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on July 22, 2009
Ever since I first watched this film a couple years ago, I have been amazed at the bad rap it has gotten. It is just about lost as an entry in the Coen Brothers' formidable body of work, and yet I believe it is unjustly condemned. Many people do not see past the crude one-liners and stereotyped characters into the visual poetry and subtle irony that make it funny on a completely different level from the one that floats on the surface (like the barge that carries the trash of the town to the allegorically mythical "garbage island" in the movie).

For one thing, I really enjoyed the "Seven Samurai" method of gathering the caper gang, with the individual introductions showcasing not their strengths but their unique foibles and own personal brands of idiocy to be concentrated once they are gathered into Tom Hanks' professorial circle of "musician" thieves. On one hand, they work well together, their ostensible reasons for hiring being their professed qualifications; but as their acquaintances deepen, the broad individual comedy becomes syncretic and we are treated to the amusing spectacle of a bungling ex-hippie liberal civil rights activist spouting his old left-wing dogma to a modern gangsta black man who just doesn't give a crap "because I don't vote." The resumes are delicately presented by Hanks' too-genteel Professor Dorr; I guffawed when he introduced "The General" (Tzi Ma in a wonderfully understated and yet physically deft performance reminiscent of W.C. Fields or a dachshund-take your pick) as a man with "massive tunneling experience in the jungles of Southeast Asia," thus suggesting the Viet Cong without coming out and saying it.

Hanks himself is the very picture of an overdone Southern gentleman, so much so that we can scarcely believe it to be a real person he's portraying but that it must be a put-on. Professor Dorr is presented with imagery that suggests the entry of Old Scratch himself, his unusual curled coiffure suggesting horns and his smooth Southern gentleman act the very picture of the obvious liar and con-man. Ms. Munson is at first charmed and then, as she discerns the nature of his character, she sees right through the "doubletalk." Oddly, Dorr's caricature persona sticks even throughout the travails of the caper; even when he is under stress and in private, he does not break the "Professor Dorr" mask of character; his portrayal leads us to wonder if Dorr is more of a mental case than a hardened criminal. For one thing, he doesn't seem to be in need of money. He easily sends Ms. Munson and a friend to a concert many miles away in a limo; for Professor Dorr, it is the artistic nature of the "perfect crime" that interests him, not so much getting rich, although it is definitely a factor (here he seems to approach the Guinness character more closely).

The Coen brothers suggest by music, Bible verse and various sinister signs that perhaps Dorr is an agent of Satan, a test for the pure-hearted Ms. Munson. Irma Hall in this role is just unforgettable; the very picture of a god-fearing, principled and feisty old black lady who takes her preacher very seriously but doesn't quite understand what he's saying. When she goes on about "tunkeloparzen" at the Sheriff's office, it is gibberish, but somehow she is trying to quote the sermon from Daniel, Chapter 5, on the "writing on the wall" (Mene mene tekel upharsen) at the Feast of Belshazzar but fails and creates the idea in the minds of the underemployed members of the Sheriff's office that she's got several screws loose. (Incidentally, this message in the Bible is written by a disembodied finger, thus linking the beginning and end of this film with perfectly symmetrical Biblical imagery--the warning of the kingdom about to fall).

It is, in essence, a tale of heavenly and poetic justice. Everyone gets his or her just rewards, but the road by which this happens is fraught with supreme irony; and the one-liners and stereotypes are but window-dressing in this allegorical tale.

There are many elements shared from the earlier Ealing Studios film, but this entry is so thoroughly reworked and imbued with not only deep symbolic imagery but with over-the-top modern caricature that it defies being pigeonholed as a "crude comedy," which has been the wont of some reviewers. What you get out of this film depends on how closely you look at it and how finely developed your sense of ironic humor is. The parts described by some as "boring" are actually points of characterization and also setups for later ironic denouements. One could almost say that Poe's Imp of the Perverse was driving the action: the gangsta puts on his act but in the end he is moved by something very un-gangstalike. The ex-hippie liberal makes a show of caring for the rights of the underdog but is, in the end, just a greedy whiner whose very biological being is also "irritated." Lump is clueless, but by the time he gets a clue,'ll see. And The General I cannot praise highly enough. He has very little dialogue but evokes the spirit of W.C. Fields in many ways. In fact, I think the cigarette trick he does is one of Fields' tricks. He can also put on the face of the "innocent dachshund" when Ms. Munson reprimands him to perfection. And yet, of all of them, he seems to be the most hardened of tough guys. My favorite of his quotes, when asked by Dorr if there isn't a "middle way" according to Buddhism: "You must float like a leaf on the river of life...and kill old lady." So we see Buddhism doesn't offer the wicked a way out either! (Sorry, I find that funny).

To sum up I will say that this film may be enjoyed on several levels; those of you who are jaded with the stereotypical comedic portrayals of the gathered criminals may turn it off, disgusted with the lack of fresh characterization, but if one views the whole with the visual cues that suggest Mississippi as a balmy stage for a bizarre battle between good and evil and the poetic irony that assails the criminals in the most hilarious manner possible--the movie becomes both sublime AND ridiculous. The sermons, seen by many as unnecessary and run-on, closely accord with the action and the tests put before Ms. Munson. Even though she seems to miss the intended message sometimes, she is pure of heart and therefore beloved of God.

An interesting note about her dead husband, Othar: it is possible that he may be based in part on the well-known fife player Othar Turner, who also "burned his own fife," as Ms. Munson is telling Professor Dorr in a quiet scene. This same scene also contains a horrid joke about "blowing the shofar," which has to be explained to us Gentiles, but to a Jew it'd be a side-splitter, if a crude one. But that about sums up the way comedy is presented in this film. The most hilarious parts are not always the ones that are the most obvious, but as a whole, it is transcendentally funny. Did I mention how beautiful the photography is in this film? The motif of the garbage barge moving slowly through, receiving the refuse from the caper, inexorable but undeniable, the gargoyles of the bridge performing their ancient functions with the help of Poe's raven... the sleepy Southern town purges its evil. This film is both comedic and highly artistic, and I'd expect no less from the Coen Brothers.
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VINE VOICEon April 18, 2011
I'm always a bit surprised (though not totally) when movies that I find to be extremely funny or worthwhile are trashed by so many reviewers. That's the case with this film: I own it and have watched it many times and it seems to improve with each viewing. This folks, is a very funny movie and Tom Hanks is great, as are--not surprisingly, considering the Coen Bros gift for casting--virtually all of the actors in this film.

The film is, very briefly, the story of a small band of incompetent thieves who decide to try and fleece a floating casino in Mississippi. The plot may be a little thin, but it's a good enough premise to keep you watching. What shines in this film is the dialog and the acting. The opening scene of the film, of an old woman going to the local police department, not to complain about the loud music of a local kid's boom box, but to ask the sheriff to help the kid, is just hilarious. The cops are napping on the job, the woman is all fired up with good Christian intentions and the actress (I don't know her name offhand) delivers an extremely funny line about rap music that I won't spoil.

The rest of the film just follows the the robbers on their journey into crime and, again, while the plot is a bit thin, the actors (and, in particular, Tom Hanks) are absolutely enjoyable.

If you're looking for a funny film for a hot summer night, you'll like this. The negative reviews seem so hostile you'd think the movie cost a few hundred bucks. Hey, you can get a used copy for a buck or two: if you hate it, you've got a coaster at the very least or you can donate it to a local book sale. But my guess is that you'll come away thinking you've discovered an under-appreciated comic treasure.

This is a very funny and fun movie.
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on April 15, 2007
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.
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on April 25, 2004
(...)For background:I have seen Ladykillers 3 times(...), I am not really a Coen Brothers fan, and I am not really a Tom Hanks fan. And even after all that, I still think that Ladykillers is the most well-thought out comedy in a long time. The factor that I most hate with comedies today, is that dialogue never seems to be a key factor, but rather someone falling on their a**. In Ladkillers, the dialogue of Tom Hanks' character is brilliant. Now, people who did not like the movie because of "sterotypical" characters, were most likely referring to Mr. Wayans character, who, to be honest, does follow suit of the overused violent, vulgar, "gangsta" black man archetype, though he is excellant at playing the character. The other stereotypical character is Lump, who is a overly moronic football player. Other than that, the story, characters, filmwork, dialogue, and most notably, the music are all brilliant and beautifully put together. Speaking of the music, I should point out that all the music is either gospel or gospel-like rap from the Nappy Roots, this is to match Ima P. Hall's character and the fact that the gang of thieves are posing as a gospel-inspired enemble. Please, for once, I'd like to see a GOOD comedy do well, not to insult American Pie and Eurotrip and Old School, etc (all of which I did enjoy), but di*k and fart jokes aren't what I consider "smart comedy", which is usually well-thought out comedy [ie Futurama and The Simpsons(even though I now hate The Simpsons]. Go see this, please. Cause, c'mon at least it's better than Zoolander or Johnson Family Vacation or You Got Served.
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on September 19, 2005
Many, many reviewers and professional critics have panned this 2004 re-make of the classic Ealing/Alec Guinness opus, saying it doesn't quite make the mark and that Tom Hanks was off-form and too blathery. Those who have read my other reviews know that I'm not a blind fan of the Coen brothers, who I think run hot and cold, between genius and god-awful. With the Ladykillers, I was proven wrong- this film is neither; it's just a pretty decent chuckle.

To watch this film, you have to accept that it is wacky and very over the top in a slightly less than slapstick way. if you can do that, the inane plot of verbose Professor Dorr and his gang of inept robbers tunneling into a casino riverboat is actually funny. They borrow the home of Irma Hall, who delivers a superb performance. The ever-changing portraits of her deceased husband are an homage to 'Mousehunt' and her naive donations to Bob Jones University are a hoot!

There is also a humor in the repeated, ever-evolving sequences, such as the garbage scow/body disposal and the escalating injuries of the cast.

On the whole, the film would have benefited from being a little more tightly wound and from Hanks taking his Dorr character down a notch.

But still, a good comedy, really. Not a five star job, but 3 stars and worth a watch if you're in the right frame of mind.
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on February 27, 2011
Unfairly overlooked and under-attended, this Americanization of the famous 1955 British comedy of the same name is equally funny---in a new way and with a new cast. Instead of Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers you have the prodigiously-talented Mr Hanks as a lovable con-man (for a change), with a strong, unknown supporting cast. Loads of laughs and a lovely color production. The Coen Brothers just this year demonstrated that they can take an iconic film and actually improve on it(TRUE GRIT)--- and here's a case where they did just that a decade ago!
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on April 4, 2004
The Ladykillers, while not being a remake completely, is surely a more than fun and different spin on the 1955 original classic starring Sir Alex Guiness and Peter Sellers. This film is directed by the wonderful Coen brother, Ethan and Joel, who brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O' Brother, Where are Thou?
Tom Hanks stars as Golswaitt Higgenson, Dorr, Ph.D. He's the leader of a bunch of thiers, including the hiliarious Marlon Wayans. All the stars bring something to the movie, which really is truly a crowd pleaser. Irma P. Hall plays the nice lady who offers Hanks and his band to practice in the root celler of her house, but she doesn't know that they're planning a secret heist in order to obtain nearly 1.6 million dollars.
Hanks with his southern accent makes a delightful perfomance and has a presence which resembles that of Colonel Sanders. Though I should point that his performance though it is wonderful and more than entertaining is not really oscar worthy, but I'm sure he'll rack up a nomination.
The Ladykillers is rated R for Language, including Sexual References. THe language is excessive and pretty strong, there's also some sexual language/innuendo along with deaths which are intended to be humorous. The film also has a sterotypical look, courtesy of the Coen brothers. But a more than funny film, and not a bad film to see on a Saturday night at your local theatre, if not in a theatre definitly check out when it hits the shelves at your local Blockbuster. Not a bad pick to own on Video or DVD.
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on November 23, 2015
I remember this movie originally coming out and I was too young to go see it because I was too young. Then I was looking for some good movies one day and came across this hilarious gem of a Tom Hanks film. Does he have a bad movie?
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on May 14, 2014
This one's another bunker buster. Striking, compelling crime stories; tempered by top-tier character actors and A-list acting, editing, music and originality. "You brought your BITCH!? the WAFFLE HUT!!???" If you see written/directed by Joel & Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country, Burn After You cannot miss. try for more news, reviews, editorials, comedy and all-around BS. thx- Tapper7
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That the Coen brothers would want to remake any movie, let alone the classic 1955 British comedy "The Ladykillers," is surprising enough. After all, when you think of "Raising Arizona," "Fargo," and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" you think about their flair for being original, so why would they indulge in a remake? The answer might be that they got Tom Hanks with his pair of Oscars to step into the Alec Guinness role. Guiness had the likes of Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom as his partners in crime while Hanks has to make due with Marlon Wayans and J.K. Simmons, which is as good of a way to capture the differences between now and then as anything.

Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, supposedly a professor of Latin and Greek, who dresses like Colonel Sanders and talks like a cultured silver-tongued devil. The plot is similar to the original in that Dorr rents a room from a little old lady so that he and his partners can pretend to be holding music practice in the root cellar as a cover for tunneling their way to riches, which this time are to be found in the cash room of a river boat casino (fortunately the cash room is on dry land and not on the boat). Dorr's partners in crime consist of Gawain MacSam (Wayans), a foul-mouthed hip-hop janitor who cleans the casino, Garth Pancake (Simmons), an explosives expert whose plans are always just a bit off; the General (Tzi Ma), apparently an expert tunneler who honed his skills in "French Indo-China"; and Lump (Ryan Hurst), a big, strong football player who has taken way too many blows to the head.

But these guys do not stand a chance against Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), the little old widow lady whose home is the base of operations for the gang and who has no compunction about slapping Gawain on the side of his head (her minister already explained from the pulpit that sometimes there is nothing else to do). Marva goes to church regularly, still has conversations with the portrait of her dearly departed husband, and shows up regularly at the local police station to complain about her cat begin up a tree and other problems. The gang has to get the money despite the idiosyncratic problems of each of its members, but then they have to get the money past the old lady, and that is just not going to happen (even though for some reason that passeth understanding Marva thinks that Bob Jones University is an appropriate place for a black woman to send a donation every month).

Ultimately what we have with this 2004 film is the story from the original Ealing comedy dressed up with the wacky characters we have come to expect from the Coen brothers, which is not a bad example of cinematic cross-breeding. The nonsense of the proceedings is entertaining enough in its odd little way for anyone willing to accept that a remake that is not going to be able to surpass the original (some people cannot get past the idea of a treasured film being remade, and often they are right in their thinking). Marva and Dorr are never boring and Hanks certainly lays on the eccentric affectations in his flowery speeches. Hanks proves how good he is in this role when the situation forces him to declaim a poem by Poe, which he does quite charmingly. I might refrain from hitting anybody on the side of the head after watching this movie, but I must confess to a sudden and intense desire to have waffles. Forthwith.
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