23 February 2011

Movies: The Ladykillers 2004 vs.1955

The Ladykillers (2004) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0335245/
This is the 2004 Coen brothers remake of the 1955 Brit farce.
When I see "Coen brothers" on something I'm instantly in the 'gotta watch-it mode'. I mean, come on. Coens! Fargo, Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, etc.  I figure those guys could take a crap and film it and it'd be better than 90% of everything else out there.

Then I saw this film and I was left in a kind of "what?" mode at the end.  It really lacked the charm their previous - and after - flicks had/have.  

What's odd is the cast played their characters quite well - and they had to because they couldn't have played them that over the top by accident. And it was good to see Hanks go 'out there' with a character again. So I can't really put my finger on what put me off this movie.  I don't know if the characters were too stereotypical, or if the farce was too heavy-handed or what.  I haven't seen the original Brit film to compare, but I suspect it was probably dryer and more subtle in its humor.
Nonetheless, the movie was still funny in some ways. It's no Raising Arizona, though.  I think the Coens are probably off the "could film poop and sell it" list for a while, but they're still on the instant-watch list.  I mean, come on. True Grit remake.

Probably the least-liked of the Coen flicks I've seen yet. And it had such a good cast too. It did evoke a chortle or two out of me.

(original post 15 Jan 2011)

Edit after seeing the original version of the film:
Don't bother seeing this remake. Just watch the original to see how these kinds of films are done correctly. 

Sorry Coens, I usually love your films but this one just didn't do it. I can tell you tried, but the attempts to update the story didn't help it at all.

The Ladykillers (1955) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048281/

In May 2012  I finally watched the original Brit farce "The Ladykillers" starring Alec Guinness (Obi Wan Kenobi if the name sounds familiar), Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, other wonderful films), Herbert Lom (Insp. Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films) and a bunch of other folks I probably wouldn't recognize 'cause Brit films from the 1950s aren't my usual film fare. 

Both this original film and the remake follow a similar premise. A criminal takes up residence at an empty boarding house owned by a little old lady. He tries to be charming, tells her he and his friends form a string quintet and will be practicing there. In actuality they are playing a recording of a quintet and actually planning a heist. They carry out the heist but the landlady stumbles on to the cash, so now they have to figure out what to do about her.

Black and white, sometimes the sound is off, sometimes the camera work and editing is spotty, but that doesn't detract from the film.  The character acting and story completely sell the film past any production issues. The cast is amazing. Plus, hello, 1955 moviemaking was still laying foundations that modern films are based on. In films this old I just call it "charm". Regardless, the film is entertaining and funny in the way I as an American grasp 50s-era British humor. Well worth watching.
My take on comparing the two:
I can understand why the Coens wanted to remake this film. It's good. It's funny. As farcical heist films go this is probably one of the mold-making films that others are based on. The humor is typical of the "British humour" we Americans either understand or don't. The cast of five stereotypical criminals, the brains, the brawn, the murderous thug, a confidence man and a lackey are up against the sweetest old lady who happens to own the boarding house they stay in. 
Unfortunately something got lost in the Coen remake. The old lady wasn't near as sweet and likeable in the newer film. The stereotypes were thinner in the newer film, the updated humor was more shallow and went more lowbrow. The remake's cast seems more scattered and less cohesive. A shame.

See the original, if for any reason than to see why newer farcical heist films are or aren't nearly as good as you think. I wouldn't recommend seeing the remake of The Ladykillers unless you expressly want to contrast it with the original. The original is much more entertaining despite its age.

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