DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Ladykillers (highly recommended)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by DaViD Boulet, Aug 29, 2004.

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    LADYKILLERSStudio:TOUCHSTONE Year:2004RunTime:104 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.85:1 OAR (separate 4x3 version available so beware!!!) Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD French Subtitles:English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish SpecialFeatures:Slap-reel outtakes, “Danny Ferringon: Man Behind the Band” Featurette, Deleted (full length) gospel music scenes, DVD-ROM ScriptScanner content ReleaseDate:September 9, 2004





    The Feature...



    Brilliant.

    Can the Coen Brothers make a bad movie? Using their usual twisted sense of humor and double-edged wit, Joel and Ethan Coen bring a marvelous adaptation of the 1955 classic Ladykillers (Alec Guinness) to the modern screen. The film is an almost perfect blend of visual imagery, screen play, and first-rate performances. If you’re familiar with the story of the 1955 version (a veritable classic that everyone should see), the Coen’s version follow the same premise and storyline yet manages to feel bran-new and had no difficulty holding the interest of this viewer who is very familiar with the original. While the story is infused with the Coen’s signature macabre humor and satire, the consummate effect is one of a up-beat comedy that has a tinge of the darkness of films like Fargo but glows with the lightness of films like O Brother. Ladykillers has an energy that starts out slow and demure, and gradually intensifies as the characterization evolves and the story’s facets start to take hold, and this momentum continues to build until the ending sequences when the lady-killers are put to the test. The sensation is something like water filling up behind a dam…which suddenly breaches the top and comes cascading over in a torrent of waterfall.

    The casting of this film is perfect, and each actor depicts their characterization without flaw. The motley crew of criminals who make use of the old widows basement are infused with a kind of interactive dynamism that feels remarkably real and surreal simultaneously—one of the hallmark traits of a Coen production. All of the actors are simply superb, but two in particular deserve outstanding recognition. The first is Tom Hanks, who has managed to impress me indelibly with his performance in this film. If one wasn’t convinced already, this film will reveal his true ability as an actor. Hanks plays the role of “Professor Dorr”, a polished and well-spoken charlatan who charms his way into the home of Marva Munson (played by Irma P. Hall) where he uses his knowledge of literature and poetry to serve as a cover for the crime that he and his gang of “musicians” plan to execute using the old woman’s root cellar. Irma’s performance is simply outstanding—she portrays a widow with the innocence you would expect from an older-generation southern lady. However, Irma’s portrayal succeeds in intermixing an element of maternal distrust and a strong “blind faith” conviction of her religion which adds a sharply edged strength to her character which enhances and distinguishes her performance from that of her corollary in the 1955 film. Refreshingly, the film never makes light of or ridicules Marva Munson’s Christian beliefs, but rather sets forth an almost ironic compare/contrast between this grandmotherly woman with her innocent (presumably niave from the point of view of the gang of criminals) beliefs, and the experiences of the worldly criminals who, with all their savvy and wit, fall prey to disaster. A rareity for me, I find myself more enamoured with this modern “remake” than I do with the original classic. Both are excellent and both films should be seen by any serious movie enthusiast, but the Coen version adds a bit more color and a bit more depth to the experience and I have to say I think that I like it even more.

    Good movie. Well done.



    Picture...


    Very good. I’m guessing that Touchstone DVDs are mastere/authored by a different crew than the Miramax discs I’ve been getting lately…at least that’s the way it looks on the screen. While not up to the high picture quality standards of Warner Brothers recent DVD titles, the image of Ladykillers is no slouch and was very satisfying on my 100” screen.

    The image of this film is very stylized, and the DVD should not be faulted, but rather commended for the preservation of these artistic designs. The first thing you may notice is the at times synthetic impression of the digital special effects…especially in scenery, skies, and shots of the bridge and island. Given the care that has obviously gone into the making of this movie, and the presence of so many other stylized components, I can’t help but think that these effects-shots are intended to have the sometimes unnatural, other-worldly appearance that they do. But the strongest stylized element is color, which is shifted towards warm, earthy hues that skew flesh tones to warm brown-orange and impart a sort of “glow” to the movie as a whole. You saw this in O Brother as well, and it’s less severe with Ladykillers, but still a present and strong expressive facet of production.

    The DVD preserves this lustrous color palette with ease. Contrast appears exaggerated at times, but my suspician (having never seen this film projected via 35 mm) is that this characteristic is also an intended artistic effect. Black level is solid and I noticed no obvious “noise” or compression difficulty in dark scenes. Detail is “good”, which is to say above-average for a live-action DVD title coming out of Disney Studios (not as naturally detailed as a Fox, Universal or WB title, but more detailed than many of the Miramax DVDs I’ve reviewed lately). And thankfully “ringing” edge-halos are not visibly distracting from my 1.6 screen-width viewing distance. If I move up closer to the screen…say 1 screen width away, I can discern edge halos on some hard-line transitions but the artifact is not obvious at a proper DVD-viewing angle (by that I man a 1.5-1.75 screen-width viewing distance…which is the “sweet spot” for well mastered projected DVD source material).

    My only real complaint is a subtle “digital” impression to the picture…and while I suspect that this may be partly due to the very mild HF boot (EE), one has the distinct impression that this film has been heavily digitally processed during production (prior to landing on 35mm film prints) and I’m willing to concede that at least part of the “effect” that I’m sensing may be due to this. Amilie is another DVD title that hits me this way, and I think for the same reason.

    Wide-angle viewers (a good catch-all phrase for those watching their image from an approximate 1.5 screen-width distance, regardless of actual screen size) should be pleased with the quality of the image on this disc and narrow-angle viewers (sitting a more traditional distance from a direct-view or rear-projection set) should find the image virtually without fault. I hope that the image on this disc is a sign of more things to come from Disney Studios!

    Picture: 4.5/5
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    Sound...



    Really impressive. I mean really impressive—at least in regards to a movie of this genre. The guys who mixed the audio for this film really knew what they were doing…and really made an effort to have the audio compliment the on-screen content in a well executed manner. You can insert the usual list of good-5.1-recording accolades here like “nice dynamics, smooth and intelligible vocals, natural sounding dialog and good soundstaging for musical presentation” etc., but there were a couple of scenes that really stood out to me as strong examples of the care this mix was receiving and just why it was worthy of praise.

    One such scene was where we’re introduced to “Lump”—the brawny but not-so-brainy member of the criminal gang—and he’s playing football. In (conventional) unconventional Coen style, we’re inserted into his first-person point-of-view and see ourselves running down the field. It sort-of gave me a flashback to Being John Malchovich. In any case, here we are in the “head” of Lump…and the audio mixers make sure it sounds that way: you hear his breathing and the general muffled sounds permeating through the helmet “around you”, just like you would in the real first-person experience. Listen to the way that Lump’s breathing is presented in this foggy surround-sound manner compared to the shouts of the other team members and coach. This is some incredibly thoughtful sound mixing and I give it two thumbs up.

    Another scene (actually a few like this) that impressed me was the gospel-worship scene in Mrs. Marva Munson’s church. The singing of the choir is beautifully recorded and the frequency response from the airy female vocals to the deep bass of the instrumentation is not only impressive—but emotionally moving.

    This is one title I would have really liked to have had the chance to hear in DTS (assuming that the DTS encoding would bring the same subtle improvements in fidelity that I hear with most other DTS titles I own).




    Sound: 5/5
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    Special Features...


    [*]The Slap Reel Outtakes: Several times in the movie, Mrs. Marva Munson “smites” a sinner or two…for their own good of course. This outtake shows several attempts during filming to refine her smoting skills. Short but sweet, and in some way this constitutes a deleted-scene special feature and gag-reel all in one (dialog is different in several of the slap-scenes here than what ended up in the finished production).

    [*]Danny Ferrington: The Man Behind the Band: Almost incidental to the plot, the gang of criminals pose as medieval/renaissance musicians to legitimize their long hours “rehearsing” (digging) in the basement. Whether or not the music seemed peripheral to the film, the design of the instruments certainly was not, as we discover in this outstanding featurette. Danny Ferrington is a master carpenter/artisan specializing in instruments, and skills, care, and incredible life experiences are chronicled here. This man’s work is renowned…he’s a true artist but never loses sight that he’s making musical instruments to be used. The time I spent listening to Danny talk about his work and share stories of his life’s special moments connected with his work has made me feel genuinely enriched.

    Out of the hoard of special features I’ve spent my time reviewing of the past few months, this featurette stands out from the rest as perhaps the single-best special feature I’ve come across. Excellent.

    [*]DVD-ROM: There is apparently a “ScriptScanner” feature on this disc that allows one to watch the movie and read the script for each scene. I’m unable to comment on this feature as I’m not DVD-ROM enabled. Please comment when you get the disc if you can ascertain anything about this bonus feature.

    [/list]


    All Together...

    Excellent film. If you’re a Coen Brothers fan, or you liked the original 1955 classics “Ladykillers”, or you enjoy edgy comedies that paint their humor onto a darker, pitted canvas, Ladykillers is for you. I give it two solid thumbs-up, and encourage anyone with even just a spark of interest to purchase or rent this DVD and experience this film for yourself.

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I'm afraid there are going to be some that will disagree with that assessment. I caution anybody about making this title a blind buy. Most people I've talked to either didn't like this film or quite understand it. I, for one was very entertained by it, but I recognized it's the type of film not for everyone. Anyhow, glad the dvd presentation is excellent and I'm looking forward to it.






    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Bill GrandPre

    Bill GrandPre Cinematographer

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    I was expecting the worst out of "The Ladykillers" because it didn't come to my city until a month or two after the theatrical release, which gave everyone plenty of time to lump it in with "Intolerable Cruelty" as one of the weaker efforts by the Coens. When I finally saw it, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, and I can't wait to buy it. Dorr may be the greatest Coen character of all time.
     
  4. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    I disagree. Serveral times in the film, it's mentioned that Marva contributes to Bob Jones University, which is known for its less than progressive record when it comes to race.

    Nevertheless, The Ladykillers clicked with me. Not the Coens' best work, but it's their funniest film since The Big Lebowski. I'm definitely picking this DVD up.
     
  5. ChrisBEA

    ChrisBEA Screenwriter

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    Funny movie, I really enjoyed it. It's hard to go wrong with the Coens. Also Hanks is always great.
     
  6. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the review, David. I haven't decided whether or not to pick this up or not, but I'm leaning toward getting it. I really enjoyed it, and even though it's not the Coens' best, it's certainly better than Intolerable Cruelty. And it was great to see Hanks in a comedy again.

    I loved the musical aspect of the film (the Coens' films always have impeccably chosen musical accompaniment); I'm sure that featurette on the design of the instruments will be interesting. Too bad there's no trailer, but oh, well.
     
  7. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    after what i thought as the dull Intolerable Cruelty, this one brought me right back to the brothers.

    LK's had the funniest death scene i think i ever saw in a movie.

    not saying who but someone falls down the stairs to the death.
    i fell out of my chair laughing on that one.
     
  8. Chris Cheese

    Chris Cheese Stunt Coordinator

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    I too was a bit surprised that the overall critical consensus seemed to be somewhat negative for this movie because I found it to be an absolute hoot. Of course, I'm a member of the group of folks who think that the Coen brothers have never made a bad movie, so maybe that says something about how biased I am, but I loved it. Actually, I also thought Intolerable Cruelty was a great movie too. Both are filled with the same colorful characters and great dialogue that Coen brothers movies are known for and to me at least fit right in with the rest of their films. I'd love to see them do a more serious movie again (The Man Who Wasn't There was a GREAT movie) but if their next comedy is as funny as the Ladykillers I'll be thrilled.
     
  9. Paul_Stachniak

    Paul_Stachniak Screenwriter

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    I know were many die hard coen fans are coming from when they tell me how much they disliked this flick. However, as a Coen fan myself, I loved this film. Certainly it's not their best, but it's very fun and enjoyable. I don't know if Joel and Ethan are tired of their more art house films, or they just want to make a series of light hearted films? At any rate, I hope they keep it up, because I'm enjoying them.
     
  10. Nicodemus

    Nicodemus Stunt Coordinator

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    This was actually the first film by Coen's I really liked. I kind of liked Fargo but it went over the top with it's splatter ending. But Ladykillers instead was very nice work from start to finish with truly black humour and an excellent performance from Tom Hanks of whom I don't usually like.
     
  11. Dan Hitchman

    Dan Hitchman Cinematographer

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    Don't gush about The Ladykillers bringing the Coens back to form too much. Remember, they did have a bit of help since it's a remake of an older Sir Alec Guiness British comedy and not an original story by them.

    I think the idea of the old lady contributing to Bob Jones University is supposed to be kind of in the vein of "tweaked nose" satire that is the Coen Brother staple and not an intended slam on her religious beliefs. The fact that she's black and making said contribution makes it part of the punch line.

    [​IMG]

    I can't wait for a much better version of Raising Arizona. It's my personal favorite of all the Coen Brother films.

    "Sometimes I would find myself driving past convenience stores... not on the way home." [​IMG]
     
  12. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

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    Although I haven't seen The Ladykillers yet (just got released at the cinema here), I wouldn't say it's a return to form because as far as i'm concerned they have been in form for the last 20years. [​IMG]
     
  13. Johnny Jr.

    Johnny Jr. Stunt Coordinator

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    I can see how many people wouldn't enjoy this film however I really enjoyed it. Tom Hanks performance really made the movie for me and I was surprised by how well the supporting cast worked around him. One of those films that begs for a second viewing.
     
  14. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie

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    Defintaly one of the weaker Coen entries. Go get the original from Anchor Bay and then tell me what you think of this one. I was tremendously disappointed, especially after the trailer showed so much promise.
     
  15. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I haven't seen this, and I'm certainly not going to buy it blind, but considering that I love the original Ladykillers and have disliked every Coen brothers film I've seen, I'm hoping that the opinions like this by Coen fans, mean I'll actually like this one.
     
  16. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie

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    Count me as a huge fan of the Ealing Studios original. I like much of the Coens output, but there's a lot of it that I find leaves a lot to be desired.
     
  17. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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    Loved this one. I was very worried about the Coens after seeing Intolerable Cruelty(which I despise) but found this one to be really enjoyable.

    I saw this in a pretty full theater and I was suprised at how much laughter there was, becuase of their offbeat style and sense of humor.

    There was a group of little old ladies behind me that couldnt stop laughing thru this film.

    One of my favorites so far this year.
     
  18. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

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    George, I actually thought you said Coen films have never made you laugh but you still like their films. Obviously i'm thinking of someone else. I consider myself a huge Coen fan and if you haven't enjoyed any of their other films then it's doubtful this one will change your mind, it is certainly in the same humour line as their previous films which means I thought it was excellent. [​IMG]

    I have had the original on my Netflix queue for weeks now but still haven't recieved it so I can't comment that film.
     
  19. Tim_C

    Tim_C Stunt Coordinator

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    I've recently "gotten into" the Coen Brothers (I even really liked "Intolerable Cruelty,") and I'm excited to see this one. I love the original Guiness version so I have high hopes.

    I'm glad to see it got a pretty good DVD release.
     
  20. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    I love the works of the Coen Brothers, but like Intolerable Cruelty, this film was only passable.

    There were some good elements in this film (music, cinematograpy of Deakins, and some of Hanks' dialog) - but it wasn't that funny and didn't have the bite of the usual Coen's works.

    I think the problem with their last 2 films is that they're not original Coen scripts (Ladykillers being a remake, and Intolerable Cruelty's story/screenplay being written by others).

    I really hope the Coen's get back to form, as these last 2 films seem too mainstream and feel like attempts at boxoffice results.
     

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