Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
Hail, Caesar! is upon us! A new Coen Brothers comedy is always cause for celebration… or is it? We decided to take a look back at one of their less appreciated films. Their 2004 remake The Ladykillers is often cited — usually alongside Intolerable Cruelty — as a misstep for the duo. Enough time has passed that The Ladykillers is now a “mid-career” entry on their filmographies, so how does it fare in hindsight?
Next Week’s Pick:
Based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the fiery Chi-Raq is the first collaboration between Spike Lee and writer Kevin Willmott. This edition of Two Cents is a follow-up of sorts: Readers may recall that we covered Willmott’s racial farce CSA: The Confederate States Of Americalast year. Chi-raq is now streaming on Amazon Prime (at no cost to subscribers).
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!
We’re excited and greatly honored to have writer and producer Michael Price giving us his Two Cents today. Michael is best known as a veteran writer of The Simpsons, though he has been involved with many other notable projects including Lego Star Wars. Currently, he is showrunner and co-creator of the hilariously irreverent animated 70s-themed sitcom F Is For Family, which just made its debut on Netflix last month. It’s not only very funny but an incredibly relatable show, and well worth checking out.
Since it’s unlikely I’ll get such a chance again, I want to pitch Mike a quick gag for The Simpsons. As Jeb! might say, “Please use this”.
[Homer’s weight comes up in conversation]
HOMER: I don’t understand why I haven’t lost a pound, I’ve been eating nothing but these health bars!
LISA: (inspects the wrapper) Dad, this is a Heath bar!
Look at any “Ranking The Coen Brothers Movies” listicle, and at the bottom you’ll unjustly find The Ladykillers. I won’t argue it belongs with Fargo or The Big Lebowski, but for my money, The Ladykillers is infinitely more entertaining than higher-regarded Coen Canon entries like Inside Llewyn Davis and, hold onto your horn rims, Barton Fink. Why? Maybe it’s Tom Hanks’ delicious performance as Professor G. H. Dorr. Maybe it’s the hypnotic sight of bodies in baggies wafting down to the big garbage barge of fate. But my real delight derives from J.K. Simmons as the spectacularly oversharing special effects Jackass-Of-All Trades Garth Pancake. I crossed paths with more than a few Garths on the short-lived sitcoms I wrote for before I landed The Simpsons, and Simmons absolutely nails the man. He pulls off the impossible feat of creating a character who is simultaneously soul-suckingly boring and transcendently delightful. And his mantra of pre-failure, “Easiest thing in the world,” perfectly encapsulates man’s bottomless capacity for optimism in the face of the tragic practical joke that is life.
And some of it is the I.B.S. Okay, mostly the I.B.S. I love shit jokes. There, I said it — easiest thing in the world. (@MikePriceInLA)
The Ladykillers will always be the odd point in the Coen brothers’ filmography…to me. Another Coens’ film ranks as the lowest of their careers, but it’s one everyone loves and lately that’s been making me curious to revisit it, but that’s besides the point. For me, The Ladykillers is not their weakest film, but it’s still at this weird, wonky level of failure. It’s off on the direction, the pace, even the lighting (which is extremely weird for a Coens’ feature). The main thing that stops this from being a complete bomb, though, is the ensemble cast. Hanks, Simmons, Wayans, Hurst, Hall, they’re all game, and they look like they’re having a blast. It’s automatically worth it to see for the Coen name, but the ensemble performances make it tolerable to stay for the whole thing. (@jaimeburchardt)
I suspect I’m in the minority here when I note that I’m not the biggest fan of the Coen brothers. While I know I need to give some of their early films another look having been away from them for a decade or more, I also know that the only film of theirs to really stick with me is The Big Lebowski. The Big Lebowski is one of my all-time favorites, in fact, but their remainder of their catalog is nothing special… until now.
This was my first viewing and I’m quite pleased that it was this week’s Two Cents pick as I doubt I’d have watched it on my own. I found the characters well drawn, the story interesting, and the ending to be pretty hilarious. I’m unsure why this film was widely panned and received as many negative reviews as positive ones, as personally I’d now have to rank it as my #2 Coen brothers film.
Very interested in following this up with the original. A fantastic selection that almost makes up for last week’s Cat-bacle… well, maybe not. (@thepaintedman)
[Editor’s Note: We normally try to keep entries down to 200 words, but Jon’s righteous fury was just too good to trim]
The original The Ladykillers is one of my all time favorite films, hence a somewhat protective commentary here. A highlight of the classic Ealing comedies, which is saying something as that series truly represents one of the golden ages of British cinema. The 1955 version blended sublime performances from Alec Guinness (in one of his most stellar performances) as well as Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom and Cecil Parker. A play on the heist movie, it is utterly charming but with a genuine dark streak running through it.
Enter the Coen Brothers. Figures who I respect greatly and typically revel in everything they do. But their take on The Ladykillers? No. Just no.The film fails in two respects. Firstly because of how significantly it pales in comparison to the original. And secondly because of how it fails as a Coen film. A doubly disappointing effort. Despite the admirable efforts of Hanks and the fine Irma P. Hall.
It lacks wit, is just extremely lowbrow and overly reliant on crass humor. The levels of poor taste in the film actually exceed the idea of remaking the film in the first place. Unlike their other triumphant attempt at remake (technically a re-adaptation) True Grit, the Coens fail to put their own incomparable stamp on this feature. Instead the crassness feels more akin to something cast member Marlon Wayans (a man whose “comedy stylings” I am particularly averse to) himself would cook up.
What it comes down to is an issue with tone. The film yearns to be old fashioned and smart, but these modern, crass influences keep popping in. The original blended this clash of genteel manners and brutishness with superb elegance, at the time reflecting the social shift occurring in the British Isles. The players were all given greater definition and elicited sympathy whereas here they are just cartoon characters. This film lacks the civility and intelligence of both the 1955 version and the Coens’ other work. It’s a muddled mess. I think the most egregious thing (aside from the utter wasting of Bruce Campbell as an extra with NO lines), is that you can actually imagine the Coen Brothers doing a remake justice. It feels like a few creative changes here and there and it COULD have been pretty great. The fact they failed just makes it hurt all the more.
I view The Coen Brothers’ filmography as a happy relationship I’m in, satisfying me thoroughly with life events like Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis, but The Ladykillers was that time they jabbed their finger up my butthole (warning Kanye) without any warning or permission. I moved on, I forgave, but it was still a rough experience. (@Texas_Jon)
A great teacher once said, “Man cannot live on amusement alone.” At least I think a great teacher once said that. At the very least I just said it right then. And I do mean at the very least. My point being: The Coens’ The Ladykillers is amusing virtually throughout, and that’s still not enough to count it as a good film. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, (my first viewing, so thanks to Austin and Brendan for their programming helping me to fill in important cinematic gaps) but there’s very little compelling beneath the surface here. And although amusing often, I never laughed out loud once. The far out performance of Tom Hanks seems to be what the whole film hinges on, and it’s a wonderfully weird thing to behold. J.K. Simmons steals the show, though, even if the script resorts to poop jokes to add dimensionality to his character. I’ll never approach making a film as good as The Ladykillers in my life, but as far as the Coens’ output, I can’t disagree with the masses that this is indeed lower tier Coen, which is to say fantastic compared to 90% of modern American cinema. (@Ed_Travis)
I’m sure the rest of you are covering the many ways The Ladykillers is the Coen Brothers’ worst film; the paper-thin caricatures, the sloppy pacing, and the general comedic flatness. Save for Tom Hanks’ exceptionally hammy performance, The Ladykillers stands out for its sketchy portrayal of African-Americans and its disappointing mediocrity.
But I want to talk about Ryan Hurst. The Coens have an eye for promising young talent, showcasing John Turturro and Oscar Isaac (among others) before their careers took off, but they dropped the ball here. In 2004, Hurst was best known for Remember the Titans, so casting him as a brain-damaged athlete and the titular group’s dim comic relief was uninspired casting in a flatly written role. A few years later, when Hurst popped up on Sons of Anarchy, he emerged as a soulful, intense performer, often standing out as the show’s most interesting character.
The Ladykillers is practically an exercise in waste, saddling its cast with a dud of a script and pausing the Coens’ career for years. However, its greatest waste was Ryan Hurst, and the knowledge that Sons of Anarchy had a better handle on its cast’s abilities than The Ladykillers solidifies its bottom-shelf status. (@AlexWilliamsdt)
All the greats have their misses. Even the Coens. Along with The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty, it seems that The Ladykillers is destined to be one of the blemishes on the brothers’ otherwise incredible collection of films. The Ladykillers offers no hero, but rather a bunch of greedy losers, it drags on at least a couple of occasions and never fully gathers enough power to forge a clear linear focus. Instead, The Ladykillers is just a bunch of moments, most of which don’t come together.
Yet the ones that do, really hit home. Its hard to deny the pure, dark Coen-ness of the bulldog suffocating while wearing a WWII mask as the commercial director frantically worries that the Humane Society representative will notice, the scene in the Waffle Hut where Marlon Wayans cannot believe J.K. Simmons has let his girlfriend in on the plan, or when Wayans bribes his boss with $100 to let him have his menial cover job back. They may be the best of a mediocre lot, but they’ve definitely got the filmmakers’ unique stamp.
If anything, The Ladykillers also features one of Tom Hanks’ most unusual performances. His southern gothic professor is literally from another time and place and its nice to see the actor leave his Jimmy Stewart-like performance at home for a change. His scenes with the great Irma P. Hall are fun to watch as he playfully marches to his own drummer and she annoyingly looks on.
The Ladykillers may very well be the Coen brothers’ worst, but its still better than a few people’s best. (@frankfilmgeek)
I didn’t have particularly strong feelings about The Ladykillers when I saw it upon its original release. It may have helped that I wasn’t familiar with the original film (and probably wasn’t aware that there was one). While I found — and still find — the constantly profane dialogue a bit too crass, I generally liked the movie, finding amusement in the performances of Tom Hanks and J.K. Simmons, as well as Mrs. Munson’s thoughts on hippety hop and “I left my wallet in El Segundo”. I also took the opinion that, like O Brother Where Art Thou, the film’s resolution was open to interpretation as either divine influence or dumb chance. As the criminals plot to murder the widowed Mrs. Munson, they are each killed off in unbelievable ways.
Upon this rewatch, I found The Ladykillers a bit less fun than before — but not much. Being more familiar with the Coen Brothers, it doesn’t fare as well against their other films. I wasn’t as enamored with Tom Hanks’ outrageous genteel performance — in fact, his nervous ticks now struck me as somewhat annoying. The biggest problem I noticed, though, was the entirely stereotypical portrayals of black folks: it seems most of the black characters in this film are either loud-mouthed thugs or singing in the church choir.
While my opinion of the film is indeed a bit less than before, I still laughed throughout and generally like it, and still would argue that it’s not the terrible film many make it out to be. Most critically, I think the question of divine influence over the final act is still an interesting one. (@VforVashaw)
I remembered vaguely disliking The Ladykillers the first time I saw it, back as a teenager, and I haven’t revisited it until now. Well, you can take away the ‘vaguely’. I do not like this movie. If anything, having now seen the rest of the Coen Canon (why is that not more commonly used) the flat, try-hard-y failure of this movie is all the more glaring. Tom Hanks works as hard as he ever has to wring laughs, and he does succeed in places because, well, he’s Tom Goddamn Hanks. But the rest of the cast is either short-shifted by the script (how do you have both J.K. Simmons AND Stephen Root in your film and not give either of them a memorable beat?) or just flat-out don’t work (I assume at some point in time there were people who found Marlon Wayans bugging his eyes out and yelling “Fuck” or “Bitch” a lot funny, but I am not one of those people).
After re-watching the remake, I went back and watched the original The Ladykillers for the first time, and seeing just how great the original material truly is only makes the absolute wet fart of failure that is this film stink all the more. Seeing as the Coens almost-instantly rebounded, it’s hard to get too mad about this film. It’s just a weird cast-off mutation that we are better off not thinking about anymore. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!