missed on the characters. I have read some very complimentary things being said about Sir Dirk Bogarde for his performance in this film, and I realize that it is somewhat of a challenge building character with an almost total absence of dialougue. But the man did not suspend my disbelief for even one moment on screen, and yet he was better than Björn Andresen who plays the object of his desire. Everyone else was good, but I felt that the two key players so missed the essential elements of the characters in Mann's novella that the story became almost totally univolving.
However, the scenery, the costumes, and the photography are all excellent.
So on those merits I'll give it 3 out of 10.
read the book, the characters in the film don't have even a teardrop of the ocean of passion and intensity found in the book.