"The Ladykillers"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Tom Hanks as PROFESSOR G.H. DORR
    Irma P. Hall as MARVA MUNSON
    Marlon Wayans as GAWAIN MACSAM
    J.K. Simmons as GARTH PANCAKE
    Tzi Ma as THE GENERAL
    Ryan Hurst as LUMP HUDSON

    Rated R
    Studio: Touchstone Pictures

    Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

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“Madam, we must have waffles. We must all have waffles forthwith. We must all think. We must all have waffles and think, each and every one of us, to the very best of his ability.”

You just don’t get dialogue like that in a regular film. This kind of dialogue, although out of context sounds like the blathering of an insane man, is part of what makes the Coen Brothers masters of their media. Not only does an inane rambling about waffles make absolute sense in the scene and of the character speaking it, but it becomes an art form in their hands.

I remember years ago hearing someone gush over Woody Allen by saying, “Even a bad Woody Allen movie is a great movie.” Well, I don’t know about that. I think even the most neurotic, therapy-addicted New Yorker would agree that Woody Allen has lost his touch (if he ever really had it in the first place rather than just being an fragment of the 70s).

But I have to say that quote is very relevant if placed in context with the Coen Brothers. While I think any filmmaker is capable of making a bad film, the Coen Brothers just haven’t yet. Sure, there have been substandard work for them, like last year’s “Intolerable Cruelty.” And it’s going to be hard for anything to live up to the genius of “Fargo.” But still, any Coen Brother movie is always a wonderful thing.

Such is the case with “The Ladykillers.” This film has all the elements of what makes Coen Brothers’ movies great. It has excellent writing, quirky characters, bizarre situation, and most importantly that warm, comfortable feel that we get even in dark and depressing films like “Fargo.”

A remake of the 1955 film of the same name with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, “The Ladykillers” tells the story of a literal band of thieves that plan to steal $1.6 million from a riverboat casino by tunneling into their vault. In order to do this, under the guise of a band that plays renaissance music, the thieves rent the root cellar of a kind old woman. However, old lady Munson (Irma P. Hall) becomes more of a challenge than the heist of the century.

There are two types of heist movies. The first, like “Oceans Eleven,” is fun to watch to see how a complicated plan can be executed flawlessly. However, a heist movie like “The Ladykillers” is all about what goes wrong in that complicated plan.

Tom Hanks leads this cast as Professor G.H. Dorr, and he is supported by some great acting pillars. Too often in movies, a strong supporting cast means a lukewarm main cast. However, in “The Ladykillers,” everyone turns in a powerhouse job - from George Wallace as the small-town sheriff to Stephen Root as the corrupt boss of the casino staff, and everyone in between.

The special features are a bit thin, but “The Ladykillers” is good enough that you don’t really need any for an excuse to see it. One of the features is a behind-the-scenes documentary about Danny Ferrington, who made all of the musical instruments for the band. This is a refreshingly different featurette in that it opens up a whole new world of filmmaking.

Danny Ferrington, who has made custom guitars for musicians like Curt Cobain and Johnny Cash, made all of the renaissance instruments that Dorr et al pretend to play in Mrs. Munson’s root cellar. What’s neat about this is not only do you get a somewhat entertaining look at the creation of musical instruments, but you also see some of the hidden details of these props that you would never see in the film itself. For example, Ferrington points out that because Dorr quotes Edgar Allen Poe, they made the neck of his violin a raven’s head.

Another fun feature is the hilarious “Slap Reel,” which features Hall hitting Marlon Wayans in take after take after take. The Coen Brothers, who are somewhat known for doing many, many takes of specific shots, had plenty of slap footage, and you have to hand it to Wayans to take such abuse.

The other special features include “The Gospel of the Ladykillers,” which is full-length versions of two of the songs in the film sung by a gospel choir. If you like the gospel music in the film, this is a nice feature. Finally, there is the “ScriptScanner,” which allows you to use your PC’s DVD-ROM to read the script while following along with the film.

Like their most recent film “O Brother Where Art Thou,” the Coen Brothers set “The Ladykillers” in the South and infuse it with the southern music as a solid backdrop. The Coen Brothers are able to take a simple story of a casino heist, mix it with such disparate concepts as gospel music and irritable bowel syndrome, and turn out a hilarious film.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French language track. French and Spanish subtitles. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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